Kalief Browder suicide a call to action against U.S. justice system

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Reform of the juvenile justice system to identify and divert at risk adolescents.

On June 6, 2015, Kalief Browder committed suicide.  As a 16 year-old, he was imprisoned at Rikers Island for three years and subjected to solitary confinement for nearly two years.  While Kalief’s experience in the juvenile justice system contributed to the ultimate negative health outcome, hundreds of thousands of other youth are being subjected to similar practices and experiencing resultant long-lasting health consequences.

A fact from the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention:  the suicide rate is reported to be 21.9 per 100,000 young people in juvenile justice facilities, approximately three times higher than peers in the general population (Gallagher & Dobrin 2006).

A Silent Curriculum

Below is an excerpt from the moving opinion piece medical student Kathryn C. Brooks wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

During my medical training thus far, Trayvon Martin lost his life, Michael Brown was left to die in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner was choked by officers as he repeated 11 times that he could not breathe. But these events were rarely mentioned in the lecture hall, my small-group sessions, or morning rounds. Was I supposed to ignore their implications for the lives of my patients, and for my role as their caregiver?

It wasn’t that I didn’t receive any education on race. In fact, there have been many well-intentioned curricular attempts to understand the intersections between race and medicine. Since first year, I’ve been inundated with lecture PowerPoint slides that list diseases with higher rates among minorities. But few of them delved into an explanation as to why these disparities exist. Many electives boasted discussions of health inequalities between communities, but rarely did we discuss how skin color played a role. And in doctoring small groups, we avidly discussed the association between poor health outcomes and poverty, but less enthusiastically talked about why standards of care are still not met for black patients with chest pain. As soon as racism was mentioned, conversations fizzled, highlighting the palpable discomfort in the room.

The entire piece, which embodies the reason Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform was founded, can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform Official Launch

On May 11, 2015, neurosurgeon Dr. Edjah Nduom, officially launched Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform. Using Facebook as a the main vehicle, he and his co-founder, Dr. Nzinga Harrison, a highly-respected psychiatrist invited physician colleagues and non-physician allies to join the organization which was formed to provide a collective voice through which physicians can advocate to eliminate the damaging health consequences that can result from interactions with the criminal justice system. Below is a copy of the inaugural Facebook post.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am very proud to announce the official launch of an organization that I have founded, together with a small team of like-minded physicians – Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform.

You all may have noticed the difference in my Facebook activity over the last several months. Several recent tragic events involving the deaths of unarmed men at the hands of the police have highlighted longstanding concerns regarding how the police interact with certain at-risk communities. These events have captured my attention, along with the attention of the media and concerned people worldwide.

While it may be tempting to feel gratified that these events have received publicity and leave it at that, I have spent the last several months feeling that we all need to spend more time addressing the factors that are truly at the root of many of the issues we see today.

In my own research, this led me to Criminal Justice Reform as a major root cause, time and time again. As a physician, the next question became – is there a specific role for physicians to make a significant impact on this issue? I quickly decided that the answer was, “Yes, but how?” I started by looking for an organization for physicians interested in these issues, and I could not find anything that spoke to the concerns that I have with the current criminal justice system.

About four months ago, I reached out to Nzinga Harrison, a leading psychiatrist in Atlanta, GA with the idea of founding an organization for physicians to address these issues. Instead of telling me that I was insane, she was excited, and we quickly reached out to others, who all expressed their enthusiasm and lent their expertise to the cause.

Over the last four months, I have spent hours of my own free time studying, speaking with colleagues, reading articles and searching for resources on this topic. After numerous brainstorming sessions, conference calls and emails back and forth, we have created the language for this organization that we feel truly represents the best way forward for physicians to have a real impact on creating lasting reform in the criminal justice system that can help our most vulnerable patients.

Physicians can no longer stand on the sidelines while our patients suffer due to flaws in the criminal justice system. The time is now to make our voices heard.

Please join us on Facebook at facebook.com/pfcjr and on Twitter: @PfCJReform.

Our Indiegogo page, to raise funds to establish our organization as a 501c3 organization and create a permanent website is live at: http://igg.me/at/pfcjr

We look forward to working with you soon!

Edjah

If you are interested in joining or supporting Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR), you can: