Even without legislative reform, NY’s judges and prosecutors can end wealth-based detention. The Atlantic digs in to our new initiative against excessive bail. Read here.
BDS TESTIFIES BEFORE THE NYC COUNCIL ON NYPD’S SCHOOL SAFETY’S ROLE AND EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SCHOOL CLIMATE
Keren Farkas – Supervising Attorney, Education Unit
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES
The New York City Council Committees on Public Safety
Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and
Efforts to Improve School Climate
November 21, 2017
My name is Keren Farkas and I am the Supervising Attorney of the Education Unit 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, for over 30,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank the Committee on Public Safety for holding this hearing and for providing us with the opportunity to testify.
BDS’ Education Unit provides legal representation and informal advocacy to our school-age clients. All of our clients are involved with the criminal legal or child welfare systems. A significant percentage are “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 teenage 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 commends the City Council for its continued attention to policing and discipline practices in our city’s schools. Since 2011, the Student Safety Act has provided invaluable insight into school practices, revealing the use of punitive discipline and police involvement at schools that, although lessening overall, continues to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities. Confronted with the data from that law, city agencies, namely the DOE and NYPD, are allocating more resources to school climate reform. Although we are encouraged by the recent investments in pilot positive school-wide programs and school-based mental health services, we believe that all of our city’s schools – especially those presenting with the highest rates of suspension, calls to EMS, and arrests – need access to models, such as restorative justice practices and collaborative problem solving, that can positively address student misbehavior and lessen reliance on police. Ultimately, children should never be placed in handcuffs or be subjected to interruptions in schooling as punishment.
More School Safety Officers and More Metal Detectors are Not the Answer
BDS shares the Council’s deep concern about any violence in schools. We represent thousands of school-age youth every year and many on our staff are public school parents. However, we firmly believe that school safety officers often function to escalate disciplinary conflicts in schools, rather than de-escalating situations and making the school environment safer for all. We believe that all steps towards a positive school climate will come from increased funding, training and support for educators and school-based mental health clinicians, not criminal enforcement responses.
Keeping schools safe is a uniformly shared objective; where people diverge is how to achieve it. BDS strongly believes that increased police presence and metal detectors at school are not the solution. In fact, we believe that such efforts undermine school safety. School policing has not been found to prevent school violence. Research actually demonstrates that police presence and metal detectors can significantly decrease a student’s perception of safety at school and, in turn, lead them to make unsafe choices to protect themselves. Further, school policing criminalizes common adolescent behavior, exposing young people to the criminal legal system, making them more susceptible to future contacts and the litany of collateral consequences.
Beyond its questionable efficacy in deterring school violence, a strong law enforcement presence sets a tone of distrust in a school that is not conducive to learning. Student police interaction is linked to poor academic performance and school disengagement. The data mirrors our clients’ experience. We regularly meet with young people grappling with the harmful cumulative impact of disruptions to their education due to punitive discipline and the tensions associated with law enforcement presences in schools. Repeated contacts with school safety agents at school, often for non-violent adolescent misbehavior, have damaged not only their attitudes towards school, but their attitudes about themselves and their potential.
I also urge the Council to put incidents of school violence into context. Most incidents of student misbehavior do not involve weapons or guns making shootings or incidents involving dangerous weapons are extremely rare. Adolescent behavior, including misbehavior, is a function of immaturity, disability, mental health, trauma, bullying — all of which are not issues even the most well-meaning, thoughtful school safety agent is prepared to address. Likewise, they are better addressed by a restorative/preventive approach.
Training Trusted School Staff in Crisis De-Escalation & Restorative Justice Is the Answer
Our city’s schools need to shift to a culture where school staff, not police, take the lead in addressing and preventing student misbehavior. That shift requires a thoughtful and systematic financial investment and philosophical commitment to whole-school approaches that promote positive school climates. When schools utilize preventive, restorative approaches that focus on conflict resolution and diffusing problems early, there is an increase in both student social emotional and academic growth.  Research shows that comprehensive, consistent implementation of approaches, such as conflict resolution and restorative justice, is also associated with positive teacher-student and student-student relationships, vital indicators of a school culture that can foster learning and safety. The programs are also linked with a reduction in school violence. Increasing the amount of guidance counselors and school based mental health clinicians has similarly been associated with the same benefits to school climate and student safety. These are the resources our city’s students deserve.
Notably, these approaches are found to decrease future conflict, and do so more effectively than police intervention. This change is possible because the techniques actually teach students skills about conflict resolution and critical thinking, which they can draw upon when they will undoubtedly face future disagreements with others We must not forget that children and adolescents still have developing brains. All of our clients have also experienced trauma and/or poverty that have complicated their development of coping skills. A significant portion of our clients also have emotional disabilities. When schools rely so heavily on school safety agents to address discipline in lieu of positive behavioral approaches, we are not only missing opportunities to instill tools to support their positive development, we can exacerbate the underlying behavioral or mental health challenges.
Unfortunately, we continue to hear instances where School Safety Agents (SSA) unnecessarily insert themselves in situations, or school staff reflexively call upon SSA’s to intervene. Recently, a teenage client with known mental health needs did not want to speak with a 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 teenage client had a disagreement with a school official and raised her voice. Three SSA’s responded and escorted her to the Assistant Principal’s office. In several instances with Kindergarten and 1st grade students with known emotional disabilities, schools have called SSAs and the police to restrain the children following a tantrum.
In these situations, and the many similar ones we see clients experiences, with the right training and staffing, the school could have responded to the situation without police involvement. We believe, and the data affirm, that police responses are comparatively rare or even non-existent in schools with more privileged populations. For instance, with training in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention in Schools (TCIS) or an effective behavior intervention plan, the schools could have used positive practices to help the young children manage their behavior. With the teenage students, they could have utilized guidance interventions, such as restorative circles, where both parties could actively participate in addressing and repairing the harm. By doing so, both the harmed and the harmer can feel valued and learn perspective-taking, empathy, and taking responsibility. Instead, when utilizing punitive measures, we alienate the harmer, often resulting in school disengagement – a reality we repeatedly see for our clients.
