Restorative justice should be our goal
Kalief Browder’s story is resurfacing as his documentary, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” has begun airing on TV. It chronicles Browder’s life, from his arrest at 16, for alleged backpack theft, until his suicide at 22. Browder’s story is compelling, not only for his inhumane treatment at Rikers Island and its lasting effects, but the legal path that led him there. A prior probation sentence, for joyriding a bread truck, led to Kalief’s mother’s inability to post bail, and his placement in the most notorious U.S. jail for three years.
Sadly, his story is common; 16- and 17-year-olds are still convicted as adults in New York State. About 75 percent are convicted of misdemeanors. Only 3.3 percent are violent offenders. Most are poor minorities. It seems our justice problem goes beyond the conviction, but the way we handle and view “justice.” Browder’s story displays how current punitive methods of justice severely damage young offenders and their communities. Imagine where he would have been today if his community relied heavily on restorative practices.
In response, the University at Buffalo and the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition are hosting Restorative Justice Day, a public event, on April 27. It will include a discussion on restorative justice and its implications on juvenile justice. In an era where our country holds the most incarcerated individuals, it’s time we work to change our country’s story and unite to create social capital.