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In America, a 16-year-old spent 3 years in jail without a trial for a crime he didn't commit.

Have you heard of Kalief Browder? If you haven't, you really need to.

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Open Society Foundations

Imagine being put in jail for three years without a trial for a crime you didn't commit. At the age of 16.

You're a 16-year-old kid, a sophomore in high school, coming home from a party.

You're a 16-year-old kid. Some officers stop you and accuse you of stealing a backpack from a stranger. They arrest you with no evidence. They have no backpack, no fingerprints, and you have an alibi. They take you to Rikers Island.


You're a 16-year-old kid. You can't afford $10,000 in bail and neither can your family. You sit in Rikers Island prison. Waiting for a trial date. During your entire sophomore year of high school.

You're a 16-year-old kid. You are in a high security prison. You are abused by guards and inmates alike. Without a trial date. For almost three years.

You don't have to imagine it. Many kids have gone through this.

On May 14, 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was picked up, and he was held, without trial, for 33 months in one of the most dangerous prisons in America without evidence.

GIF via ABC 7 News interview with Kalief Browder.

He was then released without charges — after five-six suicide attempts, after spending over 800 days in solitary confinement, and after The New Yorker exposed brutal beatings at the hands of the prison guards and prisoners.

For Kalief, leaving prison didn't make things better.

On June 6, 2015, after struggling from trauma and mental health issues stemming from three years locked up in a hole for a crime he didn't commit, Kalief died by suicide. He hung himself out his home's second-story window using the cord from an air conditioner. Make no mistake, the system broke him. And he's not the only victim.

There are over 400 others just like Kalief currently trapped on Rikers Island without justice.


According to a powerful (and disturbing) New York Times story, something that should be illegal in America has become the norm:

So how the hell do we prevent this from happening in the future?

In Kalief's case, there was no evidence of him stealing a backpack. There was no risk that he would harm anyone. He shouldn't have had to live in a 7-by-12 cell without a trial for three years simply because he couldn't afford bail. He was 16 years old when New York upended his life. A kid.

The Pretrial Justice Institute is fighting to prevent more stories like Kalief's. The first step, which has been successful in Washington, D.C., is to overhaul bail.


Most of the people in jail haven't had a trial yet and many are too poor to afford bail.

Jail, which is used for sentences under a year and for people awaiting trial, is actually mostly used for people who haven't had their day in court yet. This is different from prison, which is where people go for extended periods of time after they've been sentenced. It's unfair to the accused and an expensive waste of taxpayer money.

Being poor, statistically, puts you at much greater risk of going away for a long time.

Being in jail for a crime you haven't yet been convicted of can take a toll on your life.

At Rikers Island, some people can wait years for a trial. They get so desperate they plead guilty just to get out sooner.

But! There's a better way to handle this. Replace bail with something called "pretrial risk assessment."

It works like this:

People are evaluated on their risk factors. Those who are deemed a threat stay behind bars. Those who aren't likely to commit a crime while awaiting their court date are sent home with supervision.

Using supervision rather than jail is much less expensive for taxpayers and much more humane.

Here's how much it costs per day:

Risk Assessment is already working in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, only 20% of defendants were held in jail. 88% never missed a single court date. Only 12% had another arrest while awaiting trial. And only 1% of those released committed a violent crime while waiting for trial.

Imagine a world where people of all income levels were treated fairly in the court of law.

You don't have to imagine actually. You can learn more by watching John Oliver's segment on bail. And, more importantly, check out how you can help by visiting the folks who made this infographic:

They have a petition for the end of cash bail that you could sign that will be heading to Governor Cuomo's office.

Let's make sure we never see a 16-year-old kid have to say these words again:

GIF via ABC 7 News interview with Kalief Browder

You can watch an in-depth interview with Kalief prior to his death here, and you can learn more about Kalief's life and death from the reporter who covered his story. And you can also read The New Yorker's powerful obituary for Kalief.


Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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