177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org



The mission of Brooklyn Defender Services is to provide high quality legal representation and related services to people who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defender organization that represents nearly 35,000 people each year who are too poor to afford an attorney. Our staff consists of specialized attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals and administrative staff who are experts in their individual fields.

Our staff are highly qualified and specially trained to provide excellent legal representation to people charged with a crime or facing child welfare proceedings. Every client receives the services needed to defend his or her case, including an investigator to track down witnesses or recover evidence, a social worker to improve the life circumstances of our client and an excellent attorney who will analyze the legal issues in the case, try to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter and will represent the client at a trial.

BDS has many services for our clients on-site, including civil legal advocacy, such as assistance with educational needs of our clients or their children, housing and benefits advocacy and immigration advice and representation.

People who are arrested face many obstacles, even if their case was resolved in their favor. Some examples are loss of employment, suspension from school, eviction from public or private housing, deportation, forfeiture of property and loss of licenses. Our goal is to help clients with these issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law.

Each year, there are 100,000 arrests in Brooklyn. Eighty-five percent of these arrests are for misdemeanors or a non-criminal offense. Ninety percent of the people arrested cannot afford an attorney. Brooklyn Defender Services staffs the court so that every person has an attorney as soon as they see the judge.

One thousand families each year get a similar benefit—they too have an attorney waiting in the courtroom to help them on the very day that proceedings are filed for removal of their children.

Many of our clients are people with a mental illness. Many of our clients are under the age of 18. A growing number are veterans facing difficulties in returning home. A large portion are suffering with drug addiction or alcoholism. It is only through a zealous voice advocating for those unable to speak for themselves that justice is done. BDS is that voice.


  • Criminal Defense

  • Family Defense

  • Immigration

  • Civil Justice

  • Policy & Advocacy

  • Community Office


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Cindi Elibott Giglio, Treasurer
Suprotik Basu, Board Member
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Robert J. Gunther, Jr., Board Member
Jeffrey Rona, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is committed to high-quality and zealous representation on behalf of Brooklyn residents facing the criminal, family and immigration justice systems.   As part of this mission, BDS strives to ensure pro bono partnerships leverage resources and provide critical support for our clients in and out of the courtroom to ensure our clients obtain the best result possible in court and, hopefully, a better outcome in their lives.

BDS regularly partners with New York City’s major law firms, corporations and other members of the private bar on numerous cases from all of our practice areas.  Our pro bono partners have worked on individual cases, filed complaints in federal courts, co-authored amicus briefs, co-counseled hearings, filed and argued appeals and conducted research on novel areas of law.  BDS offers pro bono opportunities that not only present ideal opportunities for pro bono attorneys to get real courtroom experience and work with clients in need, but that result in just and better outcomes for our clients.  BDS offers both short- and long-term projects and has flexible co-counseling arrangements. Additionally, we offer comprehensive training programs, mentorship and supervision that will provide a meaningful experience for the pro bono attorney and the client.

Law firms, corporations, law-firm attorneys, and in-house counsel who are interested in joining Brooklyn Defender Services’ pro bono practice, please contact Molly Meltzer, Director of Pro Bono at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Retired or Transitioning Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities are welcomed at Brooklyn Defender Services. Our organization is one of the host organizations of the Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) established by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Please visit the NY Courts website to register for the program and contact us at pbvolunteer@bds.org.

Individual Volunteers are incorporated into our practices on an as-needed basis. Please send a resume and cover letter indicating particular skills you have that are applicable to our work and your specific availability to pbvolunteer@bds.org.


BDS opened its doors in 1996 as the first borough-specific public defender office in New York City, with 38 employees working around donated conference room tables out of office space recently vacated by the New York Telephone Co. That first year we lived rent-free, while the building was being renovated around us, and handled 10,000 cases.

Today, BDS is one of the largest defender offices in the country, representing tens of thousands of clients in criminal, family, immigration and civil cases annually. Our staff of 300 includes 180 attorneys and 120 social workers, investigators, paralegals, re-entry specialists, jail liaisons, community organizers and policy specialists as well as dedicated advocates for youth, veterans and parents. Our specialized defense approach allows us to provide targeted services for clients with mental illness or developmental disabilities, adolescent clients, trafficking victims and veterans.



Our primary mission at BDS is to represent people facing serious accusations from the government. We recognize that our clients face many additional challenges and obstacles related to their poverty. As the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, BDS’s interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on site to our clients, including immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, an education attorney and social workers who specialize in areas such as mental health and youth advocacy.


ARISE (Action for Reform in Special Education)

Attorney General Office Criminal Justice and Mental Health Roundtable

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Brooklyn Community Services

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association

Brownsville Community Justice Center


Caribbean American Center of New York


Center for Community Alternatives

Center  for Court Innovation

Center for Family Life

Child Welfare Organizing Project

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Christ Church Fellowship Baptist Church

Coalition for Effective Behavioral Health Reforms and Dignity in Schools Campaign

Common Justice

Drew House & Project Greenhope



Families for Freedom

Families Rising

Fortune Society

Good Shepherd Services

Haitian Centers Council

Haitian Family Resource Center

Haitian Legal Immigration Legal Assistance Program

Health Home Initiative

La Union

Lutheran Social Services

Medgar Evers College Adult Education Department

MFY Legal Service


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

New York State Bar Association

NY Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Coalition with Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy, Vera Institute, Cardozo Law School & Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

NYU Law School

Osborne Association


Parent Providers Coalition (Bronx Defenders, Center for Family Representation)

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Pro Bono Scholars

Ridgewood-Bushwick Young Adult Literacy Program

Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brighton-Manhattan Beach, Inc.

Shriver Center




Young New Yorkers



If you are a Brooklyn resident and cannot afford an attorney, BDS will provide free advice.

In fear of being arrested? Call 718-254-0700 and ask for the operator.

In fear of having your children removed? Call 347-592-2500.


Visit our Community Office in East New York, located at:
566 Livonia Ave. (Between Alabama & Georgia Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11207
(646) 971-2722

We accept walk-in consultations on a variety of legal issues including ACS/child welfare, housing, and criminal matters. The office also offers regular Know Your Rights workshops open to community members. Past training topics included education rights, seeking employment with a criminal record, and what to do when ACS knocks on your door.

Current BDS clients, if you need to connect with your attorney or social worker, it is possible to arrange meetings to be held at the community office.

The office also has a variety of informational material and community resources, including know your rights fact sheets, community events, and voter registration forms.

