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




Elia Johnson – Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team


Presented before

The New York City Council Committee on General Welfare

and the Committee on Youth Services

Oversight Hearing on

Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth


Intros 1619, 1699, 1700, 1705 & 1706

September 28, 2017

My name is Elia Johnson and I am an adolescent social worker with Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). Our organization provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy in nearly 40,000 cases involving indigent Brooklyn residents every year. I thank the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Youth Services, and in particular Chairpersons Corey Johnson and Stephen Levin, for the opportunity to testify on issues related to shelter services for Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) in New York City.

As a member of the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team, I currently work with 50 BDS adolescent clients, ages 14-24. The Brooklyn Adolescent Representation team is made up of dedicated attorneys and social workers and represents over two thousand adolescents ages 13-24 annually. We are grateful for the opportunity to speak today about the ways in which that the Department of Youth and Community Development can better serve Runaway and Homeless Youth.

Homeless Youth and the Criminal Legal System

Public defenders in Brooklyn serve around 500 homeless 16- and 17-year-olds every year, a vast majority of whom are not being served by RHY providers because of the lack of services in Brooklyn. About half of the youth are made homeless by the criminal justice system when the court issues an order of protection against the youth for 90 days after a criminal allegation involving a domestic disturbance, making it illegal for the young person to return home.[1] The other half disclose to their defense team that they are living with friends or significant others because of a breakdown of the relationship with their parents.

Furthermore, RHY providers report that they already serve over 1000 youth per year (at facilities almost exclusively located in Manhattan) from Brooklyn. We estimate that Kings County would need at least 300 crisis shelter beds to ensure that no Brooklyn youth was forced to sleep on the street, sleep on the train, couch surf, or trade sex for shelter.

Instead of providing shelter and services for homeless youth, the City too often relies on the criminal legal system to handle this population’s complex needs, at a heavy cost to taxpayers. A majority of youth surveyed by The Door in 2013 reported that they had been arrested. The cost of a single misdemeanor arrest in NYC is $1750. This covers all police time including overtime pay for arresting officers and supervisors, all pre-arraignment jail costs, and all court expenses.[2] Detaining a person at Rikers Island for a year costs the City $208,500 per year.[3] This figure does not take into account the significant extra costs related to supervision and programming for adolescents incarcerated on Rikers. In contrast, RHY providers received $35,886/youth crisis shelter bed in 2015. The actual cost to RHY providers is far higher than this 2015 reimbursement figure.

Youth Homelessness in New York City – Case Example

Eric[4] was arrested after an incident in his home with his half-sister. Eric, a young man who had been in foster care since the age of 3, had only recently reunited with his father. Unfortunately, as is common with children who have experienced significant trauma, Eric had a hard time adjusting to his new home, and the conflict in the home led to his arrest. Eric was arrested and arraigned in Kings County Criminal Court at night. The Judge issued a Full Order of Protection on behalf of his half-sister. He was released from arraignments at midnight with a metro card and nowhere to go.

Eric was legally barred from returning to the only home he knew in New York City. He had no other family. Eric left Kings County Criminal Court and wondered around downtown Brooklyn before he got on the subway. A policeman found Eric sleeping on the subway and took him to the ACS Children’s Center. Eric spent a few days at the Children’s Center before he was placed in ACS custody at Children’s Village, which is in Dobbs Ferry, New York about 30 minutes outside of New York City. Due to the order of protection Eric cannot return home for the foreseeable future and will remain in ACS custody until he ages out or signs himself out.

Current RHY Capacity

There is a severe need for shelter options for adolescents in New York City. The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development runs a range of services for Runaway and Homeless Youth. Unfortunately, DYCD only has two crisis shelters that serve all youth under 21, Covenant House and Safe Horizon Streetworks Overnight, both in Manhattan. Covenant House, near Times Square, is the largest and has about 200 shelter beds and another 140 spots for longer-term residential stays. The shelter serves youth age 16-21 and turns away about 75 people a month.[5] Safe Horizon, located in Harlem, offers only 24 beds. There are other limited crisis shelter options for LGBTQ youth, victims of sex trafficking, and pregnant and parenting young mothers.[6] Unfortunately, the majority of our clients are teenage boys of color who do not meet these criteria. Drop-in centers exist in all of the five boroughs but do not provide short-term emergency housing to accommodate youth like Eric.

Right now, too many of our clients live in the streets, “couch surf” or sleep on the floors or couches of friends, neighbors or even strangers. Indeed, homeless youth are more likely to be arrested, engage in criminal activity to meet their survival needs, or engage in unsafe sexual relationships or the commercial sex trade because they need a place to sleep. A 2013 study by Covenant House and Fordham University found that 1 in 4 of the surveyed homeless youth became a victim of sex trafficking or was forced to provide sex for survival needs, such as food or a place to sleep. Of these victims, about half reported that the number one reason they had been drawn into commercial sexual activity was because they did not have a safe place to sleep.

The City must do better to provide safe shelter space for youth in the communities that they live in so that they do not end up in these situations. Manhattan, which houses the only two youth crisis shelters in New York City is not safely accessible for youth in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx. We applaud members of the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Youth Services for the steps they have taken with each of the bills before the Council today, which will go a long way in improving access to housing for homeless youth. We also issue further recommendations for actions that the Council can take on this issue.

We support each of the following bills:

Intro. 1700-2017 – Expand Appropriate Shelter Access for all Runaway and Homeless Youth: We believe that by appropriately tracking the number of RHY in New York City DHS and DYCD will have a better understanding of the true need for shelter services and will therefore take action to allocate funding for youth shelters in each of the five boroughs that are easily accessible by public transportation. The bill also adds a new section to the NYC codes requiring DYCD to provide shelter services to all runaway and homeless youth who request such shelter from the department. This reform is long overdue. It is devastating for service providers like us who literally have nowhere to send our clients in need of a safe place to sleep. Mandating that DYCD find a way to house these youth is a critical first step in ensuring that DYCD providers have sufficient capacity to serve runaway and homeless youth.

Intro. 1699-2017 – Expand the Length of Stay for Runaway and Homeless Youth We support extending the amount of time that young people can stay in shelters to 60 or 120 days, as it often takes at least that long to obtain more permanent housing. We believe that this will allow adolescents to remain in a safe place until a more long-term option can be reached instead of being forced to leave after 30 days, which is the current policy at Covenant House. Often this forces young people to return to unsafe situations or the streets.

Intro. 1705-2017 – Streamline DHS Intake/Assessment for Runaway and Homeless Youth: We believe that streamlining the process for intake and assessment from short-term shelters into DHS facilities is critical to ensuring that young people are able to access long-term and permanent housing. This will decrease the revolving door of young people entering short-term crisis centers and then leaving after the allocated time period with no long-term or permanent solution.

Intro. 1706-2017 – Raise the Age for Runaway and Homeless Youth: As a social worker who works with adolescents, I hear every day from my adolescent clients that they do not want to go into shelters with adults because they do not feel safe in those spaces. Young people under the age of 25 are fundamentally different from adults, as proven by numerous studies on brain development. By raising the age to 24, adolescents in their early twenties will now have a safe place to sleep with people their own age.

Additional Recommendations

  1. Support the opening of RHY crisis shelters in all five boroughs.

Kings County alone needs at least 300 crisis shelter beds to ensure that no Brooklyn youth is forced to sleep on the street, sleep on the train, couch surf, or trade sex for shelter. Right now there are only a handful of crisis shelter beds in Brooklyn and they are only for youth who identify as LGBTQ. The vast majority of runaway and homeless youth must seek crisis shelter beds in Manhattan where they are too often turned away for lack of beds. Runaway and homeless youth have been made homeless by failures of the education system, juvenile and adult justice systems, the foster care system, and adults who have failed to properly care for them. The City can and must address the youth homelessness crisis by opening youth crisis shelters in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens.

  1. The City must provide reimbursement for capital investments to RHY service providers to allow them to open crisis shelters in the outer boroughs

We have been told that RFY providers are unable to open new crisis shelters in boroughs like Brooklyn because the City currently does not fund capital investments. The City should assist RHY providers to locate and secure bed space in Brooklyn as landlords are often reluctant to lease to shelter providers. Even better, the City could renovate existing City buildings such as old hospitals or schools for this purpose and then issue RFP contracts for use of these spaces. Additionally, DYCD’s RFPs should include funding for capital expenditures, a current barrier to instituting new beds under the existing DYCD funding scheme. Finally, the RFP should reflect the actual cost of running a crisis shelter bed, as opposed to the current inadequate reimbursement rate. This number must include the provision of wraparound support services for youth housed at the crisis shelter. The availability of high-quality services is critical to the ability of New York’s homeless youth to break the cycle of homelessness and court involvement.


We applaud the City Council for taking these important steps to provide housing for adolescents in New York City. We encourage the City Council to further ensure that everything is being done for RHY in New York City by establishing and funding crisis shelter housing for youth in every borough of the City by incorporating capital investments costs into the RFP process.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this important issue. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Andrea Nieves, BDS Policy Team, 718-254-0700 ext. 387 or anieves@bds.org.

[1] As a matter of practice in Brooklyn, prosecutors regularly ask for and judges regularly issue a full order of protection in cases involving “domestic violence”, even though these are normal disputes between teenagers and their parents. Full Orders of Protection, in effect, usually render our young clients homeless. In contrast, in New Jersey, when EMT’s respond to a domestic disturbance involving a youth, they take the youth to the Emergency Room rather than arresting them. If NYC were to adopt this approach 250 youth in Brooklyn every year would avoid court-mandated homelessness.

[2] Police Reform Organizing Project, Over $410 Million Per Year: The Human and Economic Cost of Broken Windows Policing in NYC (2014), http://www.policereformorganizingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Over410MillionaYear_docx_.pdf.

[3] New York City Independent Budget Office, 2013.

[4] Name changed to protect his identity.

[5] Mireya Navarro, “Housing homeless youth poses challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio,” NY Times, March 27, 2015, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/nyregion/housing-homeless-youth-poses-challenge-for-mayor-de-blasio.html.

[6] Ali Forney has 32 beds for youth who identify as LGBTQ in Brooklyn, Covenant House has 22 mother and child beds at West 52nd St in Manhattan, and Inwood House in the Bronx has 8 beds for young women.



James Royall – Reentry Specialist/Advocate


Presented before

The New York City Council Committee on Aging

September 20, 2017

Good Morning, my name is James Royall and I am the Reentry Specialist 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 in nearly 40,000 cases in Brooklyn every year. I want to thank the New York City Council and, in particular, the Committee on Aging and Chairperson Chin for the opportunity to testify today about BDS’s support for legislation to create a temporary task force on post-incarceration services for older adults reentering society. I also want to express special gratitude to Councilmember Dromm, the lead sponsor of this legislation, who has dedicated himself to the rights and well-being of incarcerated people for many years.

Reentry is the process of leaving a correctional facility, or any state or local custody, and returning to society. All formerly incarcerated men and women experience reentry, irrespective of their manner of release or level of supervision. If the reentry process is successful, there are benefits in terms of improved public safety and the long-term reintegration of the formerly incarcerated. Reintegration outcomes include increased participation in social institutions such as the labor force, families, communities, schools and religious organizations. Increased participation in these social institutions is what strengthens our society.

BDS Supports Int. No. 1616 – a Local Law in relation to establishing a temporary task force on post-conviction reentry for older adults (Dromm).

BDS strongly supports the establishment of a task force for older adults returning to society and offers recommendations to strengthen this legislation. New York State’s prison population is aging. More than 10,100 people aged 50 or older are currently incarcerated in New York, according to the latest available data. Even as the total prison population in this state has gradually decreased, the number of individuals in this older adult category has jumped by 46 percent.[1] Advocates like the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign, Parole Justice New York, Citizen Action and the Challenging Incarceration collective are pushing Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to adopt reforms that would allow for many incarcerated older adults, who have the lowest recidivism rates, to be released. Led by this proposed task force, New York City can be an ally in the parole reform effort by formally supporting these proposed reforms and committing to have the resources in place to help these individuals successfully return.

Currently, there is a broad slate of programs and services for older New Yorkers across the city, and a growing network of re-entry resources, but very little overlap between the two. Older adults endure unique hardships in prisons and jails, as the facilities and staff are not adequately equipped to support them. Crucially, family members and others in the home and community who would traditionally serve as caretakers are prevented from doing so. Likewise, few community-based organizations that serve older New Yorkers specialize in meeting the needs of returning citizens. It is my hope that this task force will hold a microscope to these gaps and galvanize policymakers to fill them.

Recommended Bill Amendments

To make this task force as meaningful and effective as possible, BDS recommends four amendments to this legislation.

  1. First, we believe that the task force should remain in place for at least five years to monitor implementation of the recommendations in its forthcoming report and hold policymakers accountable with additional progress reports.
  2. The legislation calls for one member of the task force to be formerly incarcerated. BDS believes that at least half of the members should have close personal experience with incarceration, either through their own incarceration or that of a family member. The agency officials and academic sought for the task force in the current bill language have a variety of valuable expertise, but nobody understands the problems of re-entry, and how to fix them, better than those who have lived through it.
  3. The task force should also include at least one provider of affordable and/or supportive housing. Our clients’ experiences affirm the reality that stable housing is key to successful reentry, yet “58% of older people (1,699) were homeless upon release and nearly 1,200 went directly to a homeless shelter,” according to RAPP. Such unstable housing can disrupt medication and therapy regimes, impose additional unnecessary restrictions like curfews, and add to the overall volatility and stress of being poor in New York City and subject to widespread discrimination in employment and elsewhere.
  4. Lastly, the bill should require that the task force explore the unique challenges of re-entry for people convicted of sex offenses and make recommendations to the state regarding its movement and residency restrictions for this population. While there are substantial political challenges associated with assisting this population with re-entry, public safety and fairness demand reconsideration of years of policy that ultimately is not linked with positive outcomes or increased public safety.   The restrictions included in the Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA) generally prohibit offenders from “knowingly enter[ing]” any area within 1000 feet of schools or other facilities primarily used by people under the age of 18.   However, ample research has disproven the underlying assumptions that drive these restrictions. In short, they do nothing to prevent sex offenses from occurring and in fact can increase risks of re-offending by preventing affected individuals from obtaining stable housing and employment or accessing treatment and even mandatory parole office appointments.[2],[3] This has a direct impact on New York City government, which is required by court order to provide shelter but often fails to do so while complying with these restrictions.  Likewise, the state prison system requires a home address to release an individual to parole, but often fails to identify a viable and compliant one. The shocking result is that people in state prisons are sometimes held beyond the end of their sentence until a SARA-complying residence is found.[4] BDS has successfully litigated to remove SARA restrictions for one client, but broader reform is urgently needed.[5] Re-entry is not about the crime of conviction, which is the one thing that cannot be changed, but rather the rehabilitation and re-integration of the individual. This task force should seek to improve outcomes for all returning older adults.

Additional Recommendations

Once the task force is established, BDS will have additional recommendations for members. One area in need of urgent reform that we will highlight, and that is critical to our clients and their families, is prison visiting. Maintaining tight support networks while incarcerated can be both extremely difficult and extremely beneficial for people on both sides of the prison walls. The biggest challenge to maintaining these networks is a direct result of choices made by policymakers, namely the placement of prisons in regions of the state that are generally inaccessible to the communities most people in prison call home. New York State used to mitigate this problem by offering free visiting buses to families and they should be restored as soon as possible. Legislation to do just that, A.7016/S.5693, is pending in Albany and Governor Cuomo and the Legislature should include it in the state budget this coming session. Substantial research has shown that consistent visitation is one of the primary drivers of rehabilitation and a protection against recidivism.[6] It is well worth the investment.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments. I look forward to continuing to work with the Council to support the creation of this task force and ensure that it is effective.


Please feel free to contact BDS’ Advocacy Specialist Jared Chausow at 718-254-0700 ext. 382 or jchausow@bds.org.

[1] NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State’s Aging Prison Population (The Office of Budget & Policy Analysis 2017), http://osc.state.ny.us/reports/aging-inmates.pdf (last visited Sept. 19, 2017).

[2] See A ‘Frightening’ Myth About Sex Offenders, by David Feige in New York Times Op-Docs, available at https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000005415081/a-frightening-myth-about-sex-offenders.html?mcubz=0 (last visited Sept. 18, 2017).

[3] See DCJS Website, “Myths and Facts: Current Research on Managing Sex Offenders,” available at http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor/som_mythsandfacts.htm (last visited Apr. 1, 2014).

[4] Christie Thompson, For Some Prisoners, Finishing Their Sentences Doesn’t Mean They Get Out, The Marshall Project, May 24, 2016 at , https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/05/24/for-some-prisoners-finishing-their-sentences-doesn-t-mean-they-get-out.

[5] Andrew Keshner, Judge Finds State Limits on Sex Offender Moves Illegal, N.Y. L.J., Oct. 6, 2014 at , http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202672385488/Judge-Finds-State-Limits-on-Sex-Offender-Moves-Illegal.

[6] Minn. Dept of Corr., Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism (2011), http://www.doc.state.mn.us/pages/files/large-files/Publications/11-11MNPrisonVisitationStudy.pdf.




Sophie Dalsimer – Immigration Attorney


Presented before

The New York City Council Committee on Immigration

Oversight Hearing on

Best Practices for NYC Agencies, Courts, and Law Enforcement Authorized to Certify Immigrant Victims for U and T Visas

September 13, 2017


My name is Sophie Dalsimer. I am a practicing immigration attorney with a mental health specialization at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) on the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) team. BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for 40,000 clients in Brooklyn every year.

I thank the City Council for the opportunity to testify about the NYPD U Visa certification process. I have chosen to focus my remarks on NYPD policy surrounding U visa certification because that is the city agency from which BDS most frequently requests certification.

Since our immigration practice began more than eight years ago, BDS has counseled, advised or represented more than 7,500 immigrant clients.  In 2016 alone, we handled more than 1500 immigration matters across a full spectrum of services. We defend detained clients facing deportation, clients identified through our criminal and family defense dockets, and clients referred from our community partners or who connected with us through community outreach clinics.

New York City can and should do more to protect our immigrant community members from increasing immigration enforcement efforts at the federal level. Many of our clients have been victims of crimes and are eligible for U Visas. Yet despite recent changes to the NYPD process for certification of U Visas and T Visas, the NYPD continues to delay decisions in certification and to deny certification because of a client’s criminal history. In short, these policies harm immigrant New Yorkers and their families and communities and should be reformed.

Client Stories

The following stories illustrate the critical need for timely processing of U Visa certifications by the NYPD, regardless of a person’s criminal history. The names are pseudonyms to protect the identity of our clients.

Ms. Archer

Ms. Archer is a 45-year-old mother from Jamaica raising two daughters in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the early 2000s, Ms. Archer lived with a partner who repeatedly physically and emotionally abused her. Ms. Archer endured this abuse without realizing that she could seek help from law enforcement. Her abuser threatened her that if she went to the police, she would be deported. It was not until Ms. Archer finally confided in a close friend that she came to understand that she could seek help from law enforcement without fear of deportation and separation from her young children.  The next time her partner became violent, Ms. Archer ran out of the home with her daughter and went straight to her local precinct. She provided a full report to police who noted Ms. Archer’s physical injuries. The fear of law enforcement was enough to cause her abuser to flee and he was never apprehended even though Ms. Archer continued to inform police every time he attempted to make contact with her. Eventually, Ms. Archer learned that her abuser was back in Jamaica and retaliating against her family there, including burning down her sister’s home. He threatened to kill Ms. Archer if she ever returned to Jamaica. As a single mother and survivor of a domestic violence who is also illiterate, Ms. Archer struggled to provide for her family. She made the mistake of engaging in shoplifting and was arrested on four occasions, leading to two convictions and two disorderly conduct violations. Ms. Archer deeply regrets her actions.

In late September 2016, NYIFUP requested U Visa certification from the NYPD on behalf of Ms. Archer, who was detained in immigration custody and facing deportation to Jamaica.  The request was denied in December 2016, citing “significant criminal history” as the basis for denial. An appeal was filed in February 2017 with additional supporting documentation. The appeal was denied in late May 2017, this time referencing “extensive criminal history.”

Ultimately, Ms. Archer was able to avoid deportation based on the threats from her former abusive partner who continues to reside in Jamaica. Ms. Archer is now home with her daughters in Brooklyn and is for the first time connected with a literacy program and counseling for domestic violence survivors. However, for survivors of domestic violence who were never married to their abusers, such as Ms. Archer, a U visa is the only path to lawful permanent resident status based on their abuser.  In this case, Ms. Archer was able to remain in the United States, but she does not have the permanent status like that which she might have obtained through a U visa.

Mr. Hernandez

Mr. Hernandez fled violence in his native El Salvador and came to the U.S. at age 16. In 2011, he was brutally assaulted outside a restaurant in East Elmhurst, Queens. His attackers beat him with a steel bat. He woke up in the hospital after undergoing emergency surgery to relieve pressure from blood clotting around his brain. While hospitalized he received occupational and physical therapy, wore a protective helmet and had another surgery to replace fractured bone in his skull with a metal plate.

Mr. Hernandez cooperated with law enforcement following his assault by speaking with NYPD detectives, viewing photo arrays of suspects, and riding along with officers in an effort to identify the assailants. Following his assault, Mr. Hernandez also developed epilepsy and experienced chronic pain and cognitive decline. He described no longer feeling like the same person, becoming slower and easily confused.

