17-Year-Old Pedro Hernandez Stayed on Rikers Island to Clear His Name, Just Like Kalief Browder.
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Kalief Browder Debate Continues: Raise the Age Law & Rehabilitating Teens

The Raise the Age legislation took effect in New York on October 1. All youth offenders below the age of 18 were transferred from Rikers Island into juvenile detention centers.

New York City’s Rikers Island is notorious for housing hardened criminals, yet teenagers sentenced as adults were once housed there too. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said all that is going to change.

Raise the Age Legislation Changing Lives of Convicted Teens in New York

According to Blasio, effective Monday, teens below the age of 18 will move from Rikers Island to more appropriate facilities for incarcerated teens. But more importantly:

“…kids will be treated like kids instead of adults.”

He added this effort goes toward installing child offenders in smaller, safer and more humane facilities than what is presently obtainable on Rikers Island. These replacements for Rikers will be nearer home to the loved ones of incarcerated persons.

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Facts About the Raise the Age Law for Incarcerated Teens in NY

The Raise the Age law was passed in 2017 and takes effect in two phases:

  1. The first phase has gone into effect with relocating minors below 18 from Rikers Island to other facilities more appropriate to their age and offenses. Now, 16-year-old offenders will no longer be tried or sentenced as adults.
  2. The second phase will go into effect in 2019. For 17-year-olds, most of these teen offenders will be tried in family courts with a view to preventing adult criminal records for those convicted teens.

The Kalief Browder Saga: Changing the Course of Teenage Incarceration to Rehabilitation

Most teens however sentenced as adults and incarcerated with adults suffer terrible repercussions, defeating the purposes of teenage rehabilitation. They are more prone to recidivism and suicides, leading us to consider the Kalief Browder saga in this connection.

Kalief was arrested for stealing a backpack and bundled off to Rikers Island at age 16. He was eventually given bail. But there was no way his family could afford it.

The incarcerated teen spent three years at the adult prison without his case even coming up for trial. Two of those years the teen was held in solitary confinement. Throughout that time, he suffered beatings from both adult inmates and prison guards. 

Browder was eventually released without any trial or apology. But he could not live with the emotional damage the system had inflicted on him, so he committed suicide.

Teen Solitary Confinement: Does America Believe in the Redemption of Kids?

Kalief Browder’s death is now a rallying cry for incarceration reform for convicted teens throughout the United States. His brother, Akeem Browder, a criminal justice reform advocate, has however expressed deep disappointment with Mayor de Blasio.

Akeem Browder Speaks: Does Criminal Justice Reform Mean Declining Much Needed Help?

Akeem stated that Blasio is only paying lip service to criminal justice reform, especially since he declined the offer of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation to bail out women and teens from New York City jails.

The foundation promised to ensure that teenagers and women leave prison in its Mass Bail Out Action program starting October 1. But New York’s mayor said the foundation should only focus on bailing out:

“…low level and non-violent offenders only”

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City officials said nonprofits cannot post bail exceeding $2,000, and can only bail out those incarcerated for misdemeanors.

Akeem Browder did not mask his displeasure when he stated at the event that:

I am incredibly disappointed with Mayor de Blasio.

According to the younger Browder son, Blasio does a good job of projecting himself as some progressive where positive action and human rights are concerned throughout America. But he falls flat in this regard in his home state of New York.

Video: Kalief Browder Was Beaten by Adults as a Teen on Rikers Island

During his three years in the adult prison, teen Kalief Browder was assaulted and beaten by both prison guards and many adult inmates. The video below is a rare look inside Rikers. It depics the abuse Browder suffered as a teen on Rikers Island.

Foundation Says: No Going Back On Mass Bail Out in October

In spite of the mayor’s lukewarm responsiveness, the foundation still aims to go ahead with its plans. They said it is up to a judge to set a bail, and anyone can pay it once it is set. Akeem made it clear his brother Kalief was eligible for a $3,000 bail, but could not afford to pay it.

The family lived in the Bronx, not lavishly either. Many like him languish in jail because they are too poor to pay for bail. He criticized people like Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer accused of rape, but who never set foot in jail because he paid a pre-negotiated $1M bail.

Inside sources reveal the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation wants to attract over 200 volunteers to help bail out women and 16- to 17-year-old teens sentenced as adults and held in jails on Rikers Island.

The mass bail out will release detainees who are victims of the current bail system which systematically targets and punishes People of Color and those living in poverty, said NYC Councilman Ritchie Torres. He represents the Belmont neighborhood where Kalief Browder lived at a time.

Browder said at a town hall meeting that Rikers is not the problem with inmates. It’s about the culture of violence holding sway at every jail in New York.

He stated that Rikers must be shut down because the jails breed violence, and this is what killed his brother. Rather than rehabilitate, Rikers puts every prisoner on a suicide mission, he added.

17-Year-Old Pedro Hernandez Stayed on Rikers Island to Clear His Name, Just Like Kalief Browder.
17-Year-Old Pedro Hernandez Stayed on Rikers Island to Clear His Name, Just Like Kalief Browder. Image Source: NBC New York

Raise the Age Law: Only a Drop in Ocean of Sentencing Reform for Minors

Akeem Browder attended the town hall meeting at Parkside Houses co-hosted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congressional candidate for the 14th District.

The meeting was centered on criminal justice reform and Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that cash bail must come to an end. And Rikers must be closed at all costs.

Ocasio-Cortez said cash bail must become history in the United States. She made it quite clear that the prevailing cash bail system is a wealth-based incarceration tactic that is classist. And that perpetuates the injustices that have always existed in America.

Going back to the Raise the Age legislation, many rough edges are still being smoothed with most questions on the law answered. One key development is that 16 and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island jails have been moved to more humane detention centers for New York’s incarcerated teens during the first phase of the plan.

Signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Rev. Al Sharpton and Akeem Browder in April 2017, the Raise the Age law is a drop in the ocean of the maladies of injustices besieging people of color, poor folks and the entire United States as a country.

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Charles Omedo
Charles Omedo has a degree in Mass Communication and a PGD in Digital Communication. He worked as a newspaper/magazine reporter and editor for many years. Now, he writes daily news articles for private clients. Charles has written for US/UK/Canadian/Indian clients on various niches. He currently writes prison news for loved ones of inmates on the Prison Rideshare Network.