School Segregation and School Climate
We also urge the Council to consider how rampant school segregation may be impacting school climate, school discipline, and access to therapeutic or restorative responses to problematic behavior. The Civil Rights Project of the University of California, Los Angeles issued a report in 2014 finding that New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the country, and that New York State has the highest school segregation rates. Ample research has confirmed a connection between race and school discipline, with Black students as much as six times more likely to be suspended as compared to their white counterparts. Relatedly, certain public schools with wealthier student populations bring in donor-driven Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) budgets of more than a million dollars, allowing for substantial discretionary spending on a variety of enrichment programs and activities, while others struggle to fundraise at all. This dynamic undoubtedly contributes to inequality in school discipline. Notably, both of the wealthy Upper West Side elementary school featured in The New York Times article on wealthy PTAs had zero student removals in 2015, 2016, and to date in 2017, while a nearby elementary school serving many children who live in public housing (PS 191) reported 38, according to DOE data.
The City Council can play a critical role in fostering safer and more supportive school environments. We recommend that the Council enact many of the reforms called for by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. We focus on four today.
- Reduce law enforcement presences in schools
We encourage the City Council to reduce the presence of school safety agents and metal detectors in schools and reallocate the funds to positive behavioral approaches. Research not only indicates that law enforcement presence does not create safer schools; it can detract from a positive school climate and student’s social emotional and academic growth. Moreover, there are more effective methods that require increased funding.
- Expand positive whole-school approaches to address student behavior
We ask the city council to expand funding in whole-school positive methods, such as restorative justice practices, collaborative problem solving and therapeutic crisis intervention. To effectively implement and realize the associated positive benefits in school climate, schools staff need training, ongoing professional development and full-time staff to facilitate whole-school adoption of the approaches and ensure staff receive ongoing coaching.
We are encouraged by the pilot programs, but want to emphasize that there are many more schools that require this investment to counter punitive school discipline tactics and overuse of police. At BDS, we repeatedly encounter the same schools for inappropriate and overly punitive responses to student misbehavior, but none of them are on the current list of pilot schools.
- Expand access to school-based and school-linked behavioral health services
Particularly for our students facing the toxic stress of poverty, access to school-based or school-linked behavioral health supports is critical to student success and school safety. We are encouraged by Thrive NYC and the Mayor’s office’s attention to mental illness, its impact on New Yorkers, and the need to invest in resources, such as a continuum of mental health resources for our city’s schools. More funding, however, is needed to carry out the thoughtful recommendations of the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline and provide the range of staffing and services needed to ensure our city’s schools can address the root cause of misbehavior, starting with the highest need schools. We urge the city to expand financial investments to ensure our schools, particularly our highest need schools, have access to behavioral health consultants and on site mental health clinicians.
- Increase the number of school-based guidance counselors and licensed social workers
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, 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.
We urge the City Council to increase staffing and training for guidance counselors.
In short, we need to foster school culture that presumptively approaches all student misbehavior as teachable moments. We urge the city to support this goal by passing legislation to support schools to do so without police intervention.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Andrea Nieves in my office at 718-254-0700 ext. 387 or email@example.com.
 See, e.g., Advancement Project, A Real Fix: The Gun-Free Way to School Safety (2013).
 See, e.g., Matthew T. Theriot & John G. Orme, School Resource Officers and Students’ Feelings of Safety at School, 14 Youth Violence & Juv. Justice 130-146 (2016).
 See, e.g., Trevor Fronius, Sarah Guckenburg & Anthony Petrosino, Policing Schools Strategies: A Review of the Evaluation Evidence, 8 J. Multidisciplinary Evaluation 80-101 (2012).
 See, e.g., Marilyn Armour, Restorative Practices: Righting the Wrongs of Exclusionary School Discipline, 50 U. Richmond L. Rev. 999 (2016).
 Thalia Gonzalez, Keeping Kids in Schools: Restorative Justice, Punitive Discipline, and the School to Prison Pipeline, 41 J.L. & Educ. 281 (2012).
 Anne Gregory & Dewey Cornell, Authoritative School Discipline: High School Practices Associated With Lower Bullying and Victimization, 102 J. Educational Psychology 483-496 (2010).
 David R. Karp & Beau Breslin, Restorative Justice in School Communities, 33 Youth & Society 249-72 (2001).
 Randall Reback, Schools’ Mental Health Services and Young Children’s Emotions, Behavior, and Learning, 29 J. Policy Analysis & Management 698-725 (2010).
 Jason P. Nance, Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline, 48 Ariz. State L. J. 313 (2016).
 American Civil Liberties Union, Bullies in Blue: The Origins and Consequences of School Policing (2017), available at https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/aclu_bullies_in_blue_4_11_17_final.pdf.
 Trevor Fronius et al, Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review, February 2016, available at https://jprc.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/RJ_Literature-Review_20160217.pdf.
 John Kucsera & Gary Orfield, New York State’s Extreme School Segregation (The Civil Rights Project at UCLA 2014), available at https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/ny-norflet-report-placeholder/Kucsera-New-York-Extreme-Segregation-2014.pdf.
 Alia Wong, How School Suspensions Push Black Students Behind, The Atlantic, Feb. 8, 2016, available at https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/02/how-school-suspensions-push-black-students-behind/460305/.
 Kyle Spencer, Way Beyond Bake Sales: The $1 Million PTA, N.Y. Times, June 1, 2012, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/nyregion/at-wealthy-schools-ptas-help-fill-budget-holes.html.
Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf published an op-ed about the dire need for discovery reform in the Albany Times-Union. BDS is a part of a statewide coalition of defenders and activists working together to call on the governor and the legislature to enact comprehensive criminal discovery reform and repeal the so-called “Blindfold Law.” Read here.
The MSW Intern Program at BDS currently has 20 interns from New York University, Fordham University, Columbia University, Long Island University and Hunter College schools of social work. The Program also hosts one Pinkerton intern. Interns are placed in the Adult and Adolescent Criminal , Family Defense, Immigration, Policy and Jail Services Units. Interns work interdisciplinary with our staff attorneys and social workers to address the clients’ out of court needs and support positive legal outcomes.
IN THE NEWS: VOX – A NEW YORK COURTROOM GAVE EVERY DETAINED IMMIGRANT A LAWYER. THE RESULTS WERE STAGGERING.
In conjunction with the release of Vera’s report on NYIFUP and the announcement of their SAFE Cities Network, Vox published an explainer on the project. Simply put, when people facing deportation in immigration court are given an attorney, they are much more likely to win their case. For every twelve immigrants winning their deportation cases in New York’s immigration court, eleven would have been deported without a lawyer. Hear our client Omar Siagha’s story here.
The New York Times reported on a new lawsuit filed by five mothers in New York City who claim the the Administration for Children’s Services discriminated against them and other parents, violating federal law. Lauren Shapiro, director of BDS’ Family Defense Practice, says the city has failed to provide adequate programs and services that could assist intellectually disabled parents in caring for their children.
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).
The New York Times and the Marshall Project collaborated to shed light on New York’s unjust “Blindfold Law,” which allows prosecutors to withhold key evidence until trial. To improve fairness in the criminal legal system and prevent wrongful convictions, Brooklyn Defender Services and a coalition of partners are working to repeal and replace the Blindfold Law with new legislation.
The Atlantic published an article on new legislation proposed by State Sen. Jesse Hamilton and Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright that would decriminalize turnstile jumping. “Instead of making the fiscally sound and just decision to help enhance access through reduced-fare Metro Cards or free Metro Cards, we do the opposite: We arrest; we lock people up,” said BDS’ Scott Hechinger.
The 2017 National Organization of Forensic Social Work Conference was held in Boston, Massachusetts from July 27-29. The theme of the conference was Social Justice Rising. Brooklyn Defender Services was represented at the conference and social workers from the Criminal Defense and Adolescent practices facilitated workshops. The topics and social workers involved included:
Moving Social Justice Forward Through the Written Word: How to Advocate for Clients Who Commit Crimes or Moral Turpitude
Mary Coyle, Alexis Telfair-Garcia
Adolescence in the Age of Mass Incarceration: An Interdisciplinary Approach
Elia Johnson, Ronald Schneider, Brenda Zubay
Congratulations to BDS senior staff attorney Renee Seman on winning the Kevin M. Andersen Memorial Award. Renee works and lives by the principles of justice, determination, and compassion. Read more about her award here.
BDS’ Senior Attorney Scott Hechinger published an op-ed in the Daily Beast, giving the perspective of a public defender’s perspective on the recent Drug Police Alliance and Marijuana Arrest Research Project’s report and calling on prosecutors to decline to prosecute marijuana arrests.
Hear from BDS’ Scott Hechinger and our client “Juan” on the cruel absurdity of money bail. Listen until the end to hear the “Bail Bond Queen” say the presumption of innocence is “hullabaloo.” Also featured in the segment: Legal Aid Society & Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.
Brooklyn Defender Services calls for the immediate passage of S.6176 (Little)/A. 588A (Rosenthal). The bill would require that all women who are incarcerated in New York State or City facilities have access to free feminine hygiene products.
Learn more about this critical issue in a recent N.Y. Times article featuring BDS Jail Services Social Worker Kelsey DeAvila.
BDS, as a member of the ASFA Coalition, a coalition of child welfare agency, parent, and child advocate groups, signed a memorandum in support of S04833,A07554, a bill which makes two important modifications to the existing Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP ) statute that would allow greater number of children to be discharged from foster care to permanent homes under the program
Brooklyn Defender Services celebrates 10 years of the Family Defense Practice on Thursday June 15th from 7-PM at Ramscale Studio (463 West Street, Penthouse). The night will honor Chris Gottlieb of the NYU Family Defense Clinic, the Child Welfare Organizing Project, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
Thank you City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and the majority of New York City Council members for supporting NYIFUP.
Brooklyn Defender Services has joined with legal service providers and non-profit organizations that work with child welfare-involved children and families from across New York State to preserve family connections after the termination of parental rights. This statewide coalition is calling itself the Preserving Family Bonds Coalition.
Research shows that children benefit from strong, healthy family bonds. Under current New York law, family court judges are not allowed to protect the rights of children to contact or visit with their biological parents and siblings after parental rights have been terminated, even when the court deems it in the best interest of the children. The Preserving Family Bonds Act (S.5790 – Savino/A.8020 – Joyner) provides that, if it is truly in the best interest of the children to stay connected with their families, then judges may allow them to do so, in a manner that is safe and appropriate.
The New York Bar Foundation recently presented a grant of $10,000 to Brooklyn Defender Services. The grant will be used to support their Veteran’s Assistance Program (VAP) to serve Brooklyn veterans with criminal justice involvement. The program provides a comprehensive, client-centered approach to address criminal, civil and social challenges experienced by Brooklyn’s veterans, as well as critical issues related to their service that underlie or are impacted by the intersection of the criminal justice system and veterans’ lives.
“With the support of the New York Bar Foundation, BDS’ VAP will be able to serve greater numbers of veteran clients with screening and the additional social work services they need to help with their unique and complex cases,” states Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director.
