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News

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.

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News

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEES ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND EDUCATION, AND SUBCOMMITTEE ON NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS REGARDING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE REFORM

Keren Farkas, Esq. – Director, Education Unit
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES

My name is Keren Farkas and I am the Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ (BDS) Education Unit. I thank the New York City Council Committees on Public Safety and Education, and in particular, Chairs Richie J. Torres and Daniel Dromm, for the opportunity to testify on this critical legislation.

BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal, family and immigration defense to more than 45,000 indigent Brooklyn residents each year. To comprehensively support our clients, a traditionally underserved population, BDS offers supplemental legal and social services in several areas, including social work, housing, benefits, employment and education.

BDS’ Education Unit provides legal representation and informal advocacy to our school-age clients. All of our clients are involved with the criminal justice or child welfare systems. A significant percentage is “over-age and under credited,” and have been retained at least one grade. More than half of our clients are classified as students with disabilities. Nearly all of our clients report at least one school suspension, oftentimes between two and six. As a legal and social work team, we work to improve our clients’ access to education. A significant portion of our advocacy relates to school discipline, special education, school reentry from incarceration and suspension, and enrollment in credit recovery and High School Equivalency programs.

BDS supports Int. No. 730 and Int. No. 719, and urges the Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to enact them. BDS further requests that Int. No. 719 be amended to include data on Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW).

BDS commends the City Council for its continued attention to policing and discipline practices in our city’s schools and the transparency needed to create fair and thoughtful policies. Since 2011, the Student Safety Act has provided invaluable insight into school practices, revealing an overuse of punitive school discipline with disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. This oversight has already inspired positive changes. Over the past two years, School Safety Agents (SSA) data showed that school-based arrests and suspensions are declining. Confronted with the SSA data, city agencies, namely the DOE and NYPD, are also investing more resources in school climate reform. BDS is hopeful that the current proposals to strengthen the Student Safety Act and reveal staffing ratios between policing and guidance staff will further support the creation of safe and supportive schools.

As a member of the School Safety Coalition, BDS supports all proposed amendments to the Student Safety Act. The SSA data has offered an important view into school discipline and police practices, but if we want an accurate representation of our school’s practices that is truly capable of informing effective and nondiscriminatory school safety and police practices, these additional disclosures are a vital step. For many of our clients, multiple interruptions in their education due to suspension and the tension associated with the law enforcement presence in their school, including metal detectors, present significant obstacles to school engagement. Knowing, for instance, which schools are suspending students multiple times, inappropriately relying on EMS, using metal detectors and restraints, or experiencing high rates of complaints against SSA will enable families, advocates and policy makers to identify the struggling schools and create responsive policies to support students.

The remainder of my testimony will briefly highlight two areas BDS would like to emphasize as the City Council considers today’s proposals and future policies to support school climate reform.

1. Expanding Behavioral Health Supports at Schools

BDS is encouraged by the proposed expansion of the SSA to include referrals to EMS. Misuse of EMS remains a significant problem for BDS’ school age clients and this data will help stakeholders understand the practice and make responsive policies. With the upcoming Chancellor’s guidance regarding de-escalation plans and investments in training, BDS hopes that schools will be better equipped to respond to student misbehavior. To fully tackle this issue, we also hope the collected data can be used to expand a variety of school-based behavioral health supports.

When speaking with schools, teachers and guidance staff commonly report that they do not feel equipped to support students with challenging behaviors. The result can often include calls, or threats to call, EMS, as well as overuse of punitive discipline, and recommendations for inappropriate and overly restrictive special education settings. In a recent case, a 7 year-old client had been subject to two Superintendents suspension, one EMS call and one threat to call EMS this school year. That student will now be attending a state-approved private school with onsite and integrated behavioral health support staff. In another recent case, our 10-year-old client’s school called EMS twice, and threatened to call EMS on several other occasions. In both examples, the schools lacked the appropriate behavioral health training and support staff to adequately support the students and school staff. Had school-based or school-linked mental health services been available, these students may have received support to remain in the community school, and the trauma, as well as the loss of instruction time, associated with suspension and EMS could have been prevented. Accordingly, we hope these efforts to support positive changes in school climate will include attention to the need for expanded school based mental health clinics, rapid response mobile crisis units, as well as training in trauma informed care.

2. Equipping Schools with the Resources to Support Positive Discipline and Address Complex Student Needs

BDS is pleased with the proposals that will make more information available about the staffing and practices of School Safety Agents. While some of BDS’ school-age clients report positive relationships with SSA’s, they also describe demeaning verbal and physical encounters. Just one month ago, a 17-year old client was physically assaulted by an SSA during lunch period. His school administration viewed the video footage and immediately granted a safety transfer.

We commend the introduction of Int. No. 713 and urge its passage. We believe the collected data will elucidate how our city apportions resources to support student safety and positive school culture. While we applaud the DOE and NYPD’s effort to enhance crisis-intervention training for SSA’s, we want to emphasize that we believe that school disciplinary matters should presumptively be handled by school staff. SSA’s should not be the first-responders to adolescent misbehavior, but that seems to be the practice in many schools. There are too many instances where SSA’s unnecessarily insert themselves in situations. Additionally, school staff can be too quick to call upon SSA’s to intervene. Last fall, an 18-year old client with known mental health needs did not want to speak with a certain school administrator and started to walk away. Seven SSA’s responded. A well-trained educator, guidance counselor or social worker could have more appropriately addressed and deescalated that situation. Another 18 year-old client from last fall had a disagreement with a librarian over whether she could search the website “Craigslist,” which resulted in a “tug-of-war” over an internet cord. Three SSA’s responded and escorted my client to the Assistant Principals’ office. That student was never offered the opportunity to speak with a guidance counselor or a social worker regarding the miscommunication or her reentry following suspension. These examples demonstrate the failed opportunities for positive interventions when schools rely on SSA’s to monitor school discipline rather than trained guidance, social work or clinically trained staff.

