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 45,000 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

  • Special Projects


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.

Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Center for Community Alternatives

Good Shepherd Services

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice



In 1996, Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) was selected by the City of New York to become the first borough-specific indigent defense office to handle the cases of poor people arrested in Brooklyn. At that time, BDS represented 10,000 clients each year. In the ensuing years, BDS has established itself as a nationally known public defender office that provides extensive services to the poor community in Brooklyn. BDS employs a large staff of highly dedicated and vibrant attorneys, social workers, investigators and support personnel who work on matters of utmost urgency for the clients we represent—our core public defense practice consists of criminal, family and immigration defense for people facing the dire consequences of imprisonment, loss of their children or deportation.

Originally, BDS represented 10% of the people charged with crimes in Brooklyn. It has since grown to 45%. Our family defense practice handles approximately 80% of the cases of parents facing allegations of abuse or neglect. With the addition of immigration, housing, education and other legal services, BDS has become the largest one-stop legal office for poor people in Brooklyn.

  • 1996 Awarded New Indigent Defense Contract; 10,000 cases funded by Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office (first time a new institutional defender added to Brooklyn criminal courts)
  • 2001 Adds specialized mental health practice — funded by the Open Society Institute and Van Ameringen Foundation
  • 2002 Works with the Fortune Society to provide Family Court services to ex-offenders
  • 2003 Adds crossover criminal/family practice with funding from New York City Council
  • 2006 Grows from handling 10% of indigent defense case to 20%.
  • 2008 Begins immigration practice
  • 2010 Creates Haitian Immigration Legal Assistance Program in collaboration with local bar associations, a pro bono project later funded by New York Community Trust
  • 2011 Creates and chairs Brooklyn’s multi-agency Racial Justice Task Force — funded by the American Bar Association and the United States Bureau of Justice Assistance
  • 2012 Incorporates Family Defense contract from Legal Services of New York City
  • 2013 Brooklyn Defender Services creates first-in-nation public defense program for detained immigrants
  • 2014 Adds Housing, Benefits and Education Units to Civil Justice Practice
  • 2014 Begins Jail-Based Services Project


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Jeffrey Rona, Treasurer
Anne Shields, Board Member
Jean Hegler, Board Member
Gregory Cerchione, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director


Partnerships between public and private attorneys are essential to meet the needs of poor people in Brooklyn. Coordinated by our Pro Bono Counsel, our pro bono program allows private attorneys to work on cases in a variety of ways: representing a client, assisting with impact litigation, and in coordination with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. In addition to professional development, BDS’s pro bono program offers a unique opportunity for attorneys to make an impact in the lives of those most in need of—and with the least access to—quality legal representation.

While zealously advocating on behalf of every individual client, BDS engages in impact litigation and advocacy to reform laws and policies that criminalize poverty and compromise fundamental rights to dignity, family security, and economic opportunity. For example, with pro bono law firm partners, BDS has established a Bail Fund to help clients with low-level misdemeanor charges pay bail and avoid the often devastating consequences of pre-trial detention.

Our community lawyering initiative mobilizes volunteer attorneys, law students and community groups to respond to emerging legal needs in the broader community. In partnership with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, BDS hosts community legal clinics to assist undocumented Haitian New Yorkers obtain for Temporary Protected Status, and to assist young people or “DREAMers” register for deferred deportation and work authorization.

If you are interested in partnering with BDS on a pro bono matter, please contact Sarah Nolan, Pro Bono Counsel at snolan@bds.org or 718-254-0700 ext. 148.


September 2014

A BDS investigator was recently out on an investigation on the street in Crown Heights talking to a likely witness/friend of a client who wasn’t really warming up to him.   The witness/friend wasn’t hostile, but he wasn’t very forthcoming either.  As the investigator was trying to finesse some more information out of the witness, he noticed someone approach the house from behind him.  The investigator turned toward the person and they made eye contact.

It was “Mr. Johnson,” a former client, and he broke out into the biggest smile and acted like the investigator was an old friend.  The guy he had been talking to immediately started telling the investigator more, interrupted by the two of them talking about how good Brooklyn Defender Services is, how many people they know whom we’ve helped.  “Mr. Johnson” told the other guy that BDS had helped him beat all four counts he faced [he was acquitted of the charges against him].  As a result of this encounter, our current client’s friend/witness gave the investigator his full name and number, said of course he’d try to help us out, since we had helped his friend, and asked for a few more cards to give to anyone who might be able to share more information.

It was a great moment, and now a current client of ours will be better served because of the work we did for “Mr. Johnson” and others.



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.



BDS Immigration Practice Summer 2015 Internship Announcement

Description and Responsibilities:
The Immigration Practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks summer 2015 law student interns. BDS is a public defender organization representing clients in charged with criminal offenses in Brooklyn.

The initial focus of the Immigration Practice is to advise noncitizen clients of the immigration consequences of their criminal cases. Immigration Practice attorneys work in close collaboration with BDS defenders to avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences of their noncitizens’ criminal cases. In a limited number of cases, immigration practice attorneys continue to advocate for BDS clients in the immigration system even 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.

