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

News

TONIGHT: BDS’ WESLEY CAINES JOINS PANEL ‘GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT PRISON EDUCATION’

Reentry Specialist Wesley Caines is joining a panel discussion at SUNY Empire State College which will focus on the importance of educating individuals who are incarcerated in US prisons and the effects of education and recidivism. Topics include the school to prison pipeline, banning the box in higher education, reinstating TAP and Pell for incarcerated individual, and fighting racism in higher education.

Other panelists include Cory Greene, an organizer for H.O.L.L.A! and the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions; Kennth Innis, a counselor at Fortune Society; Edward-Yemil Rosaria, consultant at Prison Reform and Abolition; Afi Tuner, career development specialist at Strive NY; and Ato Williams, family support specialist at Fortune Society.

News

BDS HOSTS EVENT AT BPL: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE STOPPED: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS WITH THE POLICE

Photo credit: Júbilo Haku (via Flickr)

This workshop for teens and their families will help you navigate through New York’s legal system and the support services available for parents and caregivers of young adults with disabilities. Discussion will be presented by resented by BDS’ Brenda Zubay, Aminie Woolworth, and Keren Farkas and will end with a Q + A session with an education attorney.

Spanish interpretation provided and ASL interpretation available with advance request. For more information, please call 718-253-4948

News

BDS’ WESLEY CAINES JOINS PANEL ON CONDITIONS AT FISHKILL FOR BEACON PRISON ACTION

BDS reentry specialist Wesley Caines will join a panel hosted by Beacon Prison Action Tuesday tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 7 p.m. in Beacon. Wesley will discuss his own experiences in Fishkill Correctional Facility as well as his work at BDS which includes efforts to improve conditions at prisons around the state and help people leaving prison safely reintegrate back into population.

Beacon Prison Action is an alliance of people in the Beacon area who became concerned about the conditions at the local prison after 30-year old Sam Harrell was beaten to death by corrections officers at Fishkill. This event is organized in partnership with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which holds actions on the 23rd of every month to recognize the 23 hours each day that a person in solitary confinement is isolated.

Wesley will be joining Johnny Perez, a non-attorney advocate at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project (MHP), a civil legal services firm that provides legal and social work services to people with serious mental illness; Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York (CA) and a member of the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC); and Isaac Scott, a graphic designer and fine artist who served 7 years, 8 months and 16 days of a 9-year sentence in the New York State Prison system during which he worked as an Inmate Grievance Representative (IGR) at several facilities including Fishkill Correctional.

The event will be held at Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street, Beacon, NY, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 22, 2016.

News

JUDGE BETTY STATON HONORED AT KINGS COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT MLK JR. DAY MEMORIAL CELEBRATION LED BY BDS’ JAMIE BURKE

On Friday, BDS’ Jamie Burke hosted the 2016 Kings County Criminal Court’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial celebration for which the Hon. Judge Betty Staton gave the keynote speech and was honored for her service. Judge Staton is currently the president of Bedfod Stuyvesant Community legal Services, Brooklyn Branch Legal Services and South Brooklyn Legal Services. In 1987, she became a founding partner in the law firm of Boyd, Staton & Cave, the first African-American female law firm in the State of new York. She also served on the New York State Family Court.

The audience was treated to the music of Schency Augustine, Chavonie cooper, Erica Gilchrist, Gregg McCann, Je-anessa Walker and the Kings County Court Choir.

Click “More” for photos.

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BDS IN THE NEWS: BDS DISCUSSES THE PROPOSED “FAST TRACK” GUN COURTS AND ICE RAIDS IN NEW YORK

Nyasa Hickey talks to The Indypendent about ICE raids in New York.

BDS joined other public defenders questioning a new gun court part introduced by the City in an article on Politico Pro (Capital New York). The new gun part is intended to be used to expedite gun possession cases through the court system. However, public defenders foresee a number of challenges in the court including due-process questions, the quality of justice defendants will receive and whether the gun courts will actually speed up or even increase the time spent on these specific cases.

“This is transparently punitive in scope,” BDS criminal defense attorney Scott Hechinger told Politico. “None of us are for guns on the street. What we’re for are smart solutions that will ultimately reduce violence. These gun courts are not going to do that.”

Read more at Capital New York (Subscription required).

In other news, BDS’ Nyasa Hickey spoke out on raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE is raiding homes and detaining immigrants under its recently implemented Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). New York has “detainer laws” intended to limit ICE’s access to potential deportees but they appear to be getting circumvented.

