The music mogul, businessman and investor, born Shawn Corey Carter is helping shine a light on much-needed prison reform by co-producing an upcoming TV documentary that airs in January on Spike TV, about a young man who spent three years behind bars without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack.
The Marcy Houses housing project in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant born and bred businessman teamed up with Harvey Weinstein to produce the six-part “TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,” which airs in January on Spike TV. It uses first-person accounts, prison footage and cinematic re-creations to explore what Jay Z called a system that’s “broken.”
Browder was 16 when he was arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack and sent to the Rikers Island facility in New York for three years. Browder was kept in solitary confinement for 800 days and, according to his lawyer, beaten by inmates and guards. He was never tried and was released in 2013. He killed himself last year at age 22.
Jay Z, attending a press conference Thursday with Browder’s mother, the filmmakers and Weinstein, said he hoped Browder’s story “inspires others and saves other lives.”
“I think it’s very clear that solitary confinement for a 16-year-old is wrong to every single person in here,” he said. “It’s inhumane.”
In an op-ed written for The Washington Post, President Barack Obama cited Browder’s “heartbreaking” case to argue for a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juvenile and low-level offenders in federal prisons.
The Spike series comes at a time when America’s prisons are under scrutiny. The harsh prison sentences in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 have been debated in the presidential campaign, and a new documentary by Ava DuVernay, “The 13th,” delves into mass incarceration and its deep, historical roots in America.
The Kalief Browder Story
“Browder was 16 when he was arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack and sent to the Rikers Island facility in New York for three years,” says NBC 5 Chicago, “Browder was kept in solitary confinement for 800 days and, according to his lawyer, beaten by inmates and guards. He was never tried and was released in 2013. He killed himself last year at age 22.”
The Series and America’s Law Enforcement
The series is timely, now that America’s prisons and law enforcement are currently being watched, with movements against police brutality and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The young Browder was even allegedly beaten by inmates and guards while doing serving his juvenile sentence. This sort of treatment rings a bell with numerous other complaints filed against the police this year.
Juvenile Solitary Confinement
In an article titled Growing Up Locked Up the ACLU posted on their site: Every day, in jails and prisons across the United States, young people under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement. They spend 22 or more hours each day alone, usually in a small cell behind a solid steel door, completely isolated both physically and socially, often for days, weeks, or even months on end. Sometimes there is a window allowing natural light to enter or a view of the world outside cell walls.
A 2012 Human Rights Watch report explains that: “Youth offenders often spend significant amounts of their time in US prisons isolated from the general population. Such segregation can be an attempt to protect vulnerable youth offenders from the general population, to punish infractions of prison rules, or to manage particular categories of prisoners, such as alleged gang members. Youth offenders typically describe their experience in segregation as a profoundly difficult ordeal.”
Juveniles are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail as compared to a juvenile detention facility, and 19 times more likely to commit suicide when in solitary confinement as opposed to confined with the general population, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice.
Juveniles are often held in solitary confinement in local jails before they have been convicted of a crime at the pretrial phase of criminal justice proceedings. This was the case for Kalief Browder, the young man President Obama highlighted in his recent editorial in the Washington Post, who was arrested at age 16 for stealing a backpack but never stood trial. Kalief was held for nearly two years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island before being released in 2013. However, he never recovered from the psychological trauma and committed suicide at age 22.
Eliminating the use of solitary confinement is an important step toward improving conditions for youth in out-of-home confinement and creating an environment where they can heal and thrive, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention posted in an article titled Eliminating Solitary Confinement for Youth.
Jay-Z’s emotional connection to Browder
Upon coming across Browder’s story on the New Yorker, Jay-Z was touched and decided to meet with the young man.
“I just wanted to give him words of encouragement,” Jay Z tells NBC 5 Chicago. He wanted to tell him “I’m proud of him for making it through.”
After the emotional introduction, Jay-Z brought the project to Weinstein, who was initially not familiar with the case.
“I’m going to be honest. I didn’t even know who Kalief was until Shawn showed us footage and talked to us about the project,” Weinstein said. “Now I want to make sure everybody knows.”