For more information, call (646) 971-2722.



Brooklyn Defender Services seeks a highly motivated and energetic administrative assistant who will work out of our Courthouse office. We seek an assistant who works well with colleagues and clients, can multi-task and is comfortable in a very fast-paced environment.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Associate Director is a senior management position, created to partner with YNY’s Executive Director – also its founder and creative lead – in instilling structure and operational diligence to the growing programs and team. The position will have day-to-day responsibility for the efficient running of YNY operations.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS’s Family Defense Practice (FDP) represents low-income parents in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court. Our mission is to fight the removal of children from their families and advocate for families to be reunified as quickly as possible.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of clients in Brooklyn every year. Brooklyn Defender Services is hiring experienced Staff Attorneys to join our Family Defense Practice.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Criminal Defense Practice will be interviewing third year law students this fall for full-time post-graduate positions that would begin in September 2020. Our interviewers will meet with candidates at the law schools and job fairs listed below:

National BLSA Conference 8/2

Harvard 9/9

Roger Williams University 9/13

Northeastern University 9/13

Fordham 9/16

Cardozo 9/17

Columbia 9/18

Brooklyn Law 9/20

Pace 9/20

NYU 9/23, 25

Touro 9/24

NY Law 9/25

CUNY 9/26

St. John’s 9/27

Hofstra 9/27

Equal Justice Works 10/18,19

Mass Law Consortium (TBA)

All interested candidates who are currently attending one of the law schools we will be visiting should apply for an interview through their institution’s on-campus interviewing (OCI) Symplicity system. Students who are not attending one of these schools should apply through one of the job fairs we are attending. Alternatively, students not attending one of the listed schools and not able to attend one of the job fairs may apply by submitting their cover letter and resume directly to cdpjobs@bds.org  before the November 15th , 2019 deadline.



BDS’ Family Defense Practice (FDP) represents parents in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court. FDP advocates for clients who have diverse, complex and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and very fast-paced setting. FDP seeks a social worker to become part of the out of court advocate team of social workers and parent advocates.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks an experienced social worker to team up with attorneys that provide comprehensive legal representation to youth age 14 to 21 with misdemeanor and felony charges.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks an energetic social worker to become an integral part of the criminal defense team to advocate for clients, both in and out of court.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Criminal Defense Practice is currently accepting applications from practicing attorneys who would like to continue their careers as a criminal defense public defender with BDS. We are looking for attorneys with exceptional written and oral advocacy skills who bring creativity and passion to the defense of their clients. Candidates who have criminal defense experience are especially encouraged to apply.

Interested applicants should submit a current resume and a cover letter explaining their desire to join BDS and detailing their bar admission status, as well as their experience in the law and relevant criminal defense or related experience. Attorneys who are currently under a commitment to their present employers should wait until their commitment is nearing completion to apply.

Applications should be mailed to the attention of Richard LaFontaine, Esq., Director of Recruiting, Brooklyn Defender Services, 177 Livingston Street, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, or sent via email to cdpjobs@bds.org


In April 2017, New York State enacted statewide reforms intended to improve the right to counsel for people charged with a criminal offense, who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Amendments to New York County Law § 722-e and the addition of Executive Law § 832 (4) enacted by New York State Governor Cuomo and supported by the NYS legislature encourages and enables each criminal defense provider of legally mandated representation to furnish high quality, effective representation for every client. These recent legislative reforms offer public defense providers across the state the opportunity to hire additional attorneys, investigators, social workers and support staff and develop other resources to further their efforts in improving the overall quality of mandated representation.

Persons eager to explore opportunities within the New York State public defense arena who seek a challenging work environment that promotes diversity, embraces change, and provides leadership opportunities are encouraged to participate in this Public Defenders Career Fair.

See here for more information.


Criminal Defense Practice Brooklyn Defender Services’ intensive training program is designed for recent law graduates and attorneys who are new to the practice of criminal law in New York. Attorneys spend the first few weeks of their employment at BDS attending in-house lectures on various aspects of criminal defense, shadowing experienced attorneys and practicing their skills through simulations of various aspects of criminal practice.

The Appellate Division has granted us a student practice order which gives us the right to have law students and law graduates working for BDS to appear in court even though they are not yet admitted to practice law. This allows our interns, fellows and recent law graduates to handle cases with supervision.


Law Student Summer Internships

BDS has many relationships with local educational institutions, including clinical study programs from New York University Law School (the Offender Re-Entry Clinic, the Family Defense Clinic and the Community Defender Clinic), the Youth Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School, the Criminal Defense Clinic of St. John’s School of Law and the CUNY Law School Family Law Concentration Clinic.

Brooklyn Defender Services also offers full-time summer internships to law students who have completed their second year of law school and have a commitment to public defense. The internship program lasts eight weeks. Intern duties may include legal research and writing, representation of clients in arraignments (under supervision), court appearances, client and witness interviews, trial preparation and investigation assistance.

Our law student summer internship program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. At this time we are no longer accepting applications for the Criminal Defense Practice Summer 2020 internship. If you are interested in a family defense internship contact Ambika Panday at apanday@bds.org. If you are interested in a Civil Justice Practice internship, contact Lauren Price at lprice@bds.org.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.

Internships are also available with the BDS Immigration Practice in three focus areas: Padilla, where attorneys work closely with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky; the Youth and Communities Project providing BDS clients and Brooklyn residents with affirmative immigration benefits and removal defense; and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings. To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org with “Summer Internship” in the subject heading.

Postgraduate Law Fellowships

Brooklyn Defender Services hosts fellows to work in our office on special projects. Each year, we aim to identify law student fellowship applications that meet our mission of serving underprivileged clients in Brooklyn through innovative proposals. These include Equal Justice Works fellowships, Skadden fellows, and Soros fellowships among others. We additionally welcome law students from around the country whose law schools have fellowship placement options, particularly post-graduate fellowships. Applications for fellowships for the upcoming year are now closed.

BDS Immigration Practice Summer 2018 Internship 

Description and Responsibilities:

The Immigration Practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks summer 2018 law student interns. BDS is one of the largest public defense providers in the United States.  We represent more than 45,000 clients per year in a variety of legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense.

The Immigration Practice has three primary focus areas: Padilla, Youth and Communities, and NYIFUP.

First, Padilla attorneys work in close collaboration with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases, and to ensure clients are fully advised of those consequences pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. In some cases, Padilla attorneys continue to advocate for BDS clients after the criminal case is disposed. We advocate against our clients’ immigration detention, defend them in immigration removal proceedings, and provide assistance applying for immigration benefits.