In addition, BDS is part of the New York Family Unity Project. This city-funded project is the first of its kind in the United States. BDS immigration attorneys provide counsel to indigent individuals at Varick Street Immigration Court using a model similar to the system in New York City’s criminal courts. BDS immigration attorneys staff this project, providing ongoing representation to clients facing immigration detention and deportation on a wide array of applications and other advocacy efforts.

Finally the immigration unit provides limited community based lawyering clinics for Brooklyn residents. In the past, this has included Temporary Protected Status application assistance for Haitian nationals and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“Dream Act”) application assistance. Over the summer 2015 may also include some lawyering clinics for applications based on the November 20, 2014 Obama Administration Executive Action for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (“DAPA”).

Immigration Practice interns will be incorporated into the broad work of the practice, working with multiple attorneys according to interest and need.

We seek dynamic individuals 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.

Spanish, Mandarin or Russian fluency is preferred but not required.

Application Instructions:
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Nyasa Hickey at nhickey@bds.org with the subject line “Summer 2015 Internship.” We will accept applications until January 15, 2013 however, applicants will be interviewed and decisions made on a rolling basis.


Brooklyn Defender Services provides indigent legal services in Brooklyn, New York and currently represents more than 40,000 clients per year in its criminal, family and immigration defense practices. We have two independent case management systems that we rely on for case management, office management and reporting. We seek a full-time database manager/specialist to maintain and update one these systems – an MS Access database – including some redesign, improving regular and ad hoc reporting capability, and data maintenance.

Responsibilities include:
• Updates, maintains, and troubleshoots database performance to meet the needs of the organization – MS Access programming required
• Resolves application- and database- related problems
• Maintain the overall integrity and quality of the database – oversee and document procedures and quality controls
• Develops and maintains SQL queries for regular and ad hoc reports


• MS Access Programmer
• 3-5 year’ experience designing, developing and generating reports from a
relational database application. Database design, deployment and management experience is highly desirable.
• Organized, detail-oriented and interested in joining our team and learning about our work
• Bachelors’ degree or equivalent experience

To Apply:  Send cover letter and resume to jobs@bds.org with subject line of “Database Specialist/Programmer”


BDS Criminal Defense Practice will be interviewing third year law students this fall for full-time post-graduate positions that would begin in September 2015. Our interviewers will meet with candidates at the law schools and job fairs listed below. All interested candidates who are currently attending one of the law schools we will be visiting must apply for an interview through their institution’s on-campus interviewing (OCI) Symplicity system. Students who are not attending one of the schools listed below should apply to be interviewed via one of the three job fairs. Interested law graduates and admitted attorneys may apply to be interviewed in our Brooklyn office by submitting a cover letter and resume only during the submission period, October 20th 2014 to November 14th 2014.

Due to the large number of inquiries we receive and the small number of openings we anticipate, resumes submitted before or after the submission period will not be considered. Submissions should be addressed to Richard LaFontaine, Esq., Director of Recruiting, 177 Livingston Street, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11021, and may be mailed or sent via email to rlafontaine@bds.org

Harvard Law School           Sept. 5
Cardozo Law School           Sept. 29
Brooklyn Law School         Sept. 30
Boston University               October 3
Northeastern University  October 6
Fordham Law School         October 15
NYU School of Law             October 15
Hofstra Law School             October 16
St. John’s Law School        October 21
New York Law School       October 22
Touro Law School               October 23
Equal Justice Works           October 24, 25
Howard University             October 27
CUNY Law School               October 28
Columbia University          October 30
Georgetown/GWU              January 24
NYU PILC Fair                    February 5, 6


BDS has a number of employment opportunities available.  Information on specific positions within each practice area is provided, as well as information about how to apply.  The salary of all positions is commensurate on years of experience in accordance with BDS pay scale.

Family Defense Practice Staff Attorney

Job Description:  Brooklyn Defender Services Family Defense Practice (BFDP) seeks a staff attorney to begin immediately. BFDP represents low-income parents in child welfare and related family court cases in Brooklyn Family Court. Through holistic representation in an interdisciplinary setting, BFDP helps families obtain the benefits and services they need to keep their families safe and stable. BFDP also advocates for parents’ due process rights by fighting unwarranted state intervention in their lives. The office also advocates for systemic change in the family court and child welfare systems.

BFDP has a high volume and litigation-focused practice. Attorneys spend most of their days in court and frequently conduct hearings and trials, often on an emergency basis. Staff attorneys are expected to provide high-quality and vigorous representation at all court appearances and throughout the course of a case. Staff attorneys work closely with staff social workers and parent advocates to provide inter-disciplinary representation that includes assistance on related legal matters, such as housing, immigration, public benefits and domestic violence.

Qualifications: Candidates are expected to be admitted to the NYS Bar or awaiting admission and have excellent litigation and written and oral communication skills. Bi-lingual attorneys are encouraged to apply; in particular BFDP seeks Spanish speaking attorneys.

To Apply: Please send a resume and cover letter to jobs.bfdp@bfdp.bds.org including “Staff Attorney” on the subject line.

BDS is an equal opportunity employer which supports a policy of non-discrimination in all employment practices including, but not limited to, hiring, transfer, promotions, training, compensation, benefits, lay-offs, and terminations. BDS takes affirmative action to recruit members of minority groups into their applicant pool.


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.


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 is a ten week program. 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.

The program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. To apply for a criminal position, please send a cover letter and a resume to Jillian Modzeleski at jmodzeleski@bds.org. If you are interested in a family internship contact Chas Budnick at cbudnick@bfdp.bds.org. If you are interested in an immigration internship contact Nyasa Hickey at nhickey@bds.org. We will accept applications until January 15, 2015.  Selected applicants will be interviewed and decisions made by March 2015.

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

Each year, BDS applies for fellowships for attorneys to work in our office on special projects. This year, we have an 18-month Cardozo Law School Fellow working on the immigration defender project and other short-term fellows working in the family defense practice. If you are interested in a fellowship opportunity speak to Marie Mark at mmark@bds.org.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), a progressive legal defense office in Brooklyn, New York, seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with an interest in and a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship.

BDS is a non-profit public defense office that provides a variety of legal services to indigent clients throughout Brooklyn. BDS represents clients charged with criminal felonies and misdemeanors, as well as family, housing and immigration court matters. Attorneys, social workers and support staff focus on individual clients’ needs.

Our Investigative Assistant Internship pairs interns interested in criminal justice with investigators, who gather evidence critical to BDS’s clients’ cases. Investigators locate, interview and take detailed statements from the witnesses, run background checks on witnesses and police officers, review video surveillance footage, draft and serve subpoenas, photograph and diagram crime scenes, and transcribe audio recordings. Investigative assistants additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigator team.

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.

The internship has a rolling admission deadline, and start and end dates can accommodate academic schedules. The internship will start with an intensive, multi-disciplinary two-week training where the interns will rotate shadowing each of our staff investigators. Investigative assistants will learn about our progressive approach to representation, our different practice areas and the laws and ethics involved in investigation. Following the initial training period, investigative assistants will continue to receive ongoing training and supervision from an experienced staff investigator who will serve as a mentor and will be responsible for assigning cases.

Required qualifications and abilities:
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
- Interest in criminal justice, especially the fields of criminal defense and the rights of the accused
- Strong writing ability
- 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.

To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to Camille Fenton at cfenton@bds.org with the subject “Investigative Assistant Application.” Resumes and cover letters will only be accepted by email; no phone calls, please. If selected for an interview, applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.




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 February 25, BDS’s Veterans Advocacy Specialist Cameron Mease testified before the New York City Council Committees on Veterans, Courts & Legal Services, and Mental Health in a hearing on Veterans Treatment Courts. As Mease noted in his testimony, such courts provide critical avenues for healing and recovery for our veteran clients, who deserve, for their selfless service to our great nation, compassionate, non-jail, evidence-based treatment interventions. In addition, through this treatment court, many of our clients are connected with VA services and benefits that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives. Ample research, as well as BDS’s direct experience, has demonstrated that people with mental illness do not fare well in jails or prisons. Incarcerated veterans with PTSD or TBI experience severe trauma, as the jail environment is likely to trigger or greatly exacerbate their mental health symptoms. It is our strong belief that special consideration of veterans’ experiences must be integrated into any court proceedings, and that Veterans Treatment Courts are the right venue to ensure that occurs.

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On February 23, Sergio Jimenez, the Housing Unit Director at Brooklyn Defender Services, participated in a press conference held by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to highlight widespread language barriers for non-English speakers in Housing Courts. Comptroller Stringer, along with legal service providers and tenant advocates, called for a comprehensive review of language access in the courts to ensure that appropriate signage and interpretation services are available to those who need them. It is unacceptable that the court system has failed to provide of these basic accommodations in our wonderfully diverse city, and BDS thanks Comptroller Stringer for his leadership in shining a spotlight on this critical oversight.

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On February 10, BDS staff delivered comments at a New York City Board of Correction meeting regarding implementation of the new rules on solitary confinement. The rules stipulate that nobody may be kept in the box for more than 30 days consecutively, or for more than 60 days in any six month period, unless removing them would “endanger inmates or staff.” They also reduce the maximum sentence per infraction from 90 days to 30 days. However, it is unclear whether the New York City Department of Correction intends to apply these rules in full to those who have pre-existing long sentences for solitary confinement. As our comments note, the new rules represent only a small step in the right direction toward ending the shameful use of extreme isolation in our City jails, but nonetheless, in the interest of fairness and common sense, this progress should be felt by all.

Read more…



From the New York City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services:

Courts & Legal Services Committee Tackles City’s Examination of Indigent Criminal Defense

Council Member Lancman held a joint hearing with Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, to examine how the City assesses the quality of indigent criminal defense. Representatives from the New York State Office of Court Administration, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and legal services providers all testified.
As indigent criminal legal services expand to include not only attorneys but investigators, social workers and experts in every area of law, the City’s examination of its effectiveness must encompass the various additional services provided. The hearing explored what services are available and what best practices should be put in place to ensure their quality not only for defendants but for the City as a whole.

The Courts & Legal Services Committee was able to shed light on this evolving brand of indigent defense and how we evaluate it in New York City. “As the mechanics of providing indigent defense have evolved, so have our expectations of the indigent defense system, especially as we advocate for more ‘wraparound services’ that give individuals representation on a wider range of legal issues, not just the accused crimes,” Rory said.