It was during this time period, subsequent to his victimization and hospitalization, that Mr. Hernandez was arrested twice and convicted of possession of stolen property and unauthorized use of a vehicle, both non-violent misdemeanor offenses. He has little recollection of the circumstances that led to his arrests due to his brain injury. Mr. Hernandez was transferred from criminal custody to immigration custody and was assigned  a NYIFUP attorney in August 2016.

After gathering relevant records, the NYIFUP attorney filed a request for U certification with NYPD on behalf of Mr. Hernandez in mid-October 2016. In late December 2016, NYPD denied Mr. Hernandez’s request citing “extensive criminal history” as the basis for the denial. An appeal was filed in late January 2017.   A decision on the appeal was not reached until late July 2017, over 6 months later, when NYPD agreed to certify a U visa for Mr. Hernandez.

Mr. Hernandez remains detained and is fighting removal to El Salvador where he fears he will die without access to his anti-seizure medications. The delay in the NYPD’s issuing of a U certification has contributed to his lengthy time in immigration detention

  • Expediting NYPD Responses for Detained Immigrants

In 2016 the NYPD adopted new regulations on “Requesting Certifications for U Nonimmigrant Status (U Certification). These regulations require NYPD to respond to requests for certification within 45 days and respond to appeals to certification decisions within 90 days.

Prior to the passage of this rule, we often would go months and months without receiving a response from NYPD about our requests for certification. This created a great deal of uncertainty in the process for all parties involved, including the courts, judges, attorneys and immigrants. Since the passage of the rule, we have seen NYPD comply with the initial request for certification in a timely manner, but our appeals linger for months before a response.

Expedited responses are particularly critical for our clients detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigration detainees generally appear before an immigration judge every 6-8 weeks. Judges expect to hear regular updates from attorneys about the status of the client’s case. The court process will run much more efficiently if we can inform judges that we have requested a U visa certification and that the NYPD will respond within a specific time period. Additionally, judges are likely to release a detainee on bond once they receive a U visa certification from a law enforcement agency. The Department can play an important role in limiting unnecessary and harmful detention by responding promptly to requests for certification and appeals from detained immigrants, in particular.


a. NYPD should create a streamlined process for immigration detainees that would allow their cases to take priority over other person’s requesting certification.

Petitioners to the Department should submit in their letter requesting certification whether they are (a) a detained immigrant in removal proceedings, (b) a non-detained immigrant in removal proceedings, or (c) a person making an affirmative application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (i.e. a person not currently facing deportation).  This would allow the Department to allocate resources in the most efficient manner possible.

b. NYPD should provide on its website a contact phone number and email address for a point person at the Department on this issue.

This lack of information makes it nearly impossible for attorneys and immigration court personnel to inquire about the status of an immigrant’s u-visa request for certification. As noted above, this would be enormously helpful to backlogged immigration courts (who could schedule court dates for after the date when the NYPD expects to respond to the request) and immigrants themselves who are making difficult decisions about whether or not to continue fighting deportation.

Reasons for Denials

While the NYPD now issues denial letters with a checkbox for reasons for denials, we still have little to no information about why our clients are being denied U visas.

In both Ms. Archer and Mr. Hernandez’s cases, we were given no further indication in either the initial denial or the appeal as to why their specific criminal history warranted a denial. It would be helpful for the NYPD to articulate whether it was the gravity of the convictions, the quantity of convictions, the recentness of conviction, or the level of assistance that the petitioner provided in the case in which they assisted the NYPD.


 c. NYPD should not deny U visa certifications based on a person’s criminal history.

It is more appropriate and efficient to allow the Department of Homeland Security to determine when denial of a U visa is appropriate based on the applicant’s criminal record, rather than refusing to issue law enforcement certifications due to criminal convictions.

The instructions for the law enforcement certification (Form I-918, Supplement B) state: “You should use Form I-918, Supplement B, to certify that an individual submitting a Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, is a victim of certain qualifying criminal activity and is, has been, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of that activity.” The law enforcement certification form does not request information concerning the applicant’s criminal record, and the instructions do not request that the certifying agency consider the applicant’s criminal record when determining whether to issue a certification.

This is likely because a U visa applicant’s criminal record, if one exists, will always be carefully scrutinized by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, before a decision is made about whether to grant a U visa. As part of the U visa application, the applicant is required to disclose all arrests and submit documentation proving the outcome of each arrest. U visa applications are routinely denied due to the applicants’ failure to submit all required criminal documentation, or due to the nature and/or extent of the applicant’s criminal record.

