KALIEF BROWDER DOCUMENTARY HAS POWERFUL IMPACT IN NEW YORK
In March 2017, Spike TV aired a six-episode documentary series produced by Jay-Z, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story. The series tells the story of Kalief Browder, a sixteen year old arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack, who ends up in solitary confinement on Rikers Island without ever being found guilty of a crime. Ultimately, Kalief took his own life after being released. By using a series of interviews and actual footage from inside Rikers, the series shows the human toll of the injustice facing millions of Americans – and New Yorkers – in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. TIME had a powerful personal and political impact. Within days of the final episode of TIME, New York City and New York State announced two critical reforms to the justice system that destroyed Kalief’s life: raising the state age of jurisdiction and pledging to close Rikers Island, one of the most corrupt and violent jails in the country.
NEW YORK STATE LAW RAISES THE AGE OF JURISDICTION
On April 10, 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation (SB 2009, HB 3009) to raise the state’s age of juvenile court jurisdiction to eighteen years old. Prior to the legislation, New York and North Carolina were the only states that still charge all sixteen and seventeen year olds as adults. Advocates have fought for years on behalf of legislation despite concerns from opponents that raising the age of jurisdiction would increase crime. A national study released by the Justice Policy Institute in March 2017, however, shows that states which have raised the age of criminal responsibility have seen reductions in crime and better outcomes for youth when they are charged as juveniles. A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth who are incarcerated in adult facilities are 34% more likely to commit violent or other criminal offenses later in life. A report from the National Juvenile Justice Network shows that youth held in adult facilities are also much more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, assault by corrections officers, and almost twice as likely to be assaulted by another inmate.
New York’s harsh law also received national attention in TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, a documentary produced by Jay-Z for Spike TV. Kalief was a sixteen year old arrested for stealing a backpack. He spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial, including 800 days in solitary confinement. Had New York charged sixteen year olds as juveniles, like most other states, Kalief wouldn’t have ended up at Rikers.
While the legislation represents a major victory, it falls short of some advocates’ goals. The legislation does not simply raise the age of jurisdiction for all youth. Instead, sixteen and seventeen year olds charged with non-violent felonies will be charged in Criminal Court, only to be sent to Family Court after 30 days unless a district attorney proves that extraordinary circumstances require the case to be heard in Criminal Court. Violent felony charges, on the other hand, can be sent back to Family Court only if there was no physical injury, no weapon was used, and there was no criminal sexual conduct.
Read coverage by the New York Times.
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