As The Indypendent writes, “While the detainer laws disrupted the jail-to-detention-center pipeline, they did little to curb the data sharing and surveillance mechanisms that allow ICE to flag and find potential targets. ICE still receives fingerprint information when an arrest happens, has access to the DMV database and court hearing schedules, talks to people’s neighbors, school personnel and postal workers, and more.”

“It’s very disruptive and scary,” Nyasa, an immigration attorney, told the Indypendent. “Unfortunately stopping ICE transfers and some information sharing is just not sufficient to really protect our communities and keep the families of New York City safe.”

Read more at The Indypendent.

BDS SUBMITS TESTIMONY TO COUNCIL ON DOE’S SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE HOMELESS OR IN TEMPORARY HOUSING

TESTIMONY OF:

Keren Farkas, Esq. – Director, Education Unit

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES

Presented before

The City Council’s Committees on Education and General Welfare

“Oversight: DOE’s Support for Students who are Homeless or in Temporary Housing”

February 4, 2016

My name is Keren Farkas and I am the Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ (BDS) Education Unit. BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy to more than 40,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year. I thank the New York City Council on Education and General Welfare for the opportunity to submit testimony.

BDS is fortunate to have the support of the City Council, as well as other elected officials and the Office of Court Administration, to supplement the services we provide as the public defense office in Brooklyn.  We have developed a model of specialization to best represent certain types of clients, including adolescents.  Through specialized units of the office, we provide extensive wrap-around services that meet the needs of these traditionally under-served clients in a comprehensive way. This includes helping young people and their families navigate the public education bureaucracy during and after contact with the criminal justice and family court system.

BDS’ Education Unit provides legal representation and informal advocacy to our school-age clients. We work with young people impacted by the criminal justice and child welfare systems.  As a legal and social work team, we work to improve our client’s access to education, and a significant portion of our advocacy relates to school discipline, special education, reentry and alternative pathways to graduation.

Our multi-disciplinary staff has witnessed first-hand the trauma and instability often experienced by young people in temporary housing. The transition to temporary housing is characteristically stressful and problematic.   Too often, families are removed from their familiar neighborhood and communities. They are placed in shelters or other temporary living arrangements in boroughs and neighborhoods hours from their accustomed surroundings. Further, shelter conditions can be unclean and lacking. School-age children experience particular hardships.  After placement in temporary housing, their once local and zoned school is only accessible by long and unsustainable commutes. They are faced with the unfair choice between either an unfamiliar nearby school or remaining in their home school but enduring a long, potentially impossible, commute. Meaningful school stability, through a transfer to a shelter close to the child’s home school or school bus transportation, is often only available when a family is working with an advocate. Further, regardless of school choice, these students may experience emotional distress that may manifest in educational or behavioral difficulties, requiring thoughtful and targeted interventions by school staff. Without increased attention, these students are more susceptible to absenteeism, school disengagement and poor academic performance.

Brooklyn Defender Services believes that improved collaboration between the relevant city agencies, namely Department of Education (DOE), Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and Human Resources Administration (HRA), is essential to positively impact the educational stability of students in temporary housing.   While each agency has its own dedicated staff to consider McKinney-Vento Act compliance, there is an opportunity to better effectuate the interdependent responsibilities.

The remainder of my testimony will briefly highlight two critical pathways towards increasing school stability for students who are Homeless or in Temporary Housing:

  1. Enhanced Coordination to Place Families Near Home Schools

Increased attention must be given to ensure families are placed in their home borough, near children’s schools, upon initial admission to Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH).  Regularly, our clients contact us after applying to PATH to notify us that they were placed in an unfamiliar borough. Despite informing the staff at PATH that their child’s school is in Brooklyn, they receive a placement in Queens or Manhattan. Among other things, they are worried about how their child will get to school the next day. Where a student has an Individualized Education Program and receives specialized services, this experience can be particularly distressing.  Even if school transportation is offered, our clients question whether an hour long bus ride is appropriate for their young child. While considering school options, students face days or weeks of tardiness and absences, only compounding the problems they endure.

DHS and DOE, along with other relevant agencies, must create a more seamless path towards ensuring families can reside in a shelter close to their children’s school. Although well-meaning, PATH/DHS staff and education liaisons can be discouraging and unhelpful towards effectuating transfers or school transportation.  Parents often do not feel they have any option but to transfer their child to the local school, compromising their school stability.  Through advocacy, BDS can often assist families transfer to shelters near their children’s school. We are hopeful that DHS can create an easier and more transparent process where families can be initially placed or transferred to shelters so children can remain in their original schools.