From the New York Law Journal:

Lisa Schreibersdorf, the founder of Brooklyn Defender Services and its current executive director, said standards in indigent defense were used “as a sword and a shield.”

For her colleagues outside the city handling indigent defense with limited funding, Schreibersdorf said the standards were used to say the organizations were falling short.

But she said that in the city, there are caseload caps and an administration and city council “that really cares about us.”
“If we have standards, we can use them affirmatively to show what we want to do, or what we should be doing … so I welcome them, only because it’s New York City,” she said.

Read more:




An edited version of the following letter was published in the Daily News on January 15.

Dear Editor:

On January 9th, the Daily News published an article about the shooting death of my client, Jaquay Bennett, who was 19 years old at the time.  After providing the details of his brutal shooting, the article reported that he “had several prior arrests.”  These are among the last words that will ever be written about Jaquay, a teenager, who died tragically.

As widely reported, a vastly disproportionate number of people of color are arrested in New York City every year.  In Jaquay’s case, as in that of many others, he had yet to have been convicted of any crime.  Jaquay’s arrests do not justify his murder nor do they make it any less horrible.  Further, given the disproportionate arrests of people of color, his arrests do not give any insight into his character.

Your blog contained no mention of the fact that he had been attending a program at Medgar Evers College, that he was dedicated to his family – including five siblings, his parents, and a one-year-old son, or that he had spent time working with Crown Heights Mediation Center.  Jaquay will be missed and had an impact on the world beyond the fact that he had been arrested.


Amy Albert
Brooklyn Defender Services





A Brooklyn man who claimed that gun-possession charges against him were manufactured by the police had his case dismissed on Thursday, amid two investigations into the practices of a group of police officers in the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush.

The man, Jeffrey Herring, had maintained his innocence ever since his arrest on June 4, 2013, asserting that officers had planted the gun on him and fabricated the circumstances of his arrest.

The officers claimed that they had received a tip from a confidential informer that Mr. Herring had a gun. Prosecutors had been instructed to bring the informer to court on Thursday; the defense had challenged whether that informer even existed.

Read more:





Director of BDS’ Family Defense Practice Lauren Shapiro speaks on the importance of good child welfare policy.

“It is unfortunate that the new administration started with so many media stories about child deaths, but we don’t believe that child welfare policy should be developed in response to media stories,” says Lauren Shapiro, director of the family defense practice at Brooklyn Defender Services.

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On Thursday, November 20, Akai Gurley, 28 years old and a former client of ours at Brooklyn Defender Services, was shot and killed by probationary Police Officer Peter Liang. Liang was patrolling an apartment complex in East New York — gun in hand. The NYPD has preliminarily described the shooting as “accidental,” and referred to Mr. Gurley as a “total innocent.”

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Dear Letters to the Editor:

After an NYPD officer shot and killed unarmed Akai Gurley, many newspapers, including the Daily News, felt the need to inform readers that Mr. Gurley had “roughly two dozen prior arrests.” And for readers, the first photograph they saw of Mr. Gurley was the mugshot many of those newspapers chose to run.

As an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, I had the privilege of representing Mr. Gurley on one of those “two dozen” cases. The charge was Resisting Arrest; the NYPD claimed that Mr. Gurley had refused to be handcuffed after officers stopped him for supposedly riding a bike on the sidewalk. Mr. Gurley had photographs showing that the officers had brutally beaten him. I spent five months convincing the District Attorney’s office to investigate the charges, and when they did, they agreed to dismiss the case.

I got to know Mr. Gurley very well over those months. He was a passionate man, who spoke often of the love he had for his family and his aspirations for the future. He had an intense devotion to justice and fairness. He was a complete and caring human being, a father, a partner, a son. Above all, Mr. Gurley cared about having the chance to have his story heard.

It’s a story about how broken the NYPD’s Broken Windows policy is. It’s a story about what it means to be a young person of color in Brooklyn, where the hallways and staircases of your home are patrolled like a prison, where a police officer can fire a bullet into your gut and then call the incident an “unfortunate accident;” where the death of a promising and talented young man can be turned into a conversation about lighting conditions in the projects.  It’s a story that has come to a tragic conclusion.

-Michael Arthus, Staff Attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services

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Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation to sharply limit the city’s cooperation with detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement—and to boot that federal agency from Rikers Island.

“What these bills do is they protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, of visa holders, and legal permanent residents alike, all of whom have suffered under the previous approach, and ultimately prevent families from being torn apart,” Mr. de Blasio said at a Queens press conference.

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Mayor de Blasio announced on Monday that the NYPD will no longer arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana, issuing summonses instead. Advocates expressed cautious support.

NEW YORK CITY — The New York Police Department will no longer arrest people for low-level marijuana possession, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced in a press conference on Monday.

The NYPD will issue violation summonses to people caught with small amounts marijuana, instead of putting them in handcuffs and taking them to a precinct. The summonses will require people to appear in court at a later date and pay a fine.

The policy, which will go into effect on Nov. 19, will not protect people who are found with more than 25 grams of marijuana, those who are smoking in public, or those caught with the drug near schools or playgrounds, the officials said. People who have open warrants, are subject to an active investigation, or do do not have proper identification could also be arrested.

Speaking at the press conference, Mayor de Blasio said that the new policy is intended to refocus the attention of police officers away from petty offenses and toward more serious crimes.

“When an individual gets arrested for even the smallest quantity of marijuana it hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing, to qualify for a student loan,” de Blasio said. “This policy will allow officers to continue on with their work and to put more time and energy into fighting more serious crime rather than get bogged down with an unproductive arrest.”

The new policy could bring about a sea change in the way the city is policed. Misdemeanor-level marijuana possession accounts for a large percentage of the city’s arrests, a vast majority of which happen to young black or Latino men living in poor neighborhoods.

“This is a huge improvement,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, told BuzzFeed News. “Summonses don’t get you fingerprinted. This will be better for people who are vulnerable to collateral consequences, like immigrants.”

Still, Schreibersdorf cautioned that the policy will not fulfill its goal unless the NYPD relaxes its identification requirements for summonses. Immigrants and teenagers often do not carry valid identification, she said, which often means that they cannot be processed for a summons. She added that the policy change does not address what she called the root cause of the problem — police officers in New York routinely stopping people without probable cause.

“Having summonses is an improvement for people who are already being stopped, but that doesn’t mean they should be stopped in the first place,” she said. “The problem, from my perspective, is that stopping people without cause is unconstitutional.”

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solitary posts

BDS has launched a postcard campaign, through which we intend to send messages from thousands of New Yorkers directly to Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, calling for the end to solitary confinement, which has been described by a wide-range of observers as torture. BDS staff recently visited the underbellies of the City Jails at Rikers Island and were able to confirm first hand the inhumanity of the conditions there, specifically in the Solitary Confinement and Restricted Housing Unit sections. If you would like to send a postcard, please contact us at 718-254-0700 x269. Or write the commissioner directly yourself.

Joseph Ponte
New York City Department of Corrections
75-20 Astoria Blvd.
East Elmhurst, NY 11370




We are encouraged that the New York City Council is discussing issues of brutality and neglect on Rikers Island and is seeking to hold accountable the public and private officials tasked with managing these facilities. It seems there is widespread agreement that the status quo in City jails is untenable. However, we are concerned efforts for reform will fall short if City Government continues to avoid addressing the primary driver of many of these problems – too many admissions to jails in the first place.

Read more on our Huffington Post Blog



On Tuesday BDS, along with advocates from across the state, including recently exonerated individuals and their family members, spoke out about the need for reforms to discovery laws that prevent individuals accused of crimes and their attorneys from seeing the evidence the state is using against them.

“It’s trial by ambush,” said New York State Assemblymember Joe Lentol.

At a press conference at City Hall, Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf  joined Lentol, New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, City Council Members Andy King, Laurie Cumbo, Fernando Cabrera, Brad Lander, Vanessa Gibson and Antonio Reynoso, Public Advocate Letitia James and groups including Discovery for Justice, It Could Happen to You, New York State Chaplin Taskforce, Committees for Change, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Iron Workers Union, DC 37, 1199 SEIU, Local 100 and the Teamsters to advocate for the repeal of CPL 240 and the enactment of CPL 245, which would secure open, early and automatic discovery for the people of New York.



Brooklyn Defender Services Team

On Sunday, October 5th Brooklyn Defender Services participated in the 2014 Liz Padilla Memorial Run.

Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla, a graduate of Cornell Law School, joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project as a Pro Bono Coordinator/Staff Attorney in December 2004 with the goal of helping those less fortunate than herself. Liz approached each day with excitement, eagerly seeking opportunities to give back to her community, especially to those most in need of a helping hand.

In the early summer of 2005 Liz, a competitive runner, was planning a 5k Race to benefit the VLP as a unique way of joining two of her favorite activities. On Thursday, June 9th, 2005, Liz was tragically killed in a road accident when she was biking to work.

Her absence continues to weigh heavily on those who knew and loved her, yet she continues to inspire us. This race is dedicated to honoring her legacy of kindness and generosity.  BDS is proud to be an annual supporter and participant.

lizabeth Kasulis Padilla, a graduate of Cornell Law School, joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project as a Pro Bono Coordinator/Staff Attorney in December 2004 with the goal of helping those less fortunate than herself. Liz approached each day with excitement, eagerly seeking opportunities to give back to her community, especially to those most in need of a helping hand.

In the early summer of 2005 Liz, a competitive runner, was planning a 5k Race to benefit the VLP as a unique way of joining two of her favorite activities. On Thursday, June 9th, 2005, Liz was tragically killed in a road accident when she was biking to work.

Her absence continues to weigh heavily on those who knew and loved her, yet she continues to inspire us. This race is dedicated to honoring her legacy of kindness and generosity.

- See more at: http://lp5k.com/#sthash.875id0XG.dpuf



What if Michael Brown’s story had ended differently?

A teenager. A misdemeanor. A cop. But then, instead of bullets, what if Mr. Brown had received a granola bar, a “safe space” to discuss concepts like choice, and an invitation to make a collage as part of a deal to erase the arrest from his record?

In Mr. Brown’s hometown of Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, American teenagers who are born poor and dark are routinely arrested for things that others get away with. Sometimes, guns fire and lives disappear. More often, the encounter can risk destroying a life more slowly. But in Brooklyn — which was infamous for crime before becoming known for artisanal whiskey — an experiment is testing whether these early police encounters can be reinvented as an opportunity: to reach out to troubled youth, get them help and bend their perception of the law.

Terrell, 17, was an apt candidate for bending. A high school graduate bound for community college, he had already endured two rounds of “stop-and-frisk,” a pre-emptive police tactic that a judge eventually found unconstitutional. Then this summer he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

When he arrived for his court date, his public defender informed him of a new program for 16- and 17-year-old defendants: Instead of pleading guilty, performing community service, having a criminal record and being supervised for up to a year by probation officers, he could participate in something called Young New Yorkers that afternoon. If he did, his case would be dismissed and sealed — erased from public records. (The Times agreed not to publish his last name and details of his arrest in exchange for his cooperation.)

Surprised, Terrell took the deal.

The United States, which accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners, is in the midst of a great rethinking of its criminal justice system, including changes in sentencing laws, more lenient marijuana policies and so-called restorative justice efforts.

The Brooklyn program is part of these changes. It is rooted in the belief that the criminal justice system often takes decent but mildly troubled young people and, instead of reforming them, turns an ephemeral circumstance — a crime — into an enduring identity: criminal.

“Theoretically, it’s supposed to be correctional,” said Judge George A. Grasso, who supervises the Brooklyn program. “But most people going through, it’s not correcting.”

Judge Grasso calls the program “collaborative justice.” Various parties — the judge, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, even the city’s Department of Education — work together to decide which program each defendant should enter (Young New Yorkers is one of a handful).  Read More



Imagine you were charged with a crime. You would search for the best attorney you could afford, for you would know that your future depended upon being represented by zealous counsel who had sufficient time and resources to provide you with excellent representation. You will need a dedicated, well-resourced attorney as you are facing a prosecutor supported by the almost unlimited resources of the state.

This basic truth about our criminal justice system – that it works only when both the prosecutors and defense counsel are zealous, competent attorneys who have sufficient resources to represent their clients – is why the U.S. Supreme Court held 50 years ago that the Constitution guarantees the right to a state-provided attorney for all criminal defendants who cannot afford counsel.

Sadly, tens of thousands of New Yorkers face prosecution each year and are represented by attorneys who do not have those resources. New York public defenders are zealous, caring and dedicated attorneys who are often unable to provide the best representation to clients because they lack access to expert witnesses and investigators, support staff or sometimes even office supplies or a computer. Furthermore, insufficient state support for our important function results in understaffed offices where attorneys handle caseloads significantly higher than is recommended by various bar associations.

The state provides abundant resources to prosecutors and police agencies, while simultaneously ignoring its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate resources to public defense attorneys. As but one of many examples, according to a recent finding by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state provided dedicated public defenders in Onondaga County only $28,161 for investigators in 2011, while funding the prosecutors with 35 times as much. This significant disparity of resources has led to an unbalanced and broken criminal justice system for us all.

Read More




 BDS Family Defense Practice’s 3rd Annual Taste of Brooklyn fundraiser will be held November 6th at City Bakery (3 West 18th Street).  The City Bakery has been a fixture in Union Square since 1990 and will be a magnificent space to celebrate our seven years of keeping Brooklyn families together. City Bakery’s owner Maury Rubin is a huge champion of our work, and we hope you will join him by sponsoring the event this year.  The event will be an evening full of good food, drink, music and great company.



The recent in media coverage of the abuses of law enforcement and corrections department staff elicit a range of emotions, particularly among those of us working in the criminal justice system who hear about and witness these incidents on a daily basis. On the one hand, the gut-wrenching depictions of violence — of Department of Correction guards punching into unconsciousness an already handcuffed person or of NYPD officers choking a man to death without any apparent evidence of resistance — brings one to the edge of despair in contemplation of the devastation such practices bring to New Yorkers and their families, many of them among the most vulnerable residents in our city — homeless, indigent, drug-addicted, mentally ill. Yet on the other hand, the sober and extensive coverage of these issues in the mainstream press gives us hope that our society, our city, may be on the cusp of demanding long-needed change.  Read More at Huffington Post



Attorney Bridget Phillips Kessler speaks with Univision about her case.

“Six months detention without an opportunity to be heard raises serious constitutional questions,” Judge Hellerstein wrote. “Araujo-Cortes’ continuing detention has become unreasonable.”

The judge gave authorities one week to provide Araujo-Cortes with a bond hearing, where it will need to show that he is either a risk of flight or dangerous in order to continue the detention.

Bridget Phillips Kessler, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services who represented Araujo-Cortes on the habeas petition, said it is far more difficult for an individual to prepare his or her case when incarcerated.

“It’s a wonderful decision for our client, and we are glad he will have an opportunity to have a judge determine his risk of flight and dangerousness so he can hopefully obtain a reasonable bond and rejoin his family while he fights his immigration case,” Kessler said.


Read more



Some teen-aged children are kept in solitary confinement cells in the OBCC facility on Rikers Island

Sixteen-year-old inmate Trevor Mobley was waiting in line for food on Rikers Island when a Correction officer ordered him to back up.