Guidance counselors can serve a critical role supporting students and implementing guidance interventions, including restorative practices, as an alternative to punitive discipline. Clinically trained staff, particularly LCSW’s and other school-based mental health clinicians, can serve an additional important role — particularly working with youth who have experienced trauma, which is tragically very common amongst students in our highest-need schools. Beyond supporting individual students, guidance and social work staff can facilitate successful implementation of whole school reform and supporting all staff in the undertaking. To its great credit, last year, the Council passed Int. No. 403-A, requiring, among other things, data on social workers and guidance counselors in each school. We believe that the inclusion of LCSW’s is critical in any effort to shift the school discipline model away from punitive measures and towards care and support. We therefore ask that Int. No. 719 be amended to include data on the ratios of SSA’s to LCSW’s. BDS is hopeful that all of the data collected can be used to help equip our schools with the necessary resources to implement positive discipline systems, and diminish excessive reliance on SSA’s.

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

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News

BDS’ KEREN FARKAS ADVOCATING FOR LESS POLICING IN SCHOOLS IN THE GOTHAM GAZETTE

Great quotes by Keren in the Gotham Gazette who also testified before City Council on this very issue. See below for soundbites and a link at the bottom for full article.

“[Council Member Torres’ bill] gets at the heart of where schools are allocating resources,” said Karen Farkas, senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. Farkas deals with issues related to education and counsels students between 16- and 19-years-old.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction in communities and among lawmakers that safety is equated with the presence of safety agents,” she said. “But my clients and students of color don’t equate that with safety. It detracts from a positive community and school culture. It makes it harder for schools to be schools.”

Many of her clients, Farkas said, come from communities that are already over-policed. “Schools should be a place where kids are given the benefit of the doubt, not considered bad or criminal.”

Farkas believes Torres’ bill could reveal the effects that fewer police agents and more positive counseling would have. She also praised the administration’s recent steps for laying the groundwork and initiating discussions on restorative justice practices, whereby instead of being suspended from school, students work to make damaged relationships whole again. But, Farkas insisted that “Unless there’s a whole school reform model, and it’s done well, little piecemeal measures won’t change the whole problem.

http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5681-council-bills-aimed-at-clarity-improvement-around-school-discipline-and-support

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OPEN LETTER TO SENATE DEMOCRATS ON ‘RAISE THE AGE’

Dear Senator Montgomery:

Brooklyn Defender Services (“BDS”) recognizes the many areas in which New York State must re-consider its approach to prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds. We support the Senate Democrats for your leadership in pushing for thoughtful and deliberate reform and your concerted efforts to make New York a leader in the application of real criminal justice for adolescents. We applaud the Governor, the Assembly and the advocacy community for identifying many of the key areas in the criminal and juvenile justice systems where change would be welcome. It is important to understand that defining a problem and identifying solutions that appear to have worked in the aggregate in other jurisdictions are the mere beginnings of the sort of comprehensive change that true Raise the Age reform entails.

There is extreme urgency in addressing the devastating effects of continuing to house 16- and 17-year-olds in adult jails and prisons. Rape, extensive stays in solitary confinement, lack of educational and other opportunities for young people, along with documented brutality are destroying the rehabilitative effect of incarceratory sentences for the age group most receptive to rehabilitation: teenagers. We must immediately focus our energies on this very aspect of the Raise the Age proposals and move the rest of the broad, sweeping, and entirely unvetted legislative package from the budget process. The proposed reforms, which span 300 pages and over 100 statutes, are complicated and potentially counterproductive. This process has been criticized by many, including the NYS District Attorneys Association and the NYS Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, two organizations whose members work in the courts every day and know how these changes will impact the operations and outcomes for court-involved youth.

BDS provides innovative, client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy to 45,000 low income residents in Kings County each year. Our annual adolescent client base consists of 2,000 16- and 17-year-olds, and another 8,000 clients up to age 21. Our Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team (BART) provides youth-focused criminal defense representation as well as specialized social workers and youth advocates, immigration attorneys, education attorneys, and youth-specific administrative and investigative staff. As is true for many other defender offices, we provide age-appropriate resources for 16- and 17-year-olds in-house. We have developed excellent programs in conjunction with Brooklyn courts and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, and we have supported innovative programming in the community to prevent young people from getting arrested in the first instance. These programs can continue to assist thousands of young people while New York State carefully considers the best way to adapt its legal system to do an even better job for these youth and the communities in which they live.

This breath of experience and expertise guides us to make the following recommendations:

  1. 1. Pass a bill that would move all juveniles out of adult jails and prisons as soon as possible and fund the creation of youth facilities and other appropriate programming – a critical first step in bringing about real, lasting, comprehensive juvenile justice reform. As has been well-documented, 16- and 17-year-olds who are incarcerated in adult facilities are harmed in greater numbers, commit suicide in greater numbers, and are more likely to recidivate than youth in juvenile facilities. Immediate movement from these facilities is essential. Consideration of alternatives to placement must be part of this movement.