For these reasons, we encourage the Council to urge the NYPD not to deny certification requests based on the applicant’s criminal record.


The legacy of broken windows policing is that low-income people of color in certain New York City neighborhoods are disproportionately targeted by police for arrest for conduct that would not result in criminal convictions for others. Frustratingly, our clients who are victims and who worked with law enforcement to report and investigate crimes are being denied U Visas because of their criminal histories. At the same time that the Council is funding NYIFUP to defend detained people facing deportation, the NYPD is effectively precluding people with even minimal criminal records from even applying for this critical form of relief with the Department of Homeland Security.

We call upon the City Council to work with immigrant communities, service providers and other stakeholders to urge the NYPD to change this policy so that New Yorkers who are the victims of crime can apply for the U visas for which they are eligible under federal law.

If you have any questions about my testimony, please feel free to reach out to me at 718-254-0700 ext. 315 or sdalsimer@bds.org.



Joyce Kendrick – Supervising Attorney

Criminal Defense Practice – Mental Health Unit


Presented before

The New York City Council Committee on Public Safety

Jointly with the

Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services

Oversight Hearing on

NYPD’s Responses to Persons in Mental Health Crisis

September 6, 2017


My name is Joyce Kendrick and I am the Supervising Attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice – Mental Health Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services. BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family and immigration defense, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy in nearly 40,000 cases involving indigent people in Brooklyn every year. The BDS Mental Health Unit provides specialized representation to criminal defense clients in the Mental Health Treatment Court and in competency evaluation proceedings.

Over the last twenty years, I have represented thousands of clients struggling with mental health challenges in misdemeanor and felony cases in Brooklyn courts. Sadly, the NYPD continues to use unlawful and sometimes lethal force against people in mental health crises on a regular basis rather than de-escalating the situation.

I am grateful to be here to give voice to the experience of my clients and my fellow practitioners and provide recommendations for critical reform in how the NYPD responds to people in crisis.


A few years ago, I represented Natasha[1], a woman in her early thirties who was shot in the stomach by police and severely wounded after her friend called the police asking for assistance. The friend told the 911 operator that Natasha was breaking things in her apartment. She added that Natasha was off her medication and in crisis but did not have a weapon. When they arrived at the scene, officers told Natasha to lie down on the floor. When she did not comply with their orders because of her illness, they allegedly sprayed her with pepper spray on her. They subsequently shot her in the stomach with a gun. No weapon was recovered from the scene but Natasha was charged with felony attempted assault of an officer and put under arrest as the paramedics wheeled her away. I met Natasha at her hospital bed where she was on a ventilator being treated for life-threatening injuries. The charges were subsequently reduced to a misdemeanor, making Natasha eligible for Mental Health Treatment Court. All of this could have been avoided if a crisis intervention team had responded to the call, de-escalated the situation, and connected Natasha with the critical services that she needed to stabilize and get back on her feet.

We are here today because Natasha’s story is not an isolated incident. The recent deaths of Dwayne Jeune in Brooklyn and Debora Danner in the Bronx illustrate the urgent need for a shift in thinking about how the NYPD responds to a person in crisis. Without a doubt, the NYPD must do better in training all officers in crisis intervention training.[2] But there is much more that can and should be done to prevent unnecessary and harmful police violence, and the Council need look no further than two recent mayoral initiatives and their reports and recommendations.

In 2011, my office served on Mayor Bloomberg’s Steering Committee of the Citywide Justice and Mental Health Initiative. The Initiative sought to develop and implement data-driven strategies to improve the City’s response to people with mental illnesses who are involved in the adult criminal justice system. BDS also served on Mayor de Blasio’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System which convened in 2014 and issued a report that year.

Both mayoral initiatives studied closely these issues and proposed solutions to divert people with mental illness from the criminal justice system and to improve behavior health services for court-involved people.[3] The 2014 Report indicated that the City intended to spend $130 million to reduce unnecessary arrests and incarceration for people with mental illness. Earlier this year the Mayor announced that two new drop-off diversion centers will open in 2018 to provide short-term stabilizing services for 2,400 New Yorkers per year.

Despite this blueprint to reform, the City has been slow to change. The January 2017 NYC Department of Investigation Report and Analyses on the NYPD’s Crisis Intervention Team Initiative illustrated what those of us on the ground already know: that the NYPD are ill-equipped to respond to mental health crises and they continue to respond, all too frequently, with unlawful or lethal force.[4]

To this date, we have yet to see the proposals articulated in our work on these mayoral initiatives implemented in any meaningful way. Brooklyn Defender Services calls on the Council to work with the Mayor and his administration to implement some of these reforms, particularly those indicated below.