“I told him, ‘I’m next to get food,’” Mobley recalled. But the officer continued to demand that he move, eventually writing Mobley a rule violation for disobeying a direct order and verbal abuse. Mobley, who was awaiting trial for drug possession, was sentenced to 60 days in solitary confinement. It was his first month at Rikers Island.

In solitary (known as “the bing” on Rikers), people spend 23 to 24 hours a day inside a small cell with only a mattress and a toilet-sink combination. They are allowed one hour of recreation outside the cell in a small cage. Recreation is offered at 4 a.m., and to take advantage of it the person must be awake and standing by their cell door. Mobley never bothered.

Read more



On Friday, Staten Island resident Eric Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide. For the last two weeks, New York City has been roiled by video of him gasping his last words—“I can’t breathe!”—after an NYPD officer put him in a choke-hold while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. At Garner’s funeral on July 23 at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, reporters and news crews swarmed the block, interviewing relatives, high-profile guests like the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other attendees.

What the local press didn’t see that evening, and what has gone unreported until now, is that police officers chose the funeral of a man whose death in police custody has put the NYPD on the defensive to make another, very public arrest of a guy who wasn’t doing anything illegal at the time.

Read more




The New York City Council is investigating mental health services and violence on Rikers Island and in other city jails as recent media reports have renewed the public’s interest on this topic. At a recent oversight hearing conducted by the council, mayoral officials, union leaders, corrections officers, civilians working in city jails and other advocates testified to their experiences. Notably absent from the discussion were people with personal experience inside the cell blocks; with 120,000 people each year churning through city jails — over 1 million over the past ten years — it seemed incongruous that the Criminal Justice and Mental Health Committees of the City Council had not included these voices. The City Council legal department has declined to provide us with the list of official invitees to the hearing.

More than 75 percent of the people on Rikers Island and in other city jails are not in custody due to a conviction. They are in jail on bail, sometimes as low as $250, because they cannot afford to meet this cash obligation. According to the Criminal Justice Agency, just 12 percent of people accused of misdemeanors are able to post bail at arraignments. Prosecutorial requests for bail and the choice to insist on cash bail when other options are legally viable, is a matter of public policy. And so we have decided to place people accused of the most minor of crimes in jail solely because they have been locked out of the social and economic resources and opportunities that would otherwise enable them to post a couple of hundred dollars as collateral. A recent Vera Institute report on the Manhattan District Attorney’s office found that race plays a significant factor in making bail determinations.

A homeless man arrested for trespassing, like Jerome Murdough who unable to pay $2500 bail subsequently died in a Rikers Island solitary confinement cell, is more likely to be held in city jails than a Bernie Madoff, a Richard Haste, a John Gotti. And it is these indigent people who are subjected to solitary confinement and other abuses in city jails.

The following narratives have been collected by Brooklyn Defender Services‘ Jail Services. Our hope is that their voices will be included as the City moves toward policy changes that will most directly impact those people in our city who are accused of committing specific categories of crimes and unable to afford bail. In addition to these three stories, there are literally thousands of others, which thus far have gone unheard to most of the public. Names, dates and identifying information have been necessarily changed to prevent retaliation against those clients who may remain in City custody.

Read More



Jamie Burke, from Brooklyn Defender Services, and pastor David L. Kelley II from the Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant teamed up on Saturday for a Community Law Program Initiative, a program aimed at helping Brooklynites in need get access to free legal services. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

Nella was struggling with an issue with her landlord, but had no idea how to go about handling it. Having moved not long ago from Houston, Texas, she doesn’t have a large network of people to call upon for help and her job at a non-profit doesn’t exactly pay her enough to hire a high-powered attorney. She didn’t know what to do.

Then, as she was walking down Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, she was handed a flyer from somebody at the Brooklyn Defender Services.

“The timing really couldn’t have been better because I was going through this issue with my landlord and I didn’t know how I was going to handle it,” said Nella, who wanted her last name withheld due to said legal issues. “Coming here really helped because I got to speak with someone that understands what I’m going through and knows exactly what my rights are. I’m definitely feeling a lot better about my situation.”

The Brooklyn Defender Services, an organization that helps to provide criminal, family and immigration legal defense to over 40,000 people annually, hosted a Community Law Program Initiative at the Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Saturday

The event featured 15 different groups that provided everything from legal advice, to job training, to assistance finding a home, assistance for the drug addicted, domestic violence support and a lot more.

“Brooklyn Defender Services is a criminal defense organization, but often we deal with clients that are in need of other services as well,” said Jamie Burke, a Domestic Violence Case Supervisor at BDS who organized the event. “We might help someone facing criminal charges, but also needs drug treatment, a domestic violence shelter or even a parenting skills class and we constantly have to refer out for that.