In early 2017, The New York Bar Foundation allocated more than $640,000 in grants to organizations across New York to assist in:
- Increasing public understanding of the law
- Improving the justice system and the law
- Facilitating the delivery of legal services
- Enhancing professional competence and ethics
The New York Bar Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the New York State Bar Association. To learn more about The Foundation and how you can support its charitable programs, go to www.tnybf.org, phone 518-487-5651 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The story of Tony, Brooklyn Defender Services’ client, New Yorker, and legal permanent resident who is back home with his family thanks to NYIFUP.
On May 9th, 2017, 103 community organizations, including Brooklyn Defender Services, submitted a letter a to Mayor Bill de Blasio urging him to preserve universal representation for detained New Yorkers through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP.)
“Some women have reported no issues at all; they ask and get what they need. Others have to beg for it.”
Brooklyn Defender Services staff quoted in the New York Times on the issue of using menstrual supplies as mechanisms of control in New York jails and prisons. Read the full piece on the New York Times website here.
What do tenants do if their landlord won’t make essential repairs? Or, on the other hand, what happens if tenants won’t pay their rent? News 12 breaks down the process of going through New York City housing court. Click here to view.
In support of Governor Cuomo’s Wrongful Conviction bill, Yusef Salaam and Fernando Bermudez have been sharing their powerful stories of being wrongfully convicted. Their horrific experiences unfortunately demonstrate the need for criminal justice reform in New York State. As two of the wrongfully charged and convicted “Central Park Five,” they know all too well the wrongful conviction rate in New York State is shameful, and action must be taken to implement meaningful change.
The failure to record interrogations and the lack of mandated best practices in identification procedures are two leading causes of wrongful convictions. Salaam and Bermudez are correct: we have a moral imperative to prevent wrongful convictions.
Being accused of a crime is just the beginning of “perpetual punishment”: a lifelong cycle of legalized discrimination, structural poverty, and re-incarceration. This cycle is kept in motion by 47,000 laws and regulations nationwide that restrict critical rights and opportunities.
But we know how to break the cycle: Remove the barriers and empower people.
Watch PERPETUAL PUNISHMENT, a short animated film by Molly Crabapple and presented by Brooklyn Defender Services and Vox:
Here in New York, there are five bills in the State Legislature that would dramatically change the punishment paradigm, and we need YOU to push your local representatives to get these bills enacted into law.
- ‘Ban the Box’ on Job & Higher Education Applications – Pass A.3050 & A.1792/S.3740! Approximately 7.1 million New Yorkers, or 36%, have criminal records that affect them for the rest of their lives. Many people were convicted when young, or were incarcerated on bail and took a plea to get out. Many were never arrested again, years or even decades later. The conviction subjects these fellow New Yorkers to discrimination in employment and education that affects them and their families forever under current New York law and costs taxpayers money in the long run for public assistance and reduced taxes that these people would contribute if earning at their potential. These bills help to provide New Yorkers with a real chance at success by prohibiting job and higher education discrimination based on criminal convictions.
- Reform NY’s Discovery Law to Prevent Wrongful Convictions – Pass S.3334! In New York, unlike most of the rest of the country, prosecutors and police are not required to provide police reports to the attorney representing a person facing criminal allegations at the earliest point so that defense counsel can investigate the case. This contributes to wrongful convictions and elongates the time our clients stay in jail waiting for a trial. The sad case of Kalief Browder is an example of someone whose time at Rikers Island would have been dramatically shortened or eliminated if his attorney had the information on the case. In civil cases and other cases in New York, “Discovery” is provided quickly and comprehensively. Yet we treat people who are in jail or facing serious allegations as if they do not deserve to have a fair defense. It is no coincidence that New York is 3rd in the country in wrongful convictions. This bill will repeal an outdated law and replace it with a just and fair discovery law.
- Sealing Criminal Records – Pass S.4027! New York is one of the only states in the nation with no sealing or expungement law, meaning even people convicted of the lowest level criminal offenses have a permanent criminal record. Many of the most debilitating collateral consequences of contact with the criminal justice system could be reduced through a robust sealing law that allows people to move beyond their punishment after a reasonable time period.
- Seal All Low-Level Marijuana Possession Convictions – Pass A.2142/S.3809! In 1977, the NYS Legislature passed the Marihuana Reform Act, decriminalizing personal possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, but the law still allows for arrest and prosecution of those with marijuana in “public view.” In practice, low-level marijuana possession remains one of the top arrest charges in New York; more than 800,000 New Yorkers have criminal records for this offense in the last 20 years. 9 in 10 arrested for this offense are people of color, despite roughly equal rates of marijuana use across demographics. This bill would simply seal these records and remove the senseless barriers they face in education, employment, housing opportunities, and other state services. While there is not currently a bill pending, you should also ask your legislators to support full marijuana legalization!
- Stop Criminalizing Workers for Carrying Their Tools – Pass A.05667A/S.4769! Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly people of color and/or immigrants, have been prosecuted for being in possession of—either on their person, or somewhere in their car or home—an instrument they use peacefully in the workplace, simply because it meets the technical legal definition of a “gravity knife.” True gravity knives, banned in New York in the 1950’s, have been extinct for some time, but the definition included in the law has allowed for the criminalization of workers—often stagehands, carpenters or stockroom employees—simply for carrying tools that they purchased at hardware and other common retail stores and that they use on their job. This bill would change the law to clarify that simple tools, used peacefully, are not weapons.
Find your NYS Legislator by entering your address here: www.openstates.org.
The best way to make your elected representatives hear you is to call, not email! Call them today and ask for their support for these three bills.