  1. Accessible and Practical School Transportation to Maintain School Stability

Accessible transportation is a crucial tool towards securing school stability for students in temporary housing. BDS is encouraged by DOE’s efforts to identify bus routes for students in temporary housing to travel to their home schools. However, eligible students remain without school bus transportation. While DOE maintains that a MetroCard satisfies the McKinney-Vento Act’s transportation responsibility, it is often deficient. In New York City, where transportation can involve multiple transfers in all forms of weather, MetroCard’s often only offer impractical and unsustainable options, especially for younger children. Without feasible transportation options, parents often feel their only choice is to transfer their child to the nearby school, disrupting school stability. DHS and DOE, along with other relevant agencies, must create a quicker and more transparent process to secure yellow bus travel for students. While education liaisons typically do help parents apply for transportation, the timeline is often unpredictable. Additionally, parents are not kept informed of the process and potential options.  The agencies should work together to create a transparent policy, including a timeline, to ensure eligible families receive sustainable transportation options so students can remain in their home schools.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

News

BDS, BLS STUDENTS HOST TRAINING ON CLEANING UP RAP SHEETS TO HELP ELIMINATE OBSTACLES TO JOBS AND HOUSING

BDS Attorney Amanda Jack teaches Brooklyn Law School students how to read a RAP Sheet, Monday February 1, 2016

On Monday evening, BDS’ Amanda Jack and Wesley Caines led a primer on how to read public arrest records – RAP sheets – in the state of New York at Brooklyn Law School. More than a dozen law students attended the training where they learned to spot errors in RAP sheets that can lead to years – or even decades – of hardship for New Yorkers who don’t deserve it.

The training was part of BDS and BLS’ Criminal and Police Records Accuracy Project, led by Wesley. CP-RAP volunteers help “clean up” those errors for clients, eliminating unjust and arbitrary hurdles that stand in the way of applying for jobs and housing and which can also negatively impact future contacts with the criminal justice system.

Brooklyn Law School 2L Liana Goff  and 1L and CP-RAP volunteer Ken Zwerin organized the training to get more classmates involved.

“There are consequences for these errors when someone’s RAP sheet looks worse than it should,” Ken says. “We’re trying to ameliorate the challenges that the formerly incarcerated – or even those who are just arrested – have as they apply for jobs or face immigration issues. It’s also important to remember that future sentencing and bail decisions are based on those records.”

At the training, Ken and his classmates learned about what cases shouldn’t be included in the records – such as misdemeanors committed by underage defendants or arrests that were never prosecuted. They also learn how to get them removed and, if that’s not possible, to get courts to issue Certificates of Good Conduct which can also mitigate some of the effects of a “bad rap.”

Ken noted that the real world practice he gets through the project significantly complements his law school training.

“It really helped me apply real life experience to what we are learning in the class room,” he says. “We get to see the reality of what’s happening on the ground, how the criminal justice system actually works. But it also motivates me to go home and study the 50 or 100-year-old cases we are assigned in school because it inspires me all the more to become a practicing attorney.”

Can you help? Contact Wesley Caines at 718-254-0700 ext. 380 or wcaines@bds.org

News

BDS MENTEES JOIN NY ASSEMBLYMEMBER WALTER MOSLEY’S ANNUAL JOB FAIR

BDS Youth Advocate Dorell Smallwood greets New York State Assemblymember Walter Mosley at Mosley's annual youth job fair.

BDS Youth Advocate Dorell Smallwood accompanied several of his BDS mentees to Assemblymember Walter Mosley’s 3rd annual job fair. There, they were able to discuss career opportunities with representatives from several organizations including the New York City Housing Authority and the US Coast Guard. They also participated in resume writing workshops, interviewing skills seminars, and financial literacy training.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people to access important information they probably wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise,” Dorell says.

Dorell adds that it makes sense for BDS to be involved as yet another way the organization is proactive in the community which is serves.

“There’s a correlation between employment and recidivism,” he explains. “If kids find jobs, they don’t find criminal mischief.”

But, Dorell also has his own personal reasons for being involved.

“It’s very satisfying for me because I get to see them get excited about being exposed to the opportunities that are out there,” he says. “We take these things for granted but, for a young person who doesn’t know that these things exist, the possibility of getting a job and being a productive member of their community is very appealing.”