    All juvenile facilities to which the young people are moved must contain these reforms:

    • Fully funded educational and vocational services for all youth
    • A lower correction officer ratio and a higher social worker ratio
    • Mandates to adopt the Missouri model for disciplining young people
    • Prohibition of solitary confinement for all adolescents
    • Specialized treatment for emerging mental health issues
  2. 2. Prepare a thorough racial impact analysis on every other provision of this criminal justice legislation to prevent disparate treatment for young people of color.
    • Making 16- and 17-year-olds subject to arrest and prosecution for violations under the Family Court Act may exacerbate existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. For example, disorderly conduct, not currently prosecutable in Family Court, would become so for 16- and 17-year-olds under both the Governor’s and Assembly one-house proposals. Since these arrests mostly begin with street encounters initiated by police, our experience shows that young teens of color will be most affected by the choice to include these provisions. Brain science research also shows that the behaviors that may appear to be disorderly in an adult are actually typical for adolescents and form the basis to raising the age reforms in the first place. The potential ramifications of a Family Court case arising from an arrest for disorderly conduct are potentially much harsher than they currently are in adult court. Young people and their families under the jurisdiction of the Family Court are subject to far more government intrusion than they are for identical cases in adult courts. As we also know from our experience in Family Court, seemingly low level offenses comprise the basis for a very large percentage of placement in juvenile facilities because of a number of complex factors.
    • There is also potential for racial disparity in the choice to increase the number and types of crimes that originate and can be prosecuted in adult court. Unarmed Robbery in the Second Degree is prosecutable in criminal court in the governor’s bill. It is also one of the crimes most frequently and disparately charged against Black adolescents in New York City. This same event may look like a teen bullying event in an affluent community and a violent robbery in an underserved neighborhood. Regardless of which way it is perceived, the adolescents who are accused of unarmed robbery are still subject to limitations in impulse control and resisting peer pressure due to their level of brain development.
  3. 3. Put statutory safeguards in place recognizing that not all youth currently in adult facilities need to be incarcerated and may be eligible for alternatives to placement and detention. The budget should fund additional resources to avoid unnecessary detention. These resources should include:
    • Drug programs targeted to 16- and 17-year-olds
    • Residential programs not limited to drug abuse treatment that could provide services for youth who are mentally ill, facing arson or other charges that make them ineligible for other treatment programs
    • PINS respite centers and encouraging parents to file PINS petition rather than filing criminal charges
    • Alternatives to traditional sentences for young people, such as the art-based Young New Yorkers program (www.youngnewyorkers.org), a cost-effective three-hour program focused on decision-making, after which the young person’s case is dismissed. The re-offense rate for these teens is 50% lower than for a control group
    • Police diversion
  4. 4. Additional reforms that improve outcomes for court-involved young people can and should be proposed, thoughtfully analyzed, and sensibly negotiated for passage at a later time.
  5. Brooklyn Defender Services strongly believes that all of the relevant stakeholders can come together to create truly innovative juvenile justice reform based on science and best practices from other states. Such legislation should seek to limit racial disparities in the criminal justice system, rather than exacerbate existing inequalities. For this reason, and all of the reasons listed in the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Raise the Age Position Paper, we urge legislators to delay action on all the substantive issues concerning Raise the Age except the movement of 16- and 17-year-olds from adult prisons and the creation of non-incarceratory placements targeted to the needs of this age group, which should happen immediately.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa Schreibersdorf
    Executive Director

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MEMO TO LEGISLATORS: RAISE THE AGE REFORM WILL CAUSE ADDITIONAL DELAYS IN RESOLVING CHILD WELFARE CASES IN FAMILY COURT

Brooklyn Defender Services (“BDS”) provides innovative, client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy to 45,000 low income residents in Kings County, each year. The BDS Family Defense Practice currently represents over 2,000 parents and caregivers of over 4,700 children in Brooklyn Family Court. Now in our eighth year, we have served almost 6,500 parents and touched the lives of nearly 15,000 children. Our more than 30 attorneys appear in Family Court every day and are intimately familiar with Family Court operations.

Our experience demonstrates that families are caught in legal limbo and children languish in foster care because there are not enough Family Court judges to hear the cases in a timely and meaningful manner. BDS is deeply concerned that the proposed Raise the Age reform would worsen existing backlogs in New York’s Family Courts by adding thousands of new cases without additional resources to meet this demand. For this reason, the Legislature should wait before passing any comprehensive juvenile justice reform during this budget process to allow stakeholders, such as family defense practitioners, to weigh in on the impact the law will have on Family Court.

The Reality in Family Courts Today
Family courts are swamped with a backlog of cases

Existing Family Court judge capacity not enough to accommodate Raise the Age cases

BDS recommends further hearings and conversations involving all concerned parties, including Family Court staff, judges, attorneys for child protective agencies, defenders and stakeholders in the foster care system to address Family Court capacity and how best to implement Raise the Age legislation so that it does not harm the families already suffering from the delays in the child welfare system.

