Locking an innocent person behind bars for 3 years is a travesty. For a 16 year old, it’s a nightmare.
This is exactly what happened to New Yorker, Kalief Browder, who spent three years in the notorious Rikers Island jail without being convicted of single crime. His alleged misdemeanour crime? Stealing a backpack.
His family couldn’t afford a lawyer or his $3000 US dollar bail, so his nightmare continued for three years. All up, Kalief spent more than 1000 days behind bars - 800 of them in solitary confinement.
New York is one of only two States in the USA still imprisoning and prosecuting 16-year-olds as adults.
Prosecutors delayed Kalief’s court case for the alleged backpack theft on more than 30 occasions, arguing they needed more time to produce evidence. Evidence that was never produced.
His case has incensed President Barack Obama. In his final year in the White House, President Obama has ordered solitary confinement be banned for children in all Federal prisons.
The President isn’t the only one lobbying for change. Dateline filmed filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino joining politicians and protestors calling for change to violence in the system and the laws that treat children as adults.
70% of children sent to jail will end up back behind bars later in life. To try and prevent that cycle, an innovative court run by kids has been set up in Brooklyn, New York. It’s run by children, for children. Teenagers serve as jurors, judges and attorneys, handling real-life cases involving their peers. Dateline looks at the impact of the program and whether it really does prevent future incarceration of kids.
Meetings and rallies have been held in recent weeks, urging the closure of Rikers. The closure and reform will be too late for Kalief Browder who took his own life after eventually being released - with no conviction.
Can proposed reforms and a youth-run court system prevent this tragedy happening again?
Watch Unjust Justice? on Dateline, Tuesday, 1 March at 9.30pm on SBS.