Bill de Blasio says Kalief Browder ‘helped inspire our efforts on Rikers Island’

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised reforms at Rikers Island in the wake of the reported weekend suicide of a 22-year-old man who had spent three years in jail without being convicted.

Kalief Browder, the subject of a 2014 New Yorker article, killed himself on Saturday, according to the magazine. 

He was arrested in 2010, at 16 years old, for punching a man, pushing him against a fence and taking his backpack, The New Yorker reported. He maintained his innocence and the case against him was dismissed in 2013. 

“This is a tragedy if ever there was one,” de Blasio said Monday at an unrelated news conference. aItas going to lead to change. “I wish we had not lost him. This is a tragic loss. But once this story became public, it caused a lot of people to act.”

“And a lot of the changes we are making at Rikers Island are a result of the example of Kalief Browder,” de Blasio added. “So I deeply wish we had not lost him, but he did not die in vain.”

Rikers Island, one of the largest U.S. jails, which can house up to 15,000 inmates, has gained notoriety over the past year for a culture of violence, including attacks by correction officers on prisoners and the deaths of multiple inmates in custody.

The federal government in December said it would sue New York City after finding widespread violations of teenage inmates’ civil rights at the complex, which houses 11,400 prisoners on an average day.

Browder’s case, in which he said he was beaten and spent long months in solitary confinement, inspired de Blasio to insist on Rikers Island reform.

In November 2014, Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte proposed recommendations that would eliminate punitive segregation for adolescents and certain inmates, and limit the maximum time allowed to be in solitary confinement. At the time, de Blasio called them a step in the right direction.

A spokesman for the city’s DOC did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Browder “came out a broken young man,” a “reality” that was created by the city’s detention system. 

“We can’t walk away from that. If this isn’t a call to action, I don’t know what is,” Mark-Viverito said at an unrelated news conference Monday. “We as a city should be grieving and should be figuring out how to continue to get on that road to reform because it’s desperately needed and I understand the mayor is working aggressively with the commissioner to that end. But this also part of a great picture of what our criminal justice system is doing, and it’s not just a New York City issue.”

(with Emily Ngo and Reuters)

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