Problems and Solutions

Problem 1: Families and caretakers are scared to call the police during a mental health crisis for fear of escalation.

Families and caretakers of people living with mental illness often feel that they have nowhere to turn when their loved ones are in the midst of a mental health crisis. They recognize the sad reality that in New York City, calling 911 to report a mental health crisis may lead to someone being shot by police.

Debora Danner, the woman tragically killed by police in the Bronx, wrote in an essay that she feared for her life.[5] Sadly, her worst fears were realized when she was shot dead by a policeman last October.

The City Council must work with the Mayor’s Office and the NYPD to change the public’s perception by changing the way that the NYPD respond to mental health crises.

Problem 2: NYPD continue to arrest and District Attorneys continue to prosecute people with mental illness rather than diverting this vulnerable population out of the criminal justice system altogether.

As the Supervisor of BDS’s mental health unit, I only represent people with severe mental illness. The fact that my entire unit exists speaks to the failure of the City to end the unnecessary arrest of people in crisis – the stated goal of the 2014 Behavioral Health Task Force.

Problem 3: People with mental health issues are often homeless or housing insecure. Their families and service providers struggle to provide them with the care and support that they need to stabilize.

The 2014 Report called on the NYC Department of Homeless Services to create 267 permanent housing slots, with supportive services, including mental health and substance use services. Homelessness and housing insecurity prevent people from getting the treatment they need to manage their mental illness.

Currently, hospitals will often hold people unlawfully, saying that they cannot release people to the streets. Yet after being held for a period of time, they are inevitably sent back to the streets because there are not enough beds anywhere in the City for people with severe mental illness.[6] The City must do better to increase the amount of supportive housing to meet the needs of New Yorkers in crisis.


The work has already been done to identify solutions to police violence against people with mental illness. But implementing these solutions requires political will. I look forward to working with the Council and the Mayor’s Office to put into place these reforms to stop the unnecessary arrest and deaths of New Yorkers in crisis.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions about these or other issues at (718) 254-0700 (ext. 119) or jkendrick@bds.org.

[1] Name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.

[2] The New York Times reported this week that “more than 5,600 of the 36,000 uniformed police officers in the city had received the training so far.” The Department stated that they are focused “on providing crisis intervention training to lieutenants, sergeants and certain neighborhood-based officers, which is expected to be completed in 2018.” Ashley Southall, In Shooting of Mentally Ill Man, Officer Followed Protocols, Police Say, N.Y. Times, Aug. 3, 2017.

[3] See Improving Outcomes for People with Mental Illnesses Involved with New York City’s Criminal Court and Correction Systems (New York, NY: Justice Center, December 2012), available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/press/FINAL_NYC_Report_12_22_2012.pdf and Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System Action Plan (New York, NY: City of New York, 2014), available at http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/criminaljustice/downloads/pdfs/annual-report-complete.pdf

[4] NYC Department of Investigation, Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, Putting Training into Practice: A Review of NYPD’s Approach to Handling Interactions with People in Mental Crisis (January 2017), available at http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2017/2017-01-19-OIGNYPDCIT-Report.pdf.

[5] Debora Danner, Living with Schizophrenia, N.Y. Times, Oct. 19, 2016, available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/19/nyregion/document-Living-With-Schizophrenia-by-Deborah-Danner.html?_r=0.

[6] See Benjamin Mueller, Public Hospitals Treat Greater Share of Mental Health Patients, N.Y. Times, Aug. 22, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/nyregion/new-york-mental-health-hospitals.html?mcubz=1.



Prosecutors have the power to end mass incarceration today. Learn what you can do to hold them accountable. Brooklyn votes Tuesday September 12! Over 1,000 elections nationwide in 2018.

Featuring the voices of: Deray McKesson (Black Lives Matter, Pod Save the People), Baratunde Thurston (Author, Comedian, Formerly The Onion, Daily Show), Adam Foss (Former Prosecutor), Nina Morrison (Innocence Project), John Pfaff (Professor, Author of “Locked In”), Brandon Buskey (ACLU), Josie Duffy Rice (Fair Punishment Project), Scott Hechinger (Public Defender, Brooklyn Defender Services).