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Kalief Browder, from the Bronx, spent three years on Rikers Island because he was unable to pay the $3000 bail and was unwilling to plead guilty to a crime that he did not commit. Arrested in 2010, at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, he was charged with robbery and assault. While at Rikers, Kalief was beaten by guards and other inmates and spent much of this time in solitary confinement. In 2013, all charges against him were dropped and he was finally released. In 2015, at the age of 22, unable to overcome the emotional and psychological trauma caused by his incarceration, Kalief Browder committed suicide.

These policies were adopted in part in reaction to a spike in crime, but expanded even after crime began to decline. They were also driven by the belief that criminality was the result of moral failing and that such behavior was largely unable to be reformed. According to politicians, the appropriate response to public safety threats was punishment and control. These conditions gave rise to mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws, which along with the power of prosecutors, are seen as drivers of mass incarceration.

Mandatory Minimums – Why Prison Sentences Are So High