Second, the Youth and Communities Project provides a full range of immigration legal services to BDS clients and Brooklyn residents, including removal defense and affirmative immigration benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), permanent residence, and victim and trafficking visas. We both identify clients in-house through our criminal and family defense practice and also participate in external clinics in close partnership with numerous community-based organizations.

Third, BDS serves as assigned counsel under the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings at the Varick Street Immigration Court and in non-detained removal proceedings if our efforts result in the clients’ release. NYIFUP attorneys provide ongoing representation to clients facing immigration detention and deportation on a wide array of defenses, applications, and other creative advocacy efforts.

Initially, Immigration Practice interns will be assigned to one of these three practice areas with the opportunity to work with multiple attorneys.  Based on interest, previous experience and capacity, the intern may also be able to be work in other practice areas.


We seek dynamic students currently enrolled in law school with a demonstrated commitment to defending immigrants accused and/or convicted of crimes. Applicants should have a strong substantive background in immigrant rights, criminal justice, and/or social justice issues. Applicants should also possess the ability to perform nuanced legal research and writing, to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, and to be a team player.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available. Most summer interns work full-time for 10-12 weeks, although we will consider split summers on a case by case basis.


Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, or other second-language fluency is preferred but not required.

Application Instructions:

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org. We are no longer accepting applications for summer 2018. Inquiries for term-time positions are still welcome.


Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigative assistants locate, review, and download video surveillance; photograph and document crime scenes; and conduct background research on witnesses. They additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigations unit.

While some of the investigative assistant’s work will take place in the office, much of it will be out in the field—in private homes, in local businesses, on the street and in the greater community. Ideal applicants should be comfortable working all over Brooklyn and should possess characteristics necessary to approach and interact with strangers about sensitive subjects. Candidates must be able to work in a collaborative setting and be able to produce high-quality written work.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– Fluency in another language is highly desired, but not required

This internship is unpaid. We strongly encourage interns to apply to grants, fellowships or any other funding available through school or third-party organizations. Interns will be provided with unlimited monthly metro cards for the duration of their internship.

The internship has a rolling admission deadline, and start and end dates can accommodate academic schedules.

To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to Bailey Kilkuskie at bkilkuskie@bds.org with the subject “Investigative Assistant Application.” Please specify which cycle you are applying to work for and if you would like to work full or part time (e.g., Spring 2019, full time). Resumes and cover letters will only be accepted by email; if selected for an interview applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.





Criminal Law Reform Issues

Adolescent Justice

  • BDS Supports Raising the Age of Youthful Offender Status, A.4743B (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • Check out our one-pager on Raising the Age of YO here.


  • BDS supports the Assembly Bail Reform proposal, A.10137A (PDF ) – May 29, 2018
  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Bail Reform, A9955 & S3579A/A5033A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Supports Reform of Laws Governing Charitable Bail Organizations, A4880A/S4776A (PDF ) – February 9, 2017


  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Discovery Reform, A4360A, S7722/A10135, & S6848/A7292 (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • Check out the Repeal the #BlindfoldLaw Coalition one-pager on the urgent need for discovery reform here.

Drug Enforcement

  • BDS Strongly Opposes Increased Penalties for Opioids & K2 (PDF ) – March 26, 2018

Employment Collateral Consequences

  • BDS Responds and Proposes Amendments to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Elimination of Parole Fee and Changes to Conviction-Related Barrier to Employment and Participation in Education Councils in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Gravity Knives

  • BDS Memo of Support for Repealing Gravity Knife Law (PDF ) – May 22, 2019
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – October 11, 2017
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – June 28, 2016
  • Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.
  • BDS Memos in Support of Bills to Decriminalize Possession of Common Workers’ Utility Knives, (A4821/S3675 PDF) (A9042/S6483 PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • Memo of Support to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” S3675/A.4821 (PDF ) – April 23, 2015

Immigrants Rights

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Protect Our Courts Act, A11013A/S8925 (PDF ) – June 14, 2018

Jail and Prison Conditions

  • BDS Supports Access to Feminine Hygiene Products in NYS Jails and Prisons, S6176/A588A (PDF ) – June 14, 2017

Police Asset Forfeiture

  • BDS Response to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Changes to Asset Forfeiture in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Prostitution and Trafficking

  • BDS Memo in Support for Expanding New York’s Vacatur Law for Survivors of Trafficking, S4997/A4540 (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support for Repeal of New York’s Penal Law 240.37, S8107A/A9704A (PDF ) – June 1, 2018


  • BDS Memo in Support for Legislation to Seal Certain Criminal Convictions and “Ban the Box” on Job Applications, A2699/ S5593 & A2990/S2029 (PDF ) – June 12, 2015

Solitary Confinement 

  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A3080B/S4784A (PDF ) – March 8, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support of Restricting Segregated Confinement for Juveniles and Special Populations, A1346A & A1347 (PDF ) – April 3, 2015

Speedy Trial

  • BDS Memo in Support of Speedy Trial Reform – Kalief’s Law, S7006B & A3055A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Releases Statement in Support of Kalief’s Law, S5988A/A8296A (PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law, S5988/A7841 (PDF ) – August 18, 2015


Child Welfare Law Reform Issues

Adoption Subsidies

  • BDS Supports Amendments to Monthly Adoption Subsidies to Foster Parents, S6518/A8313 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Family Court ACDs

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – April 16, 2018
  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – May 8, 2017

Kinship Care

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Kinship Guardianship Assistance Legislation, S4833/A7554 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Post-Termination Contact

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, S4203/A2199 (PDF ) – April 2019
  • Preserving Family Bonds Coalition Joint Memo in Support (PDF) – April 2019


November 14, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on pre-trial services and ATI’s in light of the new bail statute (PDF)

October 17, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Codes Hearing on Potential Legislative Changes to Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law (PDF)

September 3, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration (PDF)

August 9, 2019

BDS testifies before the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids Addiction and Overdose (PDF)

June 27, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019. (PDF)

May 22, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Implementation of Pre-Trial Justice Reforms Enacted by New York State (PDF)

May 1, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on the Experience of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in NYC Jails (PDF)

April 29, 2019

BDS joins the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem and NY County Defender Services in urging enactment of a slate of criminal justice reforms before session ends (PDF)

April 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration and the Justice System Oversight Hearing on ICE Out of New York Courts Resolution 0828-2019 regarding Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176 / S.425). (PDF)