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TESTIMONY BEFORE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL ON ACS & DHS PRELIMINARY FY2016 BUDGET

BDS is the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, representing 45,000 low-income Brooklyn residents each year who are arrested, charged with abuse or neglect of their children or face deportation. Our interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on-site in the areas of immigration, education, housing, and government benefits. Our family defense practice is assigned to represent parents and care givers in 1,000 new child welfare cases each year, the majority of the respondents in Brooklyn Family Court. Now in our 8th year, we have represented over 6,400 parents and caregivers and currently represent over 2,000 parents. Using an interdisciplinary model, BFDP has advocated for the safe return of over 6,000 children to their families. BFDP’s mission is to defend the due process rights of low-income parents while helping them access the benefits and services they need to remain stable and keep their children safe.

Although there has been much discussion about the disproportionate impact of race in the family court and child welfare system, there has been little acknowledgment that most of the respondents in family court are eligible for assigned counsel due to their poverty. Over 90 percent of the child protective cases filed by the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) are based on allegations of neglect and the vast majority of these cases are caused or exacerbated by the family’s poverty. Most of these cases represent a failure of the City’s safety net systems for poor children and families – public and other subsidized housing, public assistance, health care, and mental health care systems – to truly support families in need. The City can save money and reduce foster care placements by putting systems into place that address the needs of these families. The City Council, ACS, and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) should examine how these systems work, identify how to make them work more efficiently, and address the barriers that exclude families who need these services which would result in fewer families entering the child welfare system and save the City scarce dollars.

Our experience working with a large number of families involved in child welfare cases in family court provides valuable information about how limited resources are being expended by the City. ACS child protective workers continue to routinely mandate services, such as mental health evaluations, therapy, or parenting classes, which are unnecessary or not carefully tailored to meet the particular needs of the family, even though many of these interventions have not been proven effective by evidence-based research. In addition, child protective and foster care agency workers are rarely sensitive to the barriers families face in accessing these services or able to help families access them. Services are often scheduled during a parent’s work hours forcing parents to choose between fulfilling a service requirement and losing a job. Oftentimes, parents are asked to attend services but no transportation or child care is provided, making it difficult to comply.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES

ACS Must Involve Stakeholders in the Development of any new Training Program

We understand that the Mayor has proposed earmarking significant new funds for the training and professional development of front line child welfare staff. We wholeheartedly agree that increased training for case handlers and supervisors is a critical piece of an overall strategy for improving case work practice. We understand the challenges that case workers face in achieving the delicate balance of ensuring child safety while providing services and assistance to keep families together. In order to create a training program that actually achieves a significant change in culture, we believe that ACS should be partnering with community based groups, parents, children and advocates for parents and children to better understand the problems faced in case work practice, which go far beyond the tragic fatalities that we hear about in the press. If the City invests substantial funding in ACS’s enhanced training program, a key metric for success must be public accountability to those most impacted by the child welfare system.

In addition, we believe that training must include a cultural competence component to address the lack of sensitivity that our clients face when case workers perform home investigation or family monitoring, including best practices training for working with families where English is not the parent’s primary language.

We also firmly believe that workers and supervisors should be trained to help our clients navigate the systems they interface with on a daily basis, including the shelter system, public assistance, SSI, Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Medicaid and mental health care systems and as discussed below, should be trained on the rights of people with disabilities.

Recommendation: Any funds that are provided to NYCCS for training should require community involvement in the development and implementation of a training program, such as the creation of an advisory board that includes consumers, outside service providers, and advocates. The training curriculum should include cultural competence, training about the systems that affect poor families and training on disabilities as discussed more fully below.

ACS Should Revise Its One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Mental Health Issues

We are grateful that in 2013, ACS promulgated Principles to Inform Child Welfare Decision-Making Regarding Mental Health Issues. Yet we continue to see many problems persist, including the overuse of mental health assessments in situations where they are not warranted, including where there are no allegations of mental illness. In addition, we are concerned about ACS’s improper reliance on mental health assessments which do not meet the minimum professional standards and do not provide useful information about parenting abilities. These assessments are then relied on inappropriately to mandate treatment and make decisions about visiting and reunification. We are also concerned about the widespread practice of mandating therapy and requiring disclosure of information from therapists, which little respect for the impact this has on the patient-therapist relationship.

Finally, children diagnosed with mental illnesses are often placed in foster care due to a parent’s difficulty in coping with their child’s mental health condition, often because of language barriers or lack of education, yet the child doesn’t receive the services they need while they are in foster care. Foster care agencies, through their Therapeutic Foster Boarding Home programs, provide specialized training and supports to foster parents caring for children with special needs, but parents are rarely offered the same type of training and support.

Recommendation: ACS and foster care agency workers need to be better trained on mental health issues, including their own guidelines, and ACS should work with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to examine closely the resources and services that are available in communities to ensure that families receive services that are carefully tailored to meet their families’ needs so that children do not enter foster care because they or their parents have not received appropriate mental health services.

ACS Must Better Serve Clients with Intellectual Disabilities

We are concerned about the number of clients we see where the only allegation against them in their Article 10 case is their cognitive delays; these cases represent a failure of the system. ACS should not be filing neglect cases against these families but should be working with the appropriate City and State agencies to ensure that they get the ongoing support and services that they need. Very often the families have received inadequate and insufficient evaluations. Although these families can function independently with ongoing supportive services, the services that child protection currently offers these families, such as short term preventive services, are inadequate and inappropriate to meet these families’ needs. In a letter dated January 29, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 193 by denying a mother with developmental disabilities opportunities to benefit from support and services to achieve reunification. Among other things, the DOJ found that DCF failed to provide appropriate policies and training for social workers to understand their obligation to ensure the civil rights of parents with disabilities.

