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BDS Staff Attorney Jillian Modzeleski Testifies at City Council

On September 18, Brooklyn Defender Services was invited to testify at two New York City Council hearings – one examining the efficacy of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs), and another considering legislation to create a task force to study veterans in the criminal justice system.

Jillian Modzeleski (pictured), who has served as BDS’ assigned attorney to Brooklyn’s HTIC since its inception, testified that “HTICs can be a critical tool to protect trafficking victims from many of the devastating consequences of involvement with New York’s criminal justice system, but only when District Attorneys and Judges use them for that purpose. In BDS’ experience, HTICs predominately function as prostitution courts with connections to overstretched service providers.” She further argued that treating victims of sex trafficking as criminal defendants is fundamentally inappropriate and that prosecutors’ use of the specter of punishment to persuade them to inform on their traffickers is ineffective and wrong. You can read the full testimony, which includes concrete recommendations to make HTICs more fair and effective, here.

Later that same day, Cameron Mease, BDS’ expert on Veterans Treatment Courts, told Council Members: “While veterans’ service, trauma and acute health needs might be unique, the facets of the criminal justice system that oppress them are not.” He explained that veterans—who face higher rates of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, mental illness and arrests—generally suffer the compounding trauma of contact with the criminal justice system without special consideration for their service or conditions, except for the minority who are granted access to Veterans Treatment Courts. He highlighted the case of Jerome Murdough, a homeless former Marine, who baked to death in a 101-degree cell on Rikers Island after being arrested for sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night. Citing this and other cases, Mease argued for expanding the use of Veterans Courts and, more generally, ending the over-criminalization and mass incarceration that has torn apart vulnerable New Yorkers, including veterans, and underserved communities in our City for far too long. You can read his full testimony here.