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Hospitals Joint Oversight Hearing on the Impact of Marijuana Policies on Child Welfare. (PDF)

February 27, 2019

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Public Safety, Justice System, Consumer Affairs & Business Licensing, and Civil & Human Rights Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. (PDF)

February 26, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Department of Correction Programming. (PDF)

February 25, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Family Separation in Criminal Cases (PDF)

February 4, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Client Experience at HRA Centers. (PDF)

January 16, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Evaluating Programs that Aim to Reduce Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Youth. (PDF)

December 19, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on the Need for Legal Representation in Immigration Court Under Trump. (PDF)

December 3, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice and the Justice System Oversight Hearing: “Why Does the City Make it so Hard to Post Bail?” (PDF)

November 27, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Justice System and General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Removals from Parents and Caretakers In Child Welfare Cases. (PDF)

BDS testifies before New York Senators Luis Sepúlveda and Gustavo Rivera’s Public Forum on New York State’s Parole Process, Structure of the Parole Board, and Data Indicating Systemic Bias in Parole Decisions. (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Committee on Hospitals, Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction and Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Correctional Health (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration, Health & General Welfare on the impact of the proposed “public charge” rule in NYC (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS submits testimony to the NYS Assembly in support of guaranteed access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in New York’s prisons and jails (PDF)

October 25, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Governmental Operations and Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on Language Access Implementation Plans. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on Pay Hearing and Retention Rates for ADAs and Public Defenders (PDF)

October 16, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly on legalizing the adult use of marijuana (PDF)

Shakira Kennedy, an advocate and parent who is represented by BDS’ Family Defense Practice, testifies before the New York State Assembly on the harms of cannabis prohibition on New York’s racially and economically marginalized families (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Education on employment and school transportation (PDF)

October 3, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Governmental Operations and Criminal Justice on voting rights for people on parole (PDF)

September 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on the Cost of Justice (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York State Commission on Parental Legal Representation (See PDF for attachments)

September 17, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration and the Committee on Youth Services Oversight Hearing on LGBTQ immigrant youth in NYC (PDF)

September 6, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees Immigration and Youth Services Oversight Hearing on Abolishing ICE (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Criminal Justice and Women Oversight Hearing Examining Sexual Abuse and Harassment in City Jails (PDF)

July 12, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the impacts of the Trump Administration Family Separation Policy in NYC (PDF)

June 21, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Criminal Court (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Gang Takedown Effects (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS Submits Comments to the NYS Dept. of Financial Services & NYS Dept. of State Listening Session on Abuses by the Bail Bond Industry (PDF)

May 2, 2018 

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the harm of the commercial bail bond industry (PDF)

April 24, 2018

BDS submits written testimony to the  NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on NYC Support for Immigrant Parents of Children Ages 0-5 Years (PDF)

April 23, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Safety and Security in City Jails (PDF)

April 18, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on  NYC’s Preparedness to Raise the Age and Reso. 0283-2018 (PDF)

March 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Budget Hearing on Immigration (PDF)

February 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Justice System on Issues with Criminal Discovery Practices (PDF )

February 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council in Support of Marijuana Legalization and, in the Interim, Immediately Ending Marijuana Arrests and Prosecutions (PDF  )

January 11, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly Hearing on Legalizing & Regulating Adult Sale and Possession of Marijuana and its Prospective Effects on Public Health and the Criminal Legal System (PDF  )

December 14, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Oversight Hearing on Examining Forensic Science Practices in the NYPD Crime Lab and OCME (PDF )

December 4, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Progress in Closing Rikers (PDF )

November 28, 2017

BDS comments: Proposed state regulations on solitary confinement in local jails only codify the practice of torture (PDF )

November 21, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on NYPD’s role in school safety and efforts to improve school climate (PDF )

November 16, 2017

BDS, along with 100 community and advocacy groups across NYS, submit letter to Governor Cuomo with recommendations for changes to New York’s pretrial detention system

November 15, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council’s Oversight Hearing on the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (PDF )

October 30, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Healthcare in NYS Prisons and Local Jails (PDF )

October 26, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Reentry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF )

October 25, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council oversight hearing on violence in city jails (PDF )

October 23, 2017

Do You Qualify to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed? A BDS One-Pager. (PDF )

October 16, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety (PDF )

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Technology on Algorithm Transparency (PDF )

September 27, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth (PDF )

September 20, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Aging in support of Int. No. 1616–– a Local Law in relation to establishing a temporary task force on post-conviction reentry for older adults (PDF )

September 18, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Hearing on New York’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts (PDF )

September 13, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee oversight hearing on Best Practices for NYC Agencies, Courts, And Law Enforcement Authorized to Certify Immigrant Victims for U and T Visas (PDF )

September 7, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety  & Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services joint Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Responses to Persons in Mental Health Crisis (PDF )



Brooklyn Defender Services handles approximately 40 percent of the overall criminal cases for the Borough of Brooklyn, making our client profile indicative, if not entirely representational, of the wider law enforcement trends across the city, as they pertain to arrests, custody and court adjudication.



BDS’s Special Litigation Counsel works with BDS defenders and clients, outside counsel and activists, to identify systemic criminal justice deficiencies and constitutional violations that unjustly affect criminal justice outcomes for our clients. Once identified, special litigation lawyers strategically litigate those issues in State and Federal courts to improve both process and outcomes for all accused New Yorkers. From challenging unreasonable bail conditions when a case starts to overbroad barriers to re-entry when it’s over, BDS is striving to make the criminal justice system accountable to those it intends to serve through its growing impact litigation practice.


Brooklyn Defender Services has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise on the complexities that inform our client’s lives and their involvement in the justice system. BDS works with each of the courts and other stakeholders to improve procedures and policies that affect our clients in each of the courts where we are the institutional provider.

As zealous advocates for our clients and the communities we serve, it is also our duty to contribute to the larger conversations taking place within the criminal, family and immigration justice systems in order to facilitate meaningful changes. Through our presence on working groups and coalitions, the use of our external communications, position papers, blog, and other forums we seek to educate system players, legislators and community members about the critical issues facing our clients and give voice to some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.





On Friday, September 20, 2019, Brooklyn Defender Services presents Zealous at A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Tickets and sponsorships still available!

Join us for an evening fundraiser with conversation and art organized by public defenders exploring how language and storytelling by those with direct experience can shift the “justice” narrative to help end mass criminalization.

