PoliticsWilliam J. Ford

Md. Chambers Pass Bills on Solitary Confinement, But Must Reach Consensus

ANNAPOLIS — Akeem Browder adored his younger brother Kalief’s smile, his strong workout regiment and being able to obtain a 3.65 grade point average in college after receiving his GED.

Unfortunately, Browder said, Kalief, 22, hanged himself in 2015, two years after languishing in New York City’s Rikers Island jail for three years while awaiting trial for a theft charge when he was a teen. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement.

Browder said their mother, who found Kalief dead, eventually suffered a heart attack and died about two years later.

“This impacts not only the person affected, but also the internal family,” Browder, 36, said minutes before he planned to testify Tuesday before Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee on a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement against juveniles. “We have to treat everyone with a basic sense of humanity. What happened to my brother was just not humane.”

Browder, who manages a nonprofit organization named after his brother, supports one of three pieces of legislation sponsored by Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Landover.

Akeem Browder of New York City, whose brother, Kalief, hanged himself in 2015 after serving two of his three years in solitary at the city's Rikers Island jail, testified at a March 12 hearing before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee in support of legislation to eradicate and limit the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Akeem Browder of New York City, whose brother, Kalief, hanged himself in 2015 after serving two of his three years in solitary at the city’s Rikers Island jail, testified at a March 12 hearing before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee in support of legislation to eradicate and limit the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

“This impacts not only the person affected, but also the internal family,” Browder, 36, said minutes before he planned to testify Tuesday before Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee on a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement against juveniles. “We have to treat everyone with a basic sense of humanity. What happened to my brother was just not humane.”

The House almost unanimously approved Lewis’s bill 136-3 on Monday, March 18. A Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery County), was unanimous approved 46-0.
Both versions will be reviewed in the respective chambers this week.

A minor difference in the bills shows the House version calls for the governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to “compile and summarize” anytime a minor is placed in solitary confinement and to receive daily physical and mental assessments to determine when that person can be released.

According to a fiscal analysis, it would require the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to report annually on items such as the number of juveniles replaced in solitary confinement, also called restrictive housing, which puts inmates alone in a 6-by-9-foot cell for 22 hours per day. A report would list the juvenile’s age, gender, classification of housing and “the basis for the inmate’s placement in restrictive housing.”

The department housed nearly 19,000 inmates in fiscal year 2018 and about 14,430 spent time in restrictive housing.

According to a 2012 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, 8 percent of Maryland prisoners had been placed in restrictive housing, double the national average. The New York City-based group, which focuses on efforts to eliminate mass incarceration, noted its annual report in December it plans to work with seven jurisdictions to reduce solitary confinement by 25 percent by next year and another 50 percent by 2023.

Meanwhile, Lewis presented another bill focused on providing programs so returning citizens are immediately released from solitary confinement back to the community. The other piece of legislation pushes to ensure those with mental illness aren’t placed in restrictive housing for more than 15 days.

Del. Wanika Fisher (D-District 47B) of Hyattsville presented similar legislative which outlaws the practice toward pregnant women.

The bill would ensure such women would only be placed in solitary confinement if they agrees to remove themselves from general population or pose a serious and immediate risk of physical harm.

If a pregnant woman is isolated by herself, she must be medically assessed every eight hours, according to the bill.

“There’s no medical rationale for placing a pregnant woman in isolation,” said Kimberly Haven, legislative strategist for Reproductive Justice Inside and Interfaith Action for Human Rights. “It is rooted in old policies that were designed by prisons that were meant for men, not women. This is an archaic practice.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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