“With or without a detainer, ICE can arrest people at home, work, and court, detain them or release them, and give them a court date for deportation proceedings in which their charges are based on offenses like fare-evasion and counterfeit handbags,” [Andrea] Sáenz [supervising immigration attorney for Brooklyn Defender Services] says. “This absolutely happens to New Yorkers, even if the NYPD is not aware of it. This is a perfect example of how ICE detainers are only one link in a chain that ties our clients to the detention and deportation system.”
At a press conference on February 21st, immigration attorney Shawn Blumberg spoke on behalf of Brooklyn Defender Services on the effects of Broken Windows Policing and protecting immigrant New Yorkers from new Department of Homeland Security policies. Read BDS’ Statement here.
Brooklyn Defender Services is proud to receive a grant from Brooklyn Community Foundation for rapid legal defense for affected individuals, as a part of the foundation’s new Immediate Response grants deployed through the Immigrant Rights Fund. Read more about Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Immediate Response Grants here.
BDS staff were on the ground at JFK airport all weekend, some going through the night without sleep, to stop the deportation of innocent travelers arriving from seven countries targeted by the recent executive order on immigration. Chaos and heartbreak erupted at the airport as passengers were refused entry after they had landed. Hundreds of people were detained by immigration officials simply because of their country of origin despite the fact that many were Lawful Permanent Residents with green cards and all had proper travel documents.
In an awesome display of organized legal resistance, attorneys, law students and immigration advocates from a dozen organizations and local law schools identified passengers by talking to families in the airport and filing writs of habeas corpus for each passenger. BDS attorneys Talia Peleg, Molly Lauterback, Maria Romani, Andrea Saenz, Nyasa Hickey, Zoey Jones, Bridget Kessler, Ellen Pachnanda, Alexandra Tawfik, Dorothy Hughes, and paralegal Brittany Castle put in long hours at JFK airport on Saturday and Sunday, advising family members and drafting Writs. At the same time, Policy and Advocacy team members Scott Hechinger and Jared Chausow supported our immigration team inside and outside the Eastern District of New York federal courtroom in Brooklyn throughout Saturday evening, keeping the office and public abreast of ongoing developments. Even after Federal Judge Donnelly ordered a stay of the Executive Order on Saturday, many passengers were still being detained. Our staff, already experienced in filing these Writs, wrote up papers, helped volunteer attorneys prepare documents and supported families waiting for news for days.
When all was said and done, BDS was instrumental in assisting three clients, Hamidyah Al Saeedi of Iraq and Zabihollah and Mahmood Zarepisheh of Iran, to finally reunite with their families at JFK Terminal 4 after more than thirty hours in detention. Their harrowing stories are chronicled in the New York Times here.
— Brooklyn Defender (@BklynDefender) January 30, 2017
Dozens of BDS staff attended protests at JFK Airport, at the Cadman Plaza Federal Courthouse where the stay was argued, and in Battery Park the following day, all of which were instrumental in helping the legal advocacy efforts and showing the world that Americans stand for fairness. Thousands of people stood up to show that New Yorkers vehemently oppose this Executive Order. Crowds in airports throughout the country and around the world were critical in pressuring DHS to release the dozens of people detained at JFK’s Terminal 4 and other international terminals across the U.S. BDS is proud to stand with city and state elected officials, organizations and individuals that joined the protests citywide to show support for legal documented immigrants to travel to the United States.
Events of the past week have shown us that the legal landscape we operate within can shift very quickly. BDS has set up an emergency response fund that will enable us to remain available and decisive in these uncertain times to do what we do best: defend our clients’ rights in court. Click here to contribute.
Our wish for you this winter is to help us keep our clients detained on Rikers Island warm.
We have created an Amazon Wishlist of the items that our detained clients need the most to make it through the winter. Please click on this link to our Amazon Wishlist to purchase socks, long underwear, and other much-needed essentials that we will deliver directly to our clients in Rikers this holiday season.
Why are we doing this? Thousands of people are detained on Rikers Island, and when temperatures dip they have no heat in their cells, are wearing paper-thin uniforms (often short-sleeved) and have one thin blanket to shield them from the cold.
In this time of giving, please consider helping some of our clients who are most in need.
If you have any questions, please contact Daniel Ball at email@example.com or (347) 592-2579.
Please consider calling Governor Cuomo’s office at (518) 474-8390 TODAY to politely urge him to sign the gravity knife reform bill (A9042A).
It only takes a minute and it makes a real difference. You’ll simply say your name, tell them you’re a New Yorker, and urge the Governor to sign the gravity knife reform bill to end the racist criminalization of working New Yorkers for carrying their tools.
On Monday, November 28, BDS attorneys joined the Legal Aid Society of New York, VOCAL-NY, U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Assembly Member Dan Quart, State Senator Diane Savino, and many others in a rally on the steps of City Hall to urge the Governor to sign a gravity knife reform bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the Legislature in June.
Lora is a famous name in New York immigration courts. Thanks to a case Alex Lora and his legal team at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) and New York University School of Law (NYU) brought to challenge his immigration detention, since 2015, all immigrants detained for six months in the Second Circuit now have the right to a day in court where a judge can determine if their continued detention is justified.
Next Wednesday, on November 30, 2016 the Supreme Court will hear Jennings v. Rodriguez, a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that could provide nationwide access to bond hearings to immigrants like Mr. Lora who are held in long-term detention.
Across the country, thousands of people languish in immigration jails as they await their court hearings. For Mr. Lora, mandatory detention cost him his job, his ability to provide for his family, and his two-year-old son, who was placed in foster care after Mr. Lora was taken from his home. Since his release, he has been able to rebuild his life and regain custody of his son. For Mr. Lora and others in the Second Circuit, bond hearings have provided a critical procedural protection to prevent harmful and needless long-term detention.
In this new video, hear from Mr. Lora himself about his life and his experience in detention, which illustrates what is at stake in Jennings:
For more information about this case and the people and communities impacted by immigration detention, see prolongeddetentionstories.org, a project of the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).