The event will feature a keynote from Rabia Chaudry, an art exhibition and talk by Molly Crabapple, and conversations with Rachel Barkow, Emily Bazelon, Dwayne Betts, Josie Duffy Rice, Scott Hechinger, Andrea James, Raj Jayadev, Soledad O’Brien, Jon Rapping, and Danielle Sered.

Click here for a full rundown of the event.

Proceeds from the event will support local and national, public defender-led campaigns to end mass criminalization.

If you are interested in attending but cannot afford a ticket, please contact Kristine Herman at kherman@bds.org.



For Immediate Release…



With the Heat Index Expected to Reach 111 Degrees Tomorrow, BDS calls on NYC and DOC to Take Emergency Action

(New York, NY) – Today, Kelsey De Avila, Project Director for Jail Services at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement:

“With the scorching heat only threatening to get worse, we are extremely concerned about serious risks to people at Rikers and in other City jails. Most incarcerated people are without air conditioning and the limited number of fans are only in the day rooms, leaving people to swelter, particularly while in their cells. DOC is not providing appropriate summer clothes to many of our clients. People with medical needs have reported feeling nauseous and dizzy. Government has a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of people in jail. Yet, much like this past winter’s power outage which left people at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center on lockdown without heat and hot water amidst frigid temperatures, DOC is apparently woefully unprepared for this heat wave. We call on Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann to take immediate action to protect people in the City’s custody from dangerous heat conditions.”



BDS TESTIFIES BEFORE THE NYC COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY HEARING ON INTS. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & RES. 0866-2019


Yung-Mi Lee – Supervising Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Presented before:

The New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on

Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019


June 27, 2019

My name is Yung-Mi Lee and I am a Supervising Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 30,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank Chairperson Donovan Richards and members of the Committee on Public Safety for holding this hearing on consequential legislation about which we have very serious concerns.

BDS Opposes T2018-2223 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing notice to minors included in the criminal groups database

BDS urges the Council not to advance this legislation and meet with advocates and experts working on so-called gang enforcement, including people who have been swept up in raids, public defenders, academics, community members, and others.

On June 13, 2018, my colleague Rebecca Kinsella testified before this Committee on the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) so-called gang takedown efforts. In that testimony, BDS called for the abolition of the NYPD’s gang database, or “criminal group database,” which is only the latest form of profile-based policing, or what many call Stop & Frisk 2.0. We also called for a reallocation of resources to fund Cure Violence programs and, more generally, to support rather than profile marginalized families and communities. Instead, T2018-2223, which appears to be well-intended, would entrench gang designations in the law and create an extremely limited and possibly ineffectual process for New Yorkers to determine whether they have been included in this database and, only then, petition to the NYPD to be removed, subject to the complete discretion of the Department which originally included them.

Extremely Limited “Gang Label” Notification Provision

It is possible that, under this legislation, the NYPD would have no greater obligation toward transparency that exists in the status quo. The legislation would require the NYPD to notify New Yorkers who are 17 and under whom they have entered into the gang database “unless providing such notification would compromise an active criminal investigation or the department has specific reason to believe that providing such notification would compromise the health or safety of the minor or another person.” This language is similar to language the NYPD already uses in rejecting FOIL requests regarding placements in the database and the legislation provides for no new avenue to challenge a denial.

Extremely Limited Mechanism to Contest the “Gang Label”

This legislation allows only those who are 17 and under and who have received the aforementioned notice from the NYPD to then contest their gang designation. The NYPD would then have complete discretion to reject the petition, with no evidentiary standard. This provision would create a more narrowly available mechanism of relief than what currently exists under the law, namely filing an Article 78 challenge, which New Yorkers of any age may pursue. There are significant obstacles to successfully challenging one’s gang designation, but they are not overcome by this legislation.

Codifying the Racialized Gang Label

There is currently no definition of a gang in the law. Any definition would very likely be overbroad and discriminatory in its impact, as the term itself is racialized and counter-productive. This legislation would define gangs as “formal or informal” groups of three or more people who commit a crime and, for example, follow the same clothing trends. Given the expansiveness of our criminal legal system, this definition could include nearly anybody, but we know that predominately Black and Latinx people would be targeted, particularly if this definition is later used in sentencing enhancement legislation or additions to the penal law.

The Bigger Picture

Kraig Lewis was living in Connecticut, nine credits away from his MBA. Then he and 119 others were swept up in what law enforcement hailed as the largest gang takedown in New York City history. But he was not actually part of a gang—just one of many fallacies since exposed. Kraig’s story was featured in an April 2019 article and an accompanying documentary in The Intercept, which were released on the same day CUNY School of Law Professor Babe Howell and doctoral student Priscilla Bustamante published a report on the Bronx 120 raid.[1],[2] The article also featured Nicholas Bailey, who had been arrested on robbery charges just after turning 18. The judge in his case gave him a second chance—a diversion program with no jail time—and sealed his case. He thrived for 5 years until federal law enforcement used this sealed case as a predicate to include him in the Bronx 120 raid and prosecution. Then he was sentenced to 6 years in prison. (This raid was conducted jointly by federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and local and state law enforcement.) In both of these cases, and in countless others, young New Yorkers were coerced to plead guilty to felonies, erecting lifelong barriers that will continue to haunt them and their families and communities.

In a press release, federal prosecutors highlighted several murders they linked to the alleged gang members. But, in reality, more than half of the 120 were charged with federal conspiracy based solely on drug offenses—mostly for selling marijuana. Only six were charged in connection with the murders. Also, three people had already been convicted in state court for those murders, one of whom was re-prosecuted in the federal conspiracy case, apparently to give more weight to the broader conspiracy case. In fact, more than half of the people swept up in the “gang raid” were not even alleged by prosecutors to be gang members.

Prior research has found gang allegations nearly exclusively impact Black and Latinx people. Nearly 66% of those added to the NYPD’s gang database between Dec. 2013 and Feb. 2018 were Black and 33% were Latinx.[3] This legislation would require annual reporting of this data. Yet important questions would remain, including: How does one get entered into the database? How does one get out? Do federal agencies, including ICE, have access to this database? Who else is granted access? Most importantly, is there any evidence of the efficacy of this approach? Gang databases engender mass surveillance, extremely harsh treatment in the criminal legal system, and ultimately increased marginalization, which do not improve public safety.

As one resident quoted in The Intercept’s article notes, his community was not the war zone described by law enforcement. Yet violence does occur. That is why communities across the city are developing their own solutions, like Cure Violence programs. That is why New York City must abolish its gang database.

