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Cruel & Unusual Punishment: Prisoners Spending Too Much Time in Jail Waiting For Trial


The recent availability of the six-part television series Time: The Kalief Browder Story on streaming sites like Netflix has placed a special focus on the injustice of the criminal justice system in this country; in particular, the incidence of individuals serving significant time in prison without having been convicted of any crimes. This appears to be of particular issue with respect to Rikers Island, New York city’s main jail complex. Many, just in an effort to get out, will plead guilty, regardless of whether they committed the crime or not.

According to sources, just in September alone, administrative snafus (such as losing records tracking that an individual has already served time) that could have led to individuals wrongfully serving 341 days in city and state lockups were found. In total, these mistakes are estimated to cost taxpayers more than $220,000. That’s one month, and only counting the administrative mistakes that were found.

Kalief Browder’s Story

Kalief Browder spent three years in Rikers Island awaiting trial—two of them spent in solitary confinement—after which the charges against him were dropped. Throughout that time, his trial was continually delayed because the prosecutors would, each time in court, indicate that they were not ready for trial. His case is not unique, he is simply one of the few who had the courage not to falsely plead guilty and take a plea bargain just to get out of Rikers.

According to sources, people end up staying in jail way past the time they are sentenced. Many of this stems from individual mistakes and archaic computer systems. Confusing sentencing laws are another factor: because there are so many different rules based on the crime being charged, it is difficult computing the correct day for release.

Communities Affected

Unfortunately, there is no question that this issue disproportionately affects poorer communities of color. For example, just recently, three suspects in a Bronx home invasion spent an unnecessary year in prison awaiting trial because the prosecutors involved in the case did not realize that their “star witness” had been dead for more than a year. Prosecutors then waited until after the suspects were released to drop charges against them. Had the prosecution engaged in some kind of due diligence or care in keeping track of the witness before then, these innocent suspects could have been released from jail within a reasonable amount of time.


If you have been arrested for a crime, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. Do not let yourself get lost in the system.

At The Baez Law Firm, we have successfully defended a variety of criminal cases throughout Florida and Massachusetts. Contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today to schedule your free consultation.


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