“We thought that we could help a lot of people get the services that we need by inviting all of these organizations to come to this event so we had everything under one roof,” Burke said. More



“In recent years, more immigrants have found themselves in court as the U.S. government has deported and detained nearly 400,000 each year. Though not all people facing deportation are detained, those who get locked up, either because they were previously charged with a crime or entered the country without papers, are less likely to have an attorney to represent them and more likely to be deported. The two biggest factors in successfully resolving a case are having a lawyer and being free during the trial, according to a report by Katzmann’s group…” More




Immigration Interns, left to right: Ting Poon, Swapna Reddy, Sneha Dhanapal, Colin Stroud, Amelia Marritz

Family Defense Interns, left to right: Aimee Carlisle, McLean Crichton, Max Selver, Thomas Cordova, Heather Bristol, Sara Ginsberg, Ruthie Chung, Aliya Shain

Criminal Defense Interns, rear left to right: James Fenton, Prescott Loveland, Jonathan Murray; Front left to right: Colleen Corriston, Julie Krumwiede, Heidi Wolfgruber

Please welcome out 2014 Summer Interns! We are fully staffed for the summer. Law students interested in positions next summer, please see below:

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.

BDS has summer internship programs where law students work on criminal, family or immigration cases. If you are interested in a criminal or immigration internship contact Jillian Modzeleski jmodzeleski@bds.org. If you are interested in a family internship contact Megan Brown at msbrown@bfdp.bds.org. If you are interested in an immigration internship contact Marie Mark at mmark@bds.org.



Brooklyn Defender Services sent six of its investigators to the annual National Defender Investigation Association conference, held in New Orleans from April 23 to 25. At the conference, the investigators attended trainings on interviewing juveniles, staying safe in the field, interpreting police reports and confessions, the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse, building relationships with witnesses, and investigating child molestation cases.

The conference also included several keynote speeches. Anne-Marie Moyes, now a public defender in Nashville, discussed the years-long investigation she conducted before she became an attorney, which led to the reversal of a murder conviction for the man who later became her husband. Tom Ullmann and Matt Whalen, respectively a public defender and a public defense investigator in Connecticut, discussed their work representing a high-profile murder suspect who attracted hostile national media attention. And Jarrett Adams, the recipient of the NDIA’s Investigator of the Year award, spoke of his life, in which, after spending nearly a decade incarcerated on a wrongful conviction, he has become an investigator for the Federal Defenders in Chicago and is on his way to a law degree and a future as a public defender.

The BDS investigators also got the chance to meet many of the over 300 conference attendees, the vast majority of whom were also public defense investigators from around the country, and to attend a fundraiser dinner for the launch of the Ben Sullivan Investigator Fellowship, which will sponsor a new investigator position at Orleans Public Defenders in memory of Ben Sullivan, a former investigator in that office. With the BDS investigators newly enrolled as NDIA members, they look forward to building relationships with the organization and its members in the future, and to attending the NDIA next annual conference, sadly a full year away.


Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson recently announced his intention to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, a proposal he described as in the interest of justice. Brooklyn Defender Services staff rallied with other advocates such as VOCAL-NY and the Drug Policy Alliance to push Thompson to make good on his plan, which, if implemented, will reduce the single most-common arrest in New York City.  Low-level marijuana arrests are a key entry-point for many young people into the criminal legal system and too often are accompanied by the life-long consequences of a criminal record.



It’s time to eliminate the so-called collateral consequences of criminal convictions — the known and unknown penalties that follow people convicted of crimes, sometimes for the rest of their lives. The American Bar Association has compiled a national list of 38,000 collateral sanctions that people involved in various ways with the criminal legal system face on top of their court mandated sentences. There are more than 2,200 such penalties in New York state alone, extending to nearly every facet of daily life — employment, licensers, property rights, contracts, citizenship, education, voting, housing and family or domestic rights.

Read More at Huffington Post



BDS Founder & Executive Director, Lisa Schreibersdorf

BDS Gala at Skylight One Hanson

Confinement Performance Art

Lisa Schreibersdorf with Honoree Marianne Yang, Esq.

Lisa Schreibersdorf with Honoree Martin Edelman, Esq.

On May 8th, more than 300 guests celebrated the work and history of Brooklyn Defender Services at the organization’s first annual benefit at One Hanson Place –inside the historic Williamsburg Savings Bank building in Brooklyn. Martin Edelman, Esq. was honored with the 2014 Achievements in Justice Award for his work as Chairman of the Kings County Judicial Screening Committee of the Democratic Party; Marianne C. Yang, Esq. was honored with the 2014 Harvey Mandelcorn Award as the Director of the Immigration Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services, where she created BDS’s program to provide public defense representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings – the first program of its kind in the nation. Brooklyn Defender Services Founder and Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf MC-ed the evening, which also included brief remarks from new Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson. Spoken word poetry about stop and frisk by Mahogany Brown & Co., and a performance piece about solitary confinement by Rachel Barnard and Joseph Williams punctuated the evening. In the event space were art installations by Brooklyn artists, including Lunar New Year.

Click here to view photos of the 2014 BDS Gala



2013 Brooklyn Safe Surrender

In November, attorneys from Brooklyn Defender Services’ criminal, immigration and family defense practices helped more than 400 residents clear outstanding summons warrants, disposing of nearly every case onsite and providing additional advice and resources on immigration and child welfare issues. 

Read more about Safe Surrender in the New York Times



Every year more than 300,000 people are arrested in New York City and roughly 100,000 people cycle through the city jail system at a cost to the taxpayer of $167,731 per incarcerated person per year. Most people held on Rikers Island and other borough specific facilities — 75 percent — are awaiting the disposition of their cases and are, thus by law, innocent.  More