BDS Opposes Int. No. 1244-2018 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting certain unsolicited disclosures of intimate images

Certainly, it is inappropriate to ‘Airdrop’ or otherwise send unsolicited intimate images. However, it is our position that the criminalization of this act is more likely to ensnare young people than it is to deter this type of behavior. For those who engage in this behavior, sending Airdrop images may be akin to a prank phone call. For those who receive them, it can be annoying and upsetting, but not so pernicious such that it should be criminalized. Adding this crime will likely lead to racially disparate enforcement and a series of devastating consequences. At a time when we are working towards eliminating minor criminal charges and closing Rikers Island, the New York City Council should not be looking to add or increase criminal charges.  We have learned that creating crimes does not deter behavior and instead destabilizes people’s lives, families and communities. In the alternative, we suggest that the City Council invest in an education campaign to teach people how to change their privacy settings to prevent the receipt of unsolicited images.

BDS Opposes Int. No. 1553-2019 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting unfinished frames or receivers

The mere possession of a “piece” of a firearm, such as the receiver of a firearm, is not currently illegal because it is not an “operable” weapon. New York State law is clear that a firearm is not a weapon unless it is operable. This is why every prosecution for Criminal Possession of a Firearm includes an operability test and an operability report, when the firearm is collected. The receiver of a firearm cannot discharge a bullet without the addition of other parts of a firearm. This legislation seeks to prohibit possession of any individual part of a firearm, i.e. “any material that does not constitute the frame or receiver,” which would greatly expand the scope of the law in a manner that criminalizes what could be innocent behavior.

Int. No. 1553 would provide an avenue for the prosecution of New Yorkers in the arena of firearm possession even when what they possess cannot actually be used as such. New Yorkers who possess inoperable firearms, such as relics, antiques, or even broken pieces of firearms would be subject to arrest and prosecution. People are often unaware of the items contained in their basements, storage areas, or even closets, which have been used from one generation to the next.

Lastly, the legislation does not require any specific intent element, such that possession of the receiver or unfinished receiver must be done with the specific intent to produce or manufacture a “Ghost Gun” for it to be illegal. This legislation essentially prohibits and criminalizes the possession of metal. As such we are opposed to Int. No. 1553-2019. We are similarly opposed to the required reporting of police seizure of a “frame or receiver” or “unfinished frame or receiver” in Int. 1548-2019.

BDS Supports Int. 0635-2018 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting staged perp walks

There are many ways in which people who are arrested are publicly humiliated during the course of their criminal cases. Their names and faces are printed on the front pages of newspapers distributed across the country, often alongside dehumanizing and hateful headlines. Record sealing following the disposition of their cases cannot undo this harm, even if they are found to be fully innocent. BDS supports this legislation to prohibit staged perp walks, and commends its sponsor, Councilmember Dromm, though we note that its impact will be limited by the broader lack of accountability for police and prosecutors, which must change for this and other protections to be effective.


We thank the Council for the opportunity to speak on these issues and hope you will view BDS as a resource as we continue to work together.

If you have any question, please feel free to reach out to Jared Chausow at jchausow@bds.org.

[1] Alice Speri, The Largest Gang Raid In NYC History Swept Up Dozens Of Young People Who Weren’t In Gangs, The Intercept, Apr. 25, 2019, available at https://theintercept.com/2019/04/25/bronx-120-report-mass-gang-prosecution-rico/.

[2] Professor Babe Howell & Priscilla Bustamante , Report on the Bronx 120 Mass “Gang” Prosecution (CUNY School of Law 2019), available at https://bronx120.report/.

[3] Alice Speri, New York Gang Database Expanded By 70 Percent Under Mayor Bill De Blasio, The Intercept, June 11, 2018, available at https://theintercept.com/2018/06/11/new-york-gang-database-expanded-by-70-percent-under-mayor-bill-de-blasio/.



***For Immediate Release***

June 21, 2019


Daniel Ball, 203-213-9303, dball@bds.org

Joyce McMillan, 917-450-2611, advocateandorganize@gmail.com

The Parent Legislative Action Network Hails Passage of Historic Child Welfare Reform in the New York State Legislature and Urges the Governor to Sign the Bill into Law

A.8060-A/S.6427-A Repairs Broken State Central Register (SCR) and Removes Barriers to Employment for Thousands of Parents Statewide

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Parent Legislative Action Network, made up of affected parents, legal services providers, and non-profit organizations who have lived experiences and/or work with child welfare-involved children and families across New York State, hail the passage of critical reforms to the State Central Register (A.8060A/S.6427A) in the New York State Senate on Tuesday and the New York State Assembly late Thursday. The legislation was introduced in response to calls from advocates and parents in the communities most affected by the child welfare system, in an effort spearheaded by parent activist, Joyce McMillan of PLAN. The coalition thanks Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee for their leadership, and urges Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law immediately:

“Imposing a sentence of financial insecurities by placing parents on the State Central Register accused of neglect for up to twenty-eight years does not protect children or their families because poverty puts people at risk,” said Joyce McMillan, the We Are Parents Too Coordinator at Sinergia Inc and lead advocate of the Parent Legislative Action Network. “This bill removes these barriers and makes families safer and more secure. I thank Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee for understanding this, and for leading on this issue in the legislature.”

“For too long, the State Central Register, which is intended to help children, has instead unnecessarily hurt children and their families, particularly poor families of color,” said Chris Gottlieb, Co-Director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic. “This SCR reform is a critical improvement in our child welfare system – it will make investigations more fair and ensure that parents’ access to employment opportunity is not hampered by inaccurate and irrelevant records in the SCR.”

“The passage of this legislation brings us one step closer to one of the most important reforms to the child welfare system we have seen in years, breaking barriers to employment that hundreds of thousands of families statewide face because of an unfair and punitive State Central Register,” Lauren Shapiro, Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice. “This is a much needed change to a law that is supposed to help children, but actually hurts families, disproportionately families of color, when there is no child safety concern that even remotely justifies this constraint on their ability to support their families. On behalf of New York’s families and the many advocates who worked tirelessly on this issue, I thank Senator Montgomery and Assemblymember Jaffee for their leadership, and urge the governor to sign A.8060-A/S.6427-A.”

“For decades, New York has erected irrational immovable barriers to employment for families surveilled by ACS,” said Jessica Prince, staff attorney with the Family Defense Practice at the Bronx Defenders. “This legislation is a solid step towards removing these barriers faced by parents from historically marginalized communities.”