Recommendation: Where a parent presents to ACS with a possible intellectual disability, ACS should assess whether the parent is receiving any supportive services related to the perceived disability, coordinate the referral and evaluation process for the parent to receive appropriate services, and provide transitional services to the parent until those disability-related services are put in place. The process of applying for state assistance through OPWDD can be difficult to navigate, and ACS should be familiar with this application process and assist parents with establishing their eligibility. ACS staff should be trained in reasonable accommodations that people with intellectual disabilities may need, such as more time allotted for case conferences and casework contacts, more specific assistance with traveling to appointments and time management, and in-services and classes that are available for parents in this population.

ACS Should Re Examine Policy Regarding Marijuana Use

The majority of substance abuse allegations in our cases are based on marijuana use. Even though marijuana possession is legal in New York, ACS prosecutes parents for marijuana use, often without obtaining a professional assessment as to whether that use constitutes a serious addiction that directly causes harm to the children. This practice is an unnecessary use of scarce resources. ACS should be focusing on cases where drug addiction is demonstrated to be harmful to children. We have many cases where children remain in foster care even though the only issue is ongoing positive tests for marijuana.

Recommendation: ACS should examine its approach to cases involving allegations of drug use and develop policies and practices to ensure that ACS intervenes and files a Family Court case only where there is actual evidence that a parent’s drug use is harming or poses a risk of harm to the children and referrals for costly, time consuming treatment programs are made only when unnecessary. Children should not remain in foster care solely on the basis of positive tests for marijuana where there is no evidence that the parent was under the influence in the presence of the children.

ACS should train workers on the nature of addiction and about harm reduction programs that use a public health approach, identify drug treatment programs that provide services in the home or outside work hours and permit families to continue to reside together so that a parent does not have to choose treatment over his or her family and children are not unnecessarily placed or remain in foster care because a parent needs treatment.

ACS Should Further Reduce Traumatic Emergency Removals of Children

Since August 2010, BFDP has been advocating with ACS to cease their illegal practice of removing children without court order in situations where there is time to seek a court order. Oftentimes, children are removed from their homes on an emergency basis only to be returned by a family court judge who later hears the application, causing unnecessary trauma of removal to the children. In addition, there is often a delay in coming to court because child safety conferences are held first. We are grateful that ACS issued a new protocol and training program to guide case workers in February 2011, but we are concerned that the practice of removing children without court order persists.

Recommendation: ACS should continue to ensure that all of its workers are trained to follow the emergency removal protocol and consider eliminating child safety conferences in certain cases.

ACS Should Provide More Meaningful Preventive Services

BDS strongly supports funding preventive services to prevent the need for children to be placed in foster care and to reduce the time children spend in care. In large measure, preventive service programs helped reduce the foster care population from almost 40,000 in 1999 to under 12,000 in New York City today. Keeping families together with services in place, instead of placing children in foster, care prevents the harm and trauma of removing children from their families while saving tax-payer money.

We also believe that preventive service programs can and should be delivered more effectively to help families provide safe and stable homes for their children and to reduce the number of children who enter foster care.

1. Monitoring requirements limit the effectiveness of programs and restrict the amount of time preventive service programs can work with families

In our experience, the role of preventive services agencies has become more to monitor families or act as another arm of ACS in assessing safety and risk in the family, rather than take significant steps to meaningfully assess and address the problems families face in maintaining stability. For example, although preventive services regulations direct agencies to assist families with basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and housing, very often preventive service workers only remind parents that they must address these issues or monitor their efforts without actually helping them to eliminate obstacles to obtaining these necessities, such as providing transportation costs or childcare, or offering real assistance to help them navigate the many complex bureaucracies and agencies necessary to secure assistance. In the past, for example, agencies have funded parent advocates to help navigate these systems but such programs do not appear to exist anymore at preventive service agencies.

Preventive service workers’ time with families tends to focus on completing required home and school visits and on documentation requirements rather than creating individualized service plans with families and developing meaningful, trusting relationships over time. With the advent of evidence-based preventive services programs, cases are often prematurely closed because they have reached a certain time frame – even when families continue to struggle with long-term problems such as cognitive disabilities – doing a disservice to both the family and the program.

Recommendation: Where specific needs and goals are identified, the primary role of the preventive agency should be to ensure that identified goals are reached. Casework should be measured by whether goals have been reached and cases should be closed upon successful provision of services, not when a time-frame has been met.

2. Formulaic services do not take into account the complex needs of each family

The regulations implementing the preventive services law require that social services districts provide concrete assistance, including childcare, transportation, homemaking, emergency funds, and housing assistance to families who need these services to prevent removal of their children. Yet most preventive agencies provide the same set of interventions to families regardless of their actual needs.  Most often these one-size-fits-all solutions are comprised of generic “casework contacts,” where workers visit homes periodically and require families to attend appointments at the agency office. 

Most parents are also required to attend standardized parenting and anger management classes and counseling sessions.  But not all parents in need of preventive services need counseling or parenting skills classes—some are simply struggling financially and need concrete help to meet their children’s needs. Requiring families to attend numerous appointments and classes simply adds unnecessary stress, making it even more difficult for parents already struggling to provide for their children. Families who could benefit from more concrete services such as childcare, transportation, homemaking or housing assistance are offered classes and counseling sessions instead.  As a result, children are unnecessarily removed from their families and placed in foster care.

