How the City of New York Stole the Last Three Teenage Years of Kalief Browder’s Life

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Three years.  1,095 days.  26,280 hours.  1,576,800 minutes.  94,608,000 seconds.  Imagine spending that much of your life behind bars without ever having been convicted of a crime.  This is exactly what happened to Kalief Browder.  On May 14, 2010, Browder, then a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, was arrested in the Bronx while walking home from a party and subsequently charged with robbery in the second degree.  After being arrested, Browder was taken to Rikers Island Correctional Facility, the place where he would spend the next three years of his life.  With his family unable to afford the $10,000 bail, Browder was stripped of his ability to complete his high school education, attend prom, and do things with other kids his age.  He also missed his sister’s wedding, nephew’s birth, and many other special family events.  While detained, Browder attempted to commit suicide on six different occasions.

Up until this point, one might have assumed that obviously, there must have been ample, or at least sufficient evidence to suggest Kalief Browder committed the crime he was charged with, thereby justifying his lengthy stay in detention otherwise he would not be there.  Disturbingly, that was by no means the case.  Browder’s three year incarceration was the result of one man’s actions.  On May 14, 2010, a complete stranger told police “that kid” (identifying then 16-year-old Browder who was walking down the street) robbed me two weeks ago.  Based on one man’s “identification” of the individual who allegedly robbed him a few weeks prior, with no further evidence subsequently supporting the stranger’s allegations, and despite Browder maintaining his innocence throughout, Kalief Browder’s life was changed for eternity.  In January, after spending 33 months in Rikers, Browder refused a judge’s plea deal of time served because he did not want to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit.  Five months later, in June, Browder, now 20 years old, was released from detention without explanation or apology and the case against him was dismissed.

Currently enrolled in GED classes and attempting to get his life on track after spending three years behind bars, Browder, represented by civil rights attorney Paul Prestia, has filed a civil suit against the Bronx District Attorney, City of New York, New York Police Department, and New York City Department of Corrections as well as against various individuals employed by the state of New York.  Alleging physical abuse by both inmates and guards and prolonged detention in solitary confinement for an excess of 400 days, Browder’s complaint also asserts that he was deprived of meals on numerous occasions and prevented from continuing or pursuing his education.  In clear violation of his due process rights as afforded by the United States Constitution, including his right to a speedy trial, Browder now suffers from lingering mental health issues and has missed out on the opportunity to live his last three years as a teenager to the fullest.  In what Browder’s attorney says was a “straightforward case to try,” not only was Kalief Browder not even tried or convicted of any crime, but it took New York City officials three years to dismiss the baseless allegations against him.  “We need someone to be held accountable.  This can’t just go unnoticed.  To the extent that [Browder] can be financially compensated – although it’s not going to get those years back for him – it may give him a chance to succeed.”

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

2 Groups got Huge Sums for Adoptions, The Japan News

Two adoption agencies for young children in Tokyo received a total of about 83 million yen in donations from adoptive parents in the three years to fiscal 2011, it has been learned.

The two organizations almost always asked adoptive parents to make contributions, The Yomiuri Shimbun has found, and one entity received nearly 2 million yen for a single case.

The Child Welfare Law prohibits arranging the adoption of young children for profit. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has told local governments to research adoption agencies, as it suspects that such large donations could be considered de facto payments for these organizations’ services, a violation of the law.

Under the special adoption system for young children, children aged younger than 6 should in principle be adopted by a married man and woman who are both at least 25 years old, following approval from a family court. Upon adoption, these children lose legal connections–such as inheritance rights–with their biological parents. In other adoptions, legal connections are maintained.

The Child Welfare Law prohibits agencies from making a profit through adoption arrangements, to prevent human trafficking. In 1987, the welfare ministry said agencies can only charge adopted parents actual costs for their services, such as transportation and communication fees. In 2006, the ministry clarified that donations from adoptive parents should be made on a voluntary basis.

The two organizations in question are Baby Life, a foundation in Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo, and Wa no Kai, a nonprofit organization in Shinjuku Ward.

From the Streets of New York, Voices of Anger, Anguish and Resignation in the Wake of the Zimmerman Verdict, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Trayvon Martin wasn’t from any of New York City’s five boroughs, but his death and the acquittal of the man who shot and killed the unarmed teen after a confrontation in a gated community courtyard in Florida, nine states, one capital, and nearly 1,200 miles away, resonated with many residents — black, white, and Latino — as if he was one of the city’s own.

Reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Martin ranged from quiet frustration, embittered resignation, and overwhelming sadness. Some conceded that the jury was left with little option and that it was the fault of a Kafkaesque criminal justice system that legally permits an armed adult to kill a child; others expressed their rage on the avenues of Manhattan and made calls for a type of street justice that has no place in a courtroom.

But in Union Square Park, just after 6 p.m on a sweltering Sunday night, a rancorous crowd of protesters who had gathered to protest the verdict pointed to something deeper than the law or the American criminal justice system for the Zimmerman decision. The animated crowd said they blamed the same pernicious culture of racism that expresses itself in stops and frisks on the streets of New York for the exoneration of a killer in Sanford, Fla.

A few dozen protesters pulled hoodies over their sweat-drenched heads despite the suffocating humidity, others wore buttons and stickers with hoodie silhouettes. Signs peppered the crowd with black and white images of the young, slain Martin.

District of Columbia Falls Short on Investigating Child Maltreatment Allegations, Report Finds, Children’s Rights

The District of Columbia’s Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA) has struggled to conduct quality investigations into alleged child abuse and neglect and has fallen short of meeting other court-ordered mandates, according to the latest report from independent monitors tracking the status of the District’s child welfare reform. A status conference to discuss report findings will be held Monday, July 15th at 10:00 a.m., at the Federal Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, NW.

The progress report, covering July-December 2012, reviews the court-ordered reforms spurred by LaShawn A. v. Gray, the federal class-action lawsuit brought by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights. The report, issued by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, is the second since Brenda Donald became CFSA director 18 months ago.

During the review period, Washington, D.C. reached four mandated standards for the first time. CFSA increased efforts to identify and locate known relatives in situations when children had to be removed from their homes, and offered pre-removal “Family Team Meetings” to help make relative placement more successful. The agency also facilitated more visits between siblings who were placed in separate homes, and provided the minimum 15 hours of training to new foster parents.

However, serious concerns remain. Caseloads for investigative social workers continued to be excessive, which, the monitors noted, almost certainly has had “a direct impact” on aspects of their work. Only 62 percent of abuse and neglect investigations were found to be of acceptable quality, well short of the 80 percent benchmark. Workers initiated investigations rapidly enough only 75 percent of the time, rather than the required 95 percent. And for the last two monitoring periods, the number of maltreatment investigations to be completed on time has steadily declined.