How Journalist Gonnerman Got Story Of “Dysfunctional” Rikers, Bronx Courts


Journalist Jennifer Gonnerman interviewed former Rikers Island inmate Kalife Browder 10 times over seven months to get the story of how the teen spent three years in the troubled New York City jail without being convicted of anything, she tells the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The resulting story, reported earlier in Crime & Justice News, appeared in the New Yorker magazine. “The two dysfunctional bureaucracies laid out in the piece — both Rikers Island and the Bronx court system — have received attention from other reporters in the past … but I think this story hopefully will just add to that body of work in both educating the folks in power and prompting them to pay closer attention and really try to make some changes,” she says

Gonnerman was denied permission to visit Rikers but had been there previously to do a story for the Village Voice. “It's so difficult to get access to jails and prison systems that often the voices of the folks most directly impacted are left out of the public debate, out of the national conversation,” she says. “And I was trying in this piece to let us see this world from the point of view of somebody who was going through it himself as a teenager, giving his first-hand account, and I think that can be very powerful to read. And in a lot of ways, these folks are the true experts on everything that is wrong with our criminal justice system, and I feel like anything that we can do as reporters to incorporate their voices, their insights into this larger conversation is going to benefit all of us.”

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