“These monumental changes to the State Central Register will change lives for the better for thousands of families across New York State for many years to come,” said Michelle Burrell, Managing Attorney of Neighborhood Defender Service’s Family Defense Practice. “These changes will not only strengthen the fundamental rights of parents and children, but they will also begin to chip away at the unnecessary and punitive stigma the State Central Register inflicted upon our clients for decades.”

“The passage of S6426-A/A8060-A is a critical step forward in an ongoing effort to safeguard employment opportunities for New York families while curbing the harsh and unfair effects of a record in the State Central Register, particularly for Black and Latinx parents, who are disproportionately represented,” said Jennifer Feinberg, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Family Representation. “By raising the standard from  ‘some credible evidence to a ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ parents can be reassured that they will not remain on the State Central Register after a Judge has determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of neglect in court.  Additionally, the automatic sealing of indicated reports after eight years for most jobs, and twelve years for all jobs, vastly increases parents’ employment opportunities.  Some of the best jobs in the healthcare and education fields have remained unattainable to our clients due to the current 28 year bar.  Perhaps most importantly,   this bill reflects the recognition that most cases of neglect stem from poverty and that the current unfair and unnecessary laws governing the State Central Register only add fuel to the cycle by preventing parents from securing stable and well paid jobs.  This crucial reform will strengthen New York families by providing families in poverty with greater opportunities for employment so parents can provide the stability that their families require.”

“The standards to get on the State Central Register are extremely loose and subjective, yet can create a barrier of employment for parents for up to 28 years even after cases are dismissed in court,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “This creates a cycle where parents are charged with neglect essentially because the family is in poverty, yet their ability to earn an income is crippled. With this legislation, we are starting to talk seriously about how we can provide some level of support to families in crisis and actually respond to their needs as opposed to punishing them for being poor.”

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, said, “For years, having an indicated report in New York’s Statewide Central Register has disproportionately impacted parents and families by not allowing them to request a fair hearing that considers evidence of a parent’s rehabilitation. The implications of an indicated case have severely hampered a parent’s ability to keep or secure gainful employment, affecting their ability to re-establish their lives and provide for their children and families. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, I am pleased to have co-sponsored this legislation with overwhelming support of my colleagues in the legislature, which will help restore hope and provide equal opportunity for parents and their children to achieve economic success.”

Background on State Central Register Reform – A.8060A/S.6427A

Under current law, New York’s standard for placing parents on the SCR is far lower than that of most other jurisdictions and shares SCR records with more employers in ways that impede access to job opportunities. These include many of the best jobs that would otherwise be available to impacted parents, including in the healthcare and education fields. Most of these records are based on allegations of poverty-related neglect, which have never been reviewed by a judge. Troublingly, New York’s SCR law currently treats allegations of poverty-related neglect the same way it treats child abuse that has been proven in court. As a result, thousands of parents are routinely denied employment when there is no child safety concern that even remotely justifies this constraint on their ability to support their families. Moreover, because Black and Latinx parents are disproportionately subjected to these allegations, the impacts deepen inequality in our society. This an issue of racial and economic justice that urgently needs to be addressed.

A.8060A/S.6427A would:

  • Help prevent unfair and unnecessary harm to parents’ employment prospects by requiring a preponderance of evidence against them, rather than simply “some credible evidence,” before they are placed on the State Central Register, in line with the severity of this designation.
  • Limit unnecessary and unfair employment barriers for parents by automatically sealing indicated reports of neglect after 8 years for most jobs that have access to indicated reports on the SCR and after 12 years for all jobs that have access to these reports.
  • Ensure that SCR reports are automatically amended and sealed when a Family Court case resolves favorably.
  • Allow Fair Hearing judges to consider evidence of a parent’s rehabilitation whenever considering whether to seal an indicated report.
  • Allow people to request fair hearings to amend and seal indicated reports at any time of their choosing, as opposed to the current 90-day windows to do so.




April 19, 2019

(Brooklyn, NY) – “Brooklyn Defender Services applauds the Parole Board’s decision to release Judith Clark after the Governor Andrew Cuomo commuted her sentence. This action reflects the ongoing efforts of advocacy groups across the state and country to reduce our prison populations by releasing people who demonstrate rehabilitation and no longer pose a threat to public safety.

The Parole Board Commissioners who voted to release Ms. Clark should be commended for following the laws and guidelines that require evaluation of who a person appearing before the Board is today, rather than solely who they were when they committed the underlying crime, in making their decision to release Ms. Clark. The Governor should also be commended for recognizing Ms. Clark’s ‘exceptional strides in self-development’ and rehabilitation.

Ms. Clark’s release is critical and overdue, but thousands of other people remain in prison with sentences that may likely exceed their natural lives. Absent meaningful legislative reforms or mass commutations, many will languish and die in prison. We are heartened by recent reforms to our criminal legal system and respectfully urge that enact the Elder Parole (S.2144/A.4319).




Rally for Pre-Trial Justice Reform in the NYS Capitol


For Immediate Release…

Contact: Jared Chausow, jchausow@bds.org, 650.814.0565


(New York, NY) – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, released today the following statement on the Enacted FY 2020 New York State Budget:

“Brooklyn Defender Services applauds the New York State Assembly, Senate and Governor for the transformative criminal justice reforms included in the budget. As was expressed by the bill sponsors, Assemblymembers Joseph Lentol and Latrice Walker and Senators Jamaal Bailey and Michael Gianaris, during the momentous debates late last night, these reforms go a long way towards correcting the unfair system that currently exists, in which people languish in jail because they cannot afford bail, awaiting trial without access to police reports, witness statements, and other basic information needed to defend themselves. I also want to recognize the tremendous work of countless public defenders, advocates, and people impacted by the criminal justice system and their families.

With amendments to the bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws, most people who are arrested will be guaranteed release rather than incarceration and will have all the evidence and information related to their case. An important provision in these reforms requires police to provide appearance tickets as opposed to immediately incarcerating people charged with low-level offenses. Now, many more of our clients will never set foot in a jail cell, a vast departure from today’s reality. Given the devastating impact that even 24 hours in jail can have on a person, particularly a young person or someone with a health condition, this change exemplifies the profound improvements to justice in New York.

In addition to pre-trial justice reform, the budget includes crucial changes to misdemeanor sentences so they do not trigger automatic collateral consequences, ends the loss of driver’s licenses upon conviction of non-driving drug offenses, and adds protections against job and housing discrimination, all of which add an element of humanity to our criminal legal system that has long been lacking.

