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.
“This can cause a lot of long-term, adverse effects and trauma and depression and lack of impulse control that will affect them the rest of their lives,” Lewis told the committee. “This isn’t a group that will cost a whole bunch of money.”
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 women would only be placed in solitary confinement if she agrees to remove herself from general population or poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm.
If 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.”