Perhaps one of the most outrageous practices in the justice system is the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders, most of whom are nonviolent. The practice has many long-term mental effects that lead offenders into a cycle of poverty and crime from which they are often unable to escape. Of course, that assumes they ever make it out of a juvenile facility, considering a shocking statistic from a 2009 study from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The study found that over 50 percent of juveniles in solitary confinement committed suicide.
Take the tragic story of Kalief Browder. In May 2010, Browder, then 16 years old, and a friend were arrested on suspicion of robbery. He insisted that they did not do anything wrong, but he was booked on charges. His friend was released from custody. Browder, who had a previous run-in with the law and was sentenced to probation, was detained because his family could not afford the $3,000 bond set by the judge.
“Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island,” Jennifer Gonnerman wrote in telling Browder’s story. “Of the eight million people living in New York City, some eleven thousand are confined in the city’s jails on any given day, most of them on Rikers, a four-hundred-acre island in the East River, between Queens and the Bronx.”