This is an auspicious moment that reflects the beginning of the end of mass incarceration in New York. Unfortunately, due to the hundreds of ways in which the criminal laws are overly harsh and used to target Black and Latinx people, there will be work to do in the future, such as legalization of marijuana; elimination of prolonged solitary confinement; repealing the bar on release of police misconduct records; ensuring fair and timely parole; expanding protections for young people who remain in the adult criminal justice system; and rolling back the thousands of consequences triggered by convictions like fair access to employment, education, housing and other necessities.

As we gear up to fight for these and other reforms, we must recognize the profound nature of this moment, in which we see a seismic shift in the way the criminal justice system will operate and what we expect it to accomplish. The attorneys, social workers, and other staff at BDS appreciate that these reforms will eliminate many of the obstacles that too often have prevented us from being able to secure fair and humane outcomes for the people we represent and their families. We thank the Legislature and the Governor for their leadership and very much look forward to ensuring these reforms reach their full potential impact.”


Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defense organization that provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for over 30,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. More info is available at bds.org.



By Christina Goldbaum for the New York Times

Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Facing serious overcrowding in immigration courts, federal authorities in New York adopted a high-tech solution last year: Immigrants would be kept in detention centers for their legal proceedings, appearing before judges only by videoconference.

Now, a new lawsuit claims that the policy infringes upon immigrants’ constitutional rights in a deliberate attempt to speed up and increase deportations.

Read full article at NYtimes.com.




February 13, 2019

Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, 347-592-2579, dball@bds.org


Detained Immigrants and New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Providers Sue U.S. Government over Refusal to Produce Detained Immigrants In-Person for Deportation Hearings

Lawsuit Seeks to Restore the Constitutional and Statutory Rights of Hundreds of Detained Immigrants by Ending ICE’s Blanket Use of Video Teleconferencing at Varick Street Immigration Court

(NEW YORK, NY) Late yesterday, seven immigrants, representing a class of all detained immigrants in the New York City area, and the three New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) providers—Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), The Legal Aid Society (LAS), and The Bronx Defenders (BxD)—filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) refusal to bring immigrants to court for deportation hearings. Instead of letting detained immigrants appear in court, ICE has been forcing them to use a video connection to challenge their detention and deportation.

ICE’s policy of denying in-person hearings when immigrants’ liberty, family unity, and potential exile is at stake is a cruel extension of the federal administration’s aggressive efforts to deny immigrants equal justice and due process.

[Link to complaint.]

For the first four and a half years of NYIFUP, in-person hearings ensured that detained immigrants had an opportunity to fully access the courts and participate in their defense during removal proceedings and allowed attorneys to more effectively represent and meaningfully protect their clients’ rights and interests.

Without warning, ICE’s New York Field Office announced on June 27, 2018 that starting that day, removal proceedings at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City would be conducted exclusively by video teleconferencing (VTC). Immigrants detained by ICE would appear by video feed from the county jail at which they are held—disconnected from the court, their lawyers, evidence presented by the Government, and their case.

The Plaintiffs are asking the federal court to enforce the government’s constitutional and statutory obligation to provide detained immigrants with due process, to ensure access to the courts, and to preserve the right of clients to communicate with their attorneys.  BDS, LAS, BxD, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP represent the class and the organizational plaintiffs.

“Because of ICE’s refusal to bring our clients and other detained immigrants to court, hundreds of immigrants are unable to fully and fairly participate in their own hearings to decide their freedom, whether they can stay with their families or whether they will be deported to persecution or, even death,” said Andrea Saenz, Attorney-in-Charge of NYIFUP at Brooklyn Defender Services, “This policy is not just a small administrative change – it goes to the heart of whether our clients will get a fair day in court to contest their deportation. We, as a society, owe due process to people facing such enormous consequences—not to lock them up and show them a TV screen where they cannot properly hear the judge, speak to their lawyers, or see their loved ones in-person.”

“When ICE stopped the in-person production of detained immigrants at the Varick Street Immigration Court, it was not only an affront to the dignity and humanity of our most vulnerable clients, but a direct assault on their fundamental due process rights to be present during their hearing and trials,” said Jennifer Williams, Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, “The refusal to produce policy has effectively sanitized the immigration courtrooms of our clients’ raw human emotions and experiences, which are at the heart of these proceedings, and is preventing effective and meaningful representation by their attorneys.  This policy is yet another example of the Administration’s goal to carry out swift deportations without due process of law.”

“ICE’s refusal to bring New Yorkers to the immigration courts in which their fates will be determined represents yet another effort by this administration to deport as many people, with as few protections, as possible,” said Sarah Deri Oshiro, Managing Director of The Bronx Defenders’ Immigration Practice. “This is a bald attempt to punish a ‘sanctuary city’ and undermine the successes of the nation’s first universal representation program which has ensured that hundreds of families have remained united.”

“We are proud to be part of this important lawsuit to vindicate the constitutional and statutory rights of detained immigrants in the New York area,” said Robert Gunther, a partner at WilmerHale. “ICE’s policy of refusing in-person hearings is wrong on every level and is just the latest effort on the part of the current administration to deny rights to those most in need of our compassion and our help.”

“Detained immigrants are guaranteed a right to due process, and the ICE policy infringes on that right,” said Susan Gittes, a partner at Debevoise.  “The hearings taking place by video teleconference are totally inconsistent with the bedrock principles of our judicial system—judges are forced to make credibility determinations while separated by video screen, detained immigrants cannot confidentially confer with their attorneys during proceedings, and detained immigrants with intellectual disabilities or in need of interpretation services may not even be able to understand the hearings that determine their rights. These plaintiffs have a right to fair hearings and full access to their counsel, and this lawsuit seeks to restore those rights.”


The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, run collectively by Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, and The Legal Aid Society, is the first program in the nation providing publicly-funded counsel to immigrants detained and facing deportation and separation from their families and communities.



Today, Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), RAICES, and ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) are announcing the launch of the “While They Wait” (whiletheywait.org) campaign, which includes a new fund and call to action to help raise awareness and support for immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum and/or facing family separation. There are over 1 million immigrants, including 300,000 asylum seekers, currently living in the United States, who are going through the legal steps to gain immigration status. This campaign is being launched in tandem with the release of the new music video directed by Jake Schreier, for the song “I Found You / Nilda’s Story” by benny blanco, Calvin Harris, and Miguel.

Read full press release here.