This month, a Kalief Browder, a 22-year-old New York City man who had spent three harrowing years in Rikers Island without a criminal charge, took his own life. Now many are citing critical flaws in our criminal justice system that led to Browder's death—including Attorney Steven Brill, who has lent his insight in a new Huffington Post opinion piece.
In "The Kalief Browder Case: First We Blame, Then We Reform," Attorney Brill shares his frustration over the treatment of Mr. Browder and troubling shortfalls of our judicial system, all of which he claims failed Mr. Browder at every turn. "Often, people speak of the criminal justice system as if it is an amorphous blob with a life of its own. In reality, it's made up of individual prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and correction officers," Attorney Brill writes. "The system succeeds only if these individuals take pride in their jobs."
According to Attorney Brill, there is enough blame to go around: the judges failed to honor Browder's right to a speedy trial and allowed him to appear in court 31 times without a decision. Prosecutors failed to prepare themselves to even try Browder for his minor charge and allowed him to flounder in prison for three years. Defense counsel failed to advocate for their client, meaningfully object to any of these proceedings, or even petition for a release when Browder obviously demonstrated a low flight risk.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the penal system not only failed Browder but victimized him. Just a teenager during his incarceration, Browder was mostly held in solitary confinement and suffered routine abuse from guards and fellow inmates alike. Now, following his death, it is clear to most that the mental scars he carried from his time at Rikers weighed heavily on him following his release.
The High Cost of Reform
In his essay, Attorney Brill notes that the silver lining to a tragedy like this is the exposure of civil rights injustices perpetrated in our judicial system and the possibility of meaningful reform. He points out that officials, like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, are already taking steps to improve the conditions at Rikers Island and establish new policies governing solitary confinement.
"True, all too often, we have seen the way these stories unfold in the past. First a tragedy, blame and outrage, and then the government powers react," Attorney Brill writes. "It takes tragedies like the Kalief Browder case to bring to light the flaws in the criminal justice system and to give the push needed to bring about much-needed reform."
If you or a loved one believe that your civil rights have been violated by the authorities, then we invite you to contact Sullivan & Brill, LLP today. Our team is dedicated to providing personalized and diligent legal counsel to those who truly need their voices heard before our judicial system.
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