Today, Gotham Gazette published an op-ed by BDS’ Community Advocacy Coordinator Nick Malinowski and Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the New York policy office of the Drug Policy Alliance, on New York’s fundamentally unfair and misguided approach to drug possession.
Moore and Malinowski write:
“At a time when public opinion nationwide favors treating drug use as a public health issue, we must stop and ask why these problematic [drug] arrests and incarcerations, which do not improve public safety, are happening in the first place. In some of these cases, people are arrested and incarcerated even when they do not actually possess illegal drugs. In cases when a person possesses drugs in an amount so small that it can’t be identified properly, should we really be sending them to Rikers Island — interrupting their life and introducing collateral consequences that can haunt them for years after?”
Read the whole op-ed here or below.
Today’s Village Voice features a cover story on “The Incredibles” – Brooklyn police officers who judges have found to be not credible yet continue to be utilized by the District Attorney to prosecute cases. The story centers on officers whose misdeeds only came to light through investigations by BDS attorneys Deborah Silberman, Renee Seman and Scott Hechinger. You can read the entire article here or below.
Please join us for our 20th Anniversary Benefit Gala at the landmark Williamsburgh Savings Bank building (Weylin B. Seymour Event Space) located at 175 Broadway in Brooklyn.
Details about our honorees and special guests will be forthcoming.
Buy tickets online here.
Learn more about sponsorship options here.
For purchases by check, please send payment along with the ticket and sponsorship purchase form to:
Brooklyn Defender Services
Attn: Daniel Ball
180 Livingston Street, Suite 300
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Questions about Brooklyn Defender Services’s Benefit Gala 2016?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Daniel Ball, BDS Development Associate, at (347) 592-2579.
Brooklyn Defender Services strongly supports the City’s efforts to reduce the number of people who await trial on Rikers Island. In 2015, 67,672 people were admitted to New York City jails, with an average daily population of 10,240. During this period, approximately 13,100 people arraigned in Brooklyn courts spent time on Rikers Island, 89% of who were identified as “African-American” or “Hispanic.” Roughly 75 percent of people on any given day at Rikers Island are there in pretrial detention – presumed innocent under the law and ostensibly waiting for their day in court. Yet the reality is that judges and prosecutors are just waiting for them to plead guilty.
Never before in the history of our organization has police accountability been so prominently an issue of popular national importance. Just four years ago drag-net Stop & Frisk was being defended as an essential policing tactic, responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives despite research that questioned this causality and obvious constitutional concerns. While we welcome the national, progressive attention on these issues, to which our clients are often at the receiving end, we must acknowledge how we got here: long-standing police abuses coming into the light due to lawsuits, civilian documentation and protest. The deaths of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham at the hands of the New York Police Department, and the public’s perception of a lack of accountability for the officers involved, especially as compared to the extensive punishment regimes for civilians in criminal court, have driven a significant interest in this topic both locally, nationally, and even internationally. More
BDS JOINS 340+ CIVIL & HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS IN TELLING DHS: STOP DETAINING IMMIGRANTS IN PRIVATE PRISONS
WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 340 immigrant rights, faith-based and civil- and labor-rights organizations delivered a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson Wednesday calling for the government to end its use of private prison companies to detain immigrants.
In the letter, advocates reject Secretary Johnson’s plan to review DHS’s use of private contractors, citing years of studies exposing the human rights violations and lack of accountability that plague the for-profit immigration detention system. Instead, the letter calls for the secretary to create a plan to end DHS’s entanglement with private prison companies.
“It is already clear that DHS must follow the lead of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in severing ties with private prison contractors,” the letter states, referencing the DOJ’s announcement in August that the Bureau of Prisons would no longer contract with private prison companies. Advocates call for the immediate closure of the most dangerous and mismanaged immigration detention facilities, and for DHS to freeze any requests for information, requests for proposals, solicitations and contract renewals for detention facilities.
“DHS’s reliance on private prison companies has enabled an enormous expansion of this country’s detention system over the past decade, promoting enforcement and deportation policies that target communities of color,” said Silky Shah of the Detention Watch Network. “We’re seeing the consequences in immigrant communities where families are torn apart and asylum-seekers are punished for seeking safety, and in detention centers, which have become sites of rampant human rights violations and abuse.”
“Even when DHS knows there are serious problems at private detention centers, it continues to send immigrants to be held in unsafe conditions rather than terminate the facilities’ contracts or even penalize the detention center operators,” said Mary Meg McCarthy of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “It is reprehensible that private companies are allowed to operate with such impunity, and profit at the expense of immigrants’ basic health and welfare.”
Private prison companies operate about 73 percent of U.S. detention beds that hold immigrants, including some of the most expensive contracts in a system that costs taxpayers approximately $2 billion each year. A recent Washington Post investigation found that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) receives $20 million per month to detain women and children at the South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, regardless of how many people actually are in the facility’s custody.
Privately operated detention centers, including CCA facilities, have repeatedly been sites of abuse and mistreatment. Recent reports from DWN, NIJC and other organizations have exposed how DHS’s ineffective inspections system consistently fails to identify and correct problems at these facilities, even when those problems contribute to preventable in-custody deaths.
Advocates acknowledge that ending DHS’s relationship with private prison companies will require the government to significantly decrease the number of people who are needlessly detained each year. Ending the reliance on private prisons should not result in an increase in the use of state or county jails for immigration detention. Instead, ICE should “start by reversing recent policy changes that have driven up detention numbers, including the expansion of family detention and the insistence on detaining many asylum-seekers,” the letter states.
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visitwww.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org. Follow @NIJC.