Recommendation: Preventive workers should provide counseling to families on relevant issues which would streamline services for families who are juggling to complete various programs while also tending to their employment, school and other obligations.

3. Delays in assigning preventive services to families in need can contribute to additional problems

Delays in assigning preventive agencies and workers to families often exacerbate families’ problems. Indeed, the lag between need identification and service provision often spans months. In some cases, this gap between identification and provision results in ACS filing neglect cases. For example, in one neglect petition alleging inadequate housing conditions and leaving an 11-year old alone with younger children, ACS made a removal application where there had been a prior agreement to arrange preventive services that were not put in place in a timely manner. Because the delays in arranging preventive services are well-known in Family Court, judges are often reluctant to return children to their families, regardless of whether there is a plan that preventive services will quickly respond to the families’ service needs, leading to children staying in foster care for longer than necessary.

Recommendation: Preventive workers should be immediately assigned in all cases where families indicate they are willing to participate in preventive services. Worker performance should be assessed on the time between identification of family needs and the uptake of provided services.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE ADMINISTRATION OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES AND THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELESS SERVICES

Over a third of our clients are living in unsafe housing, family shelters, doubled up, and/or are moving from place to place. Lack of adequate housing makes it difficult for clients to comply with mandated services, causing children to be placed in foster care and/or delaying family reunification when children are already in foster care. Rather than assist families in advocating for safer living conditions or addressing housing concerns directly, ACS workers frequently suggest that families leave homes deemed to be in poor condition (including NYCHA apartments) to go into the shelter system. While this suggestion meets many of ACS’ short-term goals for ensuring a safe environment for children, there are long-term negative consequences for family stability: the shelter system no longer provides permanent housing options to families; living in many of the family shelters in New York is harmful to children and families; and such a move often disrupts children’s education.

ACS is required by law to provide families with preventive services to keep children safely with their families and prevent unnecessary foster care placement, which is both traumatic for children and costly for the City. Among the services that ACS is required to provide are emergency shelter and permanent housing assistance. Yet in practice, when ACS identifies inadequate housing as a risk factor for a family, case workers rarely offer any assistance beyond a direction to apply for shelter at the PATH center, the Bronx office where all families must go to apply for shelter from DHS. Once there, families who have been told by one City agency, ACS, that they must enter shelter as a condition of keeping their children in their care, are often told by a different city agency, DHS, that they are ineligible for shelter because DHS does not believe that the family is really homeless. Sometimes DHS tells a family to return to the very same housing that ACS has already determined to be inadequate or unsafe for the family. In other cases DHS rejects a family for failing to provide proof of prior residences, even in cases in which ACS has documentation of where the family previously lived. Thus, both agencies are failing in their legal responsibilities to families – ACS by failing to provide shelter in a manner that actually prevents foster care placement, and DHS by failing to provide shelter to families who demonstrably have nowhere safe to go. When one City agency – ACS – insists that a family’s living conditions are so harmful to children that the family must enter the City shelter system, giving up all community ties and any sense of stability, it is simply unconscionable that another City agency – DHS, which is tasked with helping families who have nowhere safe to go – would simply turn them away on the grounds that they already have a place to live.

ACS Should Advocate with DHS Regarding Eligibility Issues

ACS directs often families to enter the shelter system as an alternative to having their children removed, or as a condition of children being returned to their parent. Even in these circumstances, our clients are frequently found ineligible by DHS after initial 10-day placements, which require the family to reappear at PATH in the Bronx, usually upon less than 24 hours’ notice, in order to reapply. In many cases our clients have had to repeatedly reapply after being found ineligible based upon a failure to provide a two-year housing history of residences they cannot return to, even where court orders prevent the family from residing at any of their prior residences or specifically require the family to seek shelter through PATH in order to keep their children.

For example:

Our client’s daughter was released by Kings County Family Court to our client’s care on December 19, 2014 on the condition that she go to PATH, which she did a few days later. She was provided with an overnight placement and went back to PATH the next day when she was placed at the 515 Blake shelter in Brooklyn.  About ten days later she received a letter informing her that she was ineligible for shelter because she could not provide proof of where she had been previously living.  She had been renting a room from a friend who would not confirm to DHS that our client had been living there because she feared she would jeopardize her housing as she was illegally renting the room. However, when our client was residing at this address, her foster care case planner visited her there and could have corroborated this. Our client asked the case planner for a letter but she never provided it, nor did she contact DHS on our client’s behalf. When our client was found ineligible the first time, she reapplied for shelter and was once again placed at 515 Blake. Ten days after that she received another letter indicating she was ineligible for shelter for the same reason.   She got frustrated and told ACS she couldn’t deal with PATH anymore because she kept being found ineligible for shelter. She was told if she didn’t enter the shelter system, ACS would have to seek a removal of her daughter.  Our client decided to return to PATH on January 12, 2015 at which time she was placed in a shelter in the Bronx, but she got lost. It was late and her daughter had a cold so she dropped off her daughter at her mother’s home.  ACS then filed to remove her daughter. After a hearing, the Family Court placed her daughter in foster care finding that “PATH is a broken system.”  The child’s placement in foster care could have been avoided if ACS and PATH had coordinated their services.

Our client moved from New York to Connecticut in the summer of 2014, and gave birth to a newborn son in December 2014 via extremely traumatic C-section while residing in a Catholic pregnant women’s shelter in NYC. The shelter offered to allow our client to reside there with her baby after the baby’s birth, but they did not allow the male ACS worker access to the shelter. ACS sought removal of the newborn based on allegations relating to our client’s child welfare history in Connecticut. The Judge released the child to our client on the condition that our client enter PATH and comply with all shelter rules and regulations, as well as an order that our client not leave the jurisdiction of New York City. Our client was placed in shelter in Far Rockaway but was found ineligible twice in a row, requiring her to transport her newborn son all the way from Far Rockaway to the Bronx while still in recovery from her C-section, and in extremely cold weather, to discuss her housing history in Connecticut, a state to which she was prohibited from going by the Family Court Order. ACS failed to advocate with DHS to explain that this client could not return to Connecticut due to the Family Court order and failed to work to contact the CPS equivalents in Connecticut to assist with providing an accurate two year housing history. Further, after insisting that our client enter PATH, ACS refused to assist our client with moving any of her belongings from the pregnant women’s shelter to the family shelter in Far Rockaway, and the belongings were lost.

Recommendations: ACS and DHS should work together to ensure that ACS-involved families have streamlined and collaborative eligibility reviews, with relevant court orders and eligibility-related information possessed by ACS made available to DHS staff immediately.

School-Aged Children should not be required to go to PATH for application or subsequent re-application

Although there has been some discussion about changing this policy, DHS still requires all members of a household, including school-aged children, to be present at the PATH intake center on the day of the family’s initial application, as well as any subsequent re-applications that are necessary because a family was found ineligible. If the policy has been changed, we have yet to see written documentation of the policy change and the specifics of the new application procedures that we can share with our clients.

The current practice forces parents to choose between sending their child to school or seeking adequate shelter for the night. Parents who wait until after the school day to travel with their children to the PATH center in the Bronx arrive late in the day and are often provided only “overnight” placements until they can formally apply for shelter the following day. Under current policy, these overnight placements do not count as shelter applications for purposes of identifying all of the family members, and so the children must either miss school the next day or the family cannot apply for shelter.

This practice is unnecessary and harmful to children already in vulnerable circumstances. DHS can and should develop a policy to verify the existence of school-aged children in other ways, such as consulting records kept by the Department of Education, ACS, or sending a DHS worker to meet with the family in their shelter placement outside of school hours. Additionally, many family shelters are staffed by personnel who could document and report back to DHS the existence, age, and identity of school-aged children upon checking into the shelter on the very day they are placed.

Recommendations: DHS should commit to a written policy that school-age children need not be present at PATH during initial shelter applications in all cases. Further, ACS should be fully informed and trained of any policy shift.

Expand Functions of ACS Office at PATH

There is an ACS office within the PATH intake center, but its function at this time is limited predominantly to verifying whether ACS is investigating or involved with any particular family that is either applying to PATH for shelter or that has been identified as a potential housing resource to an applicant family. This is a huge missed opportunity for ACS to provide comprehensive support to families, particularly those already involved in the child welfare system, at the very stressful and crucial time of a PATH application. Given how time consuming it is to apply for shelter at PATH, ACS or foster care workers rarely accompany families to apply, and when they do, rarely stay for the full application process to ensure that the family is provided a suitable shelter placement, despite the fact that families with knowledgeable advocates fare far better in the application process. A well-staffed and efficient ACS office at PATH would better serve ACS-involved families.

Recommendations: The ACS office within PATH should function as a first stop for families that are already involved with child welfare upon their arrival at PATH, where they can check in with knowledgeable ACS liaisons and receive valuable support. These liaisons should be in communication with the field workers familiar with the family, flagging issues where the family requires advocacy and assistance, and sharing documents or advocacy letters from field ACS workers to DHS staff. Where ACS, through their own investigation, has found a home or homes in the family’s “prior housing history” to be unsuitable or unsafe for the children, the ACS liaison should share those findings with DHS staff and provide documentation facilitating the eligibility decision. The ACS liaisons should similarly assist in decisions regarding shelter placement to ensure that the children’s educational, medical, mental health and service needs are being met. The ACS office at PATH should further assist ACS-involved families in applying for transfers within the shelter system, adding newborn or newly reunified children to the household, and in other circumstances where ACS is in a unique position to provide necessary information to DHS staff in order to streamline the provision of services to needy families. This office should serve as a much-needed support to homeless ACS-involved families and should receive training from advocates. We have heard that ACS is going to place additional workers at PATH but we have been calling for this for many years.

The City Must Advocate for Increased Preventive Housing Subsidy

Although there is a state mandated preventive housing subsidy, the $300 per month subsidy rarely, if ever, succeeds in preventing the need for foster care or in reunifying families when housing is a barrier to family stability. The housing subsidy has become a meaningless entitlement due primarily to the exceedingly low monthly $300 monthly rate. The housing subsidy amount has not been increased since the subsidy was first enacted into law in 1988—almost 30 years ago. Today, rental amounts in New York City are an average of over $1,200 per month yet most of our clients’ household income is well below this amount. In addition, during the period 2000–2012, median apartment rent amounts in New York City rose by 75 percent while the subsidy amount stayed the same.

In our experience, preventive services workers and even ACS workers are generally unaware that the subsidy even exists, and those who are aware of it explain that it is not a useful tool for keeping children out of foster care.  Not only is the $300 rate inadequate, but the procedure for obtaining the subsidy is so lengthy and cumbersome that even if a family is lucky enough to find an apartment that can be rented with the subsidy, a landlord is unlikely to be willing to wait the time it takes to receive payment.  Even workers who are aware of the existence of the housing subsidy are often unaware that it can be used to provide families with lump sum payments for rental arrears, repairs, and other one-time expenses to help a family obtain or preserve stable housing.  As a result, preventive workers often advise families to enter the shelter system — an intervention that is far more costly and harmful to family stability — instead of assisting them in preserving stable permanent housing.

A substantially higher and more easily accessible preventive housing subsidy would make an enormous difference in preventing children from entering foster care and reducing children’s length of stay in foster care.

Recommendations: ACS and DHS should be working closely with other government agencies, including HRA, NYCHA, and HPD to develop real solutions to the lack of permanent housing options for poor families – one of the most prevalent and pervasive issues in child welfare cases.

The City should be advocating with the State to increase the housing subsidy substantially if it is to actually reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care as a result of the lack of adequate housing and the amount should be commensurate with the increase in rental prices.

ACS should renew a housing collaboration with advocates, community partners and other government agencies to ensure that children are not placed in foster care, and do not needlessly remain in foster care, as a result of the lack of housing resources.

Conclusion

BFDP’s proposals would not only strengthen the system in these key areas, ensuring that children are able to remain with their families in safe, secure and stable environments, but would also help enable the child welfare system to leverage available resources in the most cost-effective and impactful ways possible. We believe that following these suggestions will result in more stable families with access to the resources they need.

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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BDS LISA SCHREIBERSDORF IN WALL STREET JOURNAL COMMENTING ON THE MAYOR’S PROPOSAL FOR NEW RESTRICTIONS ON RIKERS ISLAND VISITS

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday proposed limiting the amount of physical contact prisoners can have with visitors in New York City jails and barring some people with a criminal history from visiting altogether.

The changes, aimed at reducing violence in the city’s troubled jail system, sparked criticism from some prisoner-rights advocates who called the policy changes unfair and counterproductive.

“Unless there is a clear, individualized nexus between an individual’s behavior or their visitor’s behavior, it is unjust to take away a contact visit with their loved ones,” she said.

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BDS’S VETERANS ADVOCACY SPECIALIST CAMERON MEASE TESTIFIES AT THE NYC COUNCIL HEARING ON VETERANS TREATMENT COURTS

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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SERGIO JIMENEZ, HOUSING UNIT DIRECTOR AT BDS, JOINS NYC COMPTROLLER SCOTT STRINGER AND ADVOCATES TO CALL FOR IMPROVED LANGUAGE ACCESS IN HOUSING COURTS

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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CALLING FOR SCRUTINY OF DOC’S IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW SOLITARY RULES

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.

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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BDS LISA SCHREIBERSDORF TESTIFIES AT NYC’S EXAMINATION OF INDIGENT CRIMINAL DEFENSE

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.

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BROOKLYN DISTRICT ATTORNEY INVESTIGATING PLANTED GUN ALLEGATION

WABC-TV says prosecutors are investigating a Brooklyn man’s allegation that police officers planted a gun on him.
“It’s been a terrible nightmare for Mr. Herring, an innocent man who every night had to go to bed with these charges these false charges hanging over his head every single night,” said his attorney, Debbie Silberman of Brooklyn Defender Service.

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DIRECTOR OF BDS’ FAMILY DEFENSE PRACTICE LAUREN SHAPIRO ON GOOD CHILD WELFARE POLICY

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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POLICE VIOLENCE IS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM WITH NO END IN SIGHT

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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ATTORNEY MIKE ARTHUS RESPONDS TO MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE SHOOTING DEATH OF BDS CLIENT, AKAI GURLEY

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 SIGNS LAW THAT REDUCES NYC’S COOPERATION WITH IMMIGRATION DETAINERS

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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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES REACHES OUT TO BROOKLYNITES IN BED-STUY

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

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NEW YORK IMMIGRANT FAMILY UNITY PROJECT IN THE NEWS!

“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

 

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BDS WELCOMES OUR SUMMER INTERNS!!

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.

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COMMUNITY LAW INITIATIVE JULY 19

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Blog

BROOKLYN DISTRICT ATTORNEY KEN THOMPSON TO DROP MARIJUANA CHARGES

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.

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DO THE CRIME, DO THE TIME? THE FAILED POLICIES OF PERMANENT PUNISHMENT

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

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES GALA HELD MAY 8TH

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

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Blog

GETTING IT RIGHT: RAISING THE AGE AND JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORMS FOR ADOLESCENTS

David is sixteen years old and lives in a New York City homeless shelter with his mother. He has been arrested three times in the past year for possession of a knife, most recently after robbing another teenager of their iPhone.  More

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES 2014 FUNDRAISING GALA

Please join us on May 8th, 2014 for BDS’s inaugural event at the historic One Hanson Place in Brooklyn. Enjoy an evening of Brooklyn culture and entertainment and show your support of BDS’ commitment to providing exceptional legal services to the residents of Brooklyn.

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News

BDS PARTICIPATES IN SAFE SURRENDER PROGRAM

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

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Blog

SNAIL-PACED REFORMS AT CITY JAILS ARE UNACCEPTABLE

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

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