The unfair attack on fare evasion: Rather than pulling out all stops to collect every last dime from the indigent, the city should make it easier for low-income New Yorkers to ride subways and buses
A recent audit by New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli faulted the cash-strapped MTA for failing to collect nearly half of the fines and fees associated with violations of transit rules, noting that the Authority “needs every dollar it can get to improve subway service.”
Importantly, 90% of these fines are the result of tickets for fare-evasion. The audit leaves unaddressed the larger question of whether public transit should be funded in this manner, on the backs of New Yorkers unable to afford the rising fares but still needing to move about the city for work or other appointments.
Likewise, the audit neglects to question whether fines, which increased to $100 in 2008, went unpaid because people who skip out on $2.75 might not be able to afford them.
Consider some recent clients at Brooklyn Defender Services:
Mr. M, an Army veteran, was stopped on his way to a job interview. Mr. W was homeless, and his shelter did not provide MetroCards. Mr. R was on his way to get his public assistance restored after an error by the Human Resources Administration resulted in a suspension of his benefits.
All of these individuals were arrested for fare evasion, detained overnight, and churned through the criminal arraignment process. All of them are black and indigent.
On July 23rd BDS family defense attorney Wendy Cheng (third from right) presented on a panel with Judge Lillian Wan of Brooklyn Family Court and Lana Yang, an attorney with the Administration of Children’s Services, hosted by the Chinese American Social Services Center. The event focused on explaining the process and procedures of Family Court to new immigrants from China. Information about family court and child neglect proceedings are hard to come by in many immigrant communities, who experience different legal systems and cultural norms in their home countries. Language access creates a major barrier to people learning, and affirming their rights. BDS’s Family Defense Practice has recently translated our “Know Your Rights” materials into Mandarin Chinese. Approximately 50 community members attended this event, and a second panel is being organized as a follow-up.
BDS client Mr. L*, a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for nearly thirty years originally from the Caribbean, will be allowed to remain in the United States with his six U.S. citizen children and extended family. The case required four years of litigation and specialized defense services from BDS’ Immigration (Padilla team), Family Defense and Criminal Defense Practice teams.
BDS first represented Mr. L in a misdemeanor criminal case in 2012. Our Padilla team worked with his criminal defense attorney to ensure a plea that would not further threaten his immigration status. Nonetheless, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Mr. L at the conclusion of his criminal case because of two twenty-year-old misdemeanor convictions that made him deportable. After negotiating with ICE attorneys, Mr. L’s BDS Padilla attorney obtained bond and he was released from detention. Yet while Mr. L was incarcerated, his children had been placed in foster care. BDS’ Family Defense Practice stepped in as assigned counsel to ensure that Mr. L could obtain visitation with his children and maintain their loving relationship.
While out on bond, Mr. L’s BDS Padilla attorney began preparing for a 212(c) waiver application (a special immigration waiver for LPRs whose prior deportable convictions are from 1997 or earlier) and impending trial before the Immigration Court. Immigration judges have discretion to issue the waiver. It is up to the person requesting relief to present sufficient positive equities to outweigh negative factors. Thanks to a social worker from BDS’s Immigration Practice, Mr. L’s case grew stronger with a report demonstrating his good character and positive relationship with his children. Fortunately for Mr. L and his family, BDS’ Padilla attorney was able to show the judge that Mr. L warranted the grant of the waiver. The judge’s approval of the 212(c) waiver allows Mr. L to remain in the U.S. with his family and maintain his status as lawful permanent resident.
Brooklyn Defender Services is uniquely poised to represent clients in complex cases involving the intersection of immigration, criminal and family law. We are so pleased that our advocacy efforts led Mr. L to be reunited with his family and no longer fear deportation from the U.S.
*Name kept confidential
NY1: BOARD OF CORRECTION RAISES CONCERNS AFTER RIKERS OFFICIALS FAIL TO ELIMINATE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR YOUNG ADULTS BY JUNE 30 DEADLINE
The oversight board for the city’s jails is putting the de Blasio administration on notice.
In a letter issued Thursday, the Board of Correction said the city is violating its standards after Rikers Island officials failed to eliminate solitary confinement for young adults by a June 30 deadline. The delay, the letter went on, caused “serious concerns.”
It’s an unusual rebuke from an under-the-radar oversight agency. It came a week after de Blasio officials quietly asked for a six-month extension to overhaul how it was housing and handling the 18- to 21-year-old jail population.
[Watch the NY1 video segment here.]
Today, Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) joined Assembly Member Dan Quart, the Legal Aid Society and others to call for gravity knife law reform to end the criminalization of working New Yorkers for carrying tools of the job. Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf applauded Assembly Member Quart, Speaker Heastie and their Assembly colleagues for passing A9042A.
BDS believes this legislation is necessary and urgent. Thousands of our clients are arrested every year for carrying tools related to their employment, purchased at major retail stores. Many are arrested in uniform. Unfortunately, the antiquated definition of a “gravity knife” in the current law is being used to target mostly black and Latino people and solely to increase the numbers of arrests and convictions in New York City. After spending a night in a filthy holding cell and missing work to appear in court, they face the prospect of job loss, a permanent criminal record, and even deportation. We need the State Senate to pass S6483A this session to conform the law to match people’s very reasonable expectations about carrying tools.
You can watch a special NBC New York I-Team report on our collective effort here.
On June 9th, BDS’ Nyasa Hickey was on a panel with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) as part of their “Stronger Together” Know Your Rights training. As a response to recent ICE home raids that have hit Black immigrants in New York City particularly hard, BDS joined BAJI and other immigrant advocates at Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day in Brooklyn to provide information on immigrant rights and answer community member questions.
On Monday, June 6, Kathrine Russell, Team Leader of BDS’ Immigrant Youth & Communities Project, won the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) Pro Bono Champion award at a ceremony held at New York Law School.
Since 2009, BDS has counseled, advised or represented more than 6,500 immigrant clients. We defend detained clients facing deportation, funded by the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), 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.
Since its launch in 2012, with funding support from the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development and the New York City Council, our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project has represented more than 1,000 young clients in their pursuit of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), U visas, employment authorization, and other immigration benefits or removal defense. Led by Kat since 2014, the Project takes advantage of BDS’s multidisciplinary defense services, including our Adolescent Representation Team, our civil justice project, our education advocacy team, youth social workers and youth advocates.
Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) joined the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and immigration legal service providers from across the City to urge the New York City Council to support immigration legal services in next year’s budget. Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Vanessa L. Gibson spoke about the critical need for the Council to invest in New York’s immigrant families by increasing funding for immigration legal services.
Since 2009, BDS has counseled, advised or represented more than 6,500 immigrant clients. In 2015 alone, we handled more than 1,500 immigration matters across a full spectrum of services. We defend detained clients facing deportation, immigrant clients identified through our criminal and family defense dockets, and clients referred from our community partners or who connect with us through community outreach clinics.
Click here to read BDS’s March 2016 testimony before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration about the need for increased City funding of immigration legal services.
BDS JOINED THREE-QUARTER HOUSING TENANTS AT RALLY AND PRESS CONFERENCE TO CALL ON CITY COUNCIL TO PASS PROPOSED BILLS TO PROTECT THEIR RIGHTS
Brooklyn Defender Services joined tenant activists and MFY Legal Services on the steps of New York City Hall to call for the passage of a package of bills that would better regulate “three-quarter housing,” temporary housing for people dealing with mental illness or issues related to drugs. “Three-quarter houses” – named as such because they are considered something between “halfway houses” and permanent residences – have been under scrutiny recently because of revelations that they are largely unregulated, allowing landlords to take advantage of their residents putting them in cramped, rat and roach-infested apartment sometimes with several people in one room. A New York Times investigation additionally uncovered the practice of requiring tenants to attend support groups at particular substance-abuse treatment centers paid for by federal funds and for which they received kickbacks from the providers.
“This housing has really been the warehousing of people so a few landlords could rake in money,” New York City Council Member Corey Johnson said at the press conference. “The real solution is getting them into supportive transitional housing.”
The package of bills in the City Council, sponsored by Johnson, Donovan Richards Jr., Ritchie Torres, and Jumaane D. Williams, would increase transparency about the locations and standards of the housing and prohibit landlords from interfering with tenants’ medical treatment.
Join BDS and the Brownsville Community Justice Center for a community forum marking the first annual National Reentry Week. Last month, the Department of Justice declared April 24 to April 30 “National Reentry Week” to call attention to the obstacles that people leaving prison face returning to their communities. Joining the effort, BDS attorneys and staff will be leading conversations on various topics related to reentry including cleaning RAP sheets of employment-debilitating errors, obtaining certificates of relief and good conduct, finding housing, finding primary care providers, the Fair Chance Act, and the NYCHA Family Re-Entry Pilot Program. Representatives from NYCHA, Brooklyn Bail Fund, Drive Change, Housing Works, and other organizations will also be present.
Join us at 444 Thomas S. Boyland Street between 12 and 4 p.m. on April 28. There will be a free raffle and refreshments.
BDS HOSTS EVENT ON PARTICIPATORY DEFENSE WITH SILICON VALLEY DE-BUG AND MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PA, PUBLIC DEFENSE HEADS
Last week, BDS hosted organizers from Silicon Valley De-Bug and heads of the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Public Defender’s office. They discussed ways in which the family of someone charged with a crime and their community can help defense attorneys with potentially useful information that might otherwise fly under the radar.
At a rally on Sunday, activists called on the city to establish a program that would allow riders below the federal poverty level to purchase half-fare MetroCards.
A new report from Community Service Society of New York, a research and advocacy organization, “The Transit Affordability Crisis,” found that over a quarter of low-income New Yorkers were often unable to afford the subway or bus in the past year, limiting many New Yorkers’ opportunities to get good jobs and affordable housing and, in many cases, forcing them to choose between transit and other necessities. The consequences were especially severe for low-income working age blacks and Latinos, with 31 percent of African-Americans and 43 percent of Latinos reporting that the cost of MTA fares kept them from looking for or taking a job further from the neighborhoods where they live.
BDS Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf was quoted in the Gothamist saying BDS sees thousands of clients annually who have been arrested for fare beating. “The vast majority of people arrested for this offense are Black or Latino,” she said. “Many are detained on Rikers Island at a cost of about $500 per day simply because they might not be able to afford a $2.75 subway fare.”
— VOCAL-NY (@VOCALNewYork) April 10, 2016
— Riders Alliance (@RidersNY) April 8, 2016
On Friday, March 18, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Legal Aid Society joined the National Association of Public Defenders to help commemorate the first ever National Public Defense Day. Friday marked the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright which created the national public defender system by guaranteeing quality legal representation to everyone who could not afford it.
BDS’ Debora Silberman appeared on Regional News Network’s Richard French Live to discuss the so-called Brownsville Five in a follow up to Debora’s New York Times op-ed on New York’s woefully inadequate discovery and sealing laws that result in permanent damage to the reputations of innocent people, particularly adolescents. Check out the segment below.
BDS’ Debora Silberman wrote an op-ed for The New York Times tackling how a lack of discovery and expungement laws result in permanent damage to the reputations of innocent people including adolescents.
While charges were dismissed, “the dismissal of charges does not undo the damage to the reputations of the so-called Brownsville Five, teenagers ages 14 to 18, including one who is my client. Because they were tried in adult court, their names were made public and were reported widely in the news media, smearing them for the rest of their lives.”
Debora points out that the prosecution held on to exculpatory evidence that would have cleared them in the beginning.
“In my client’s case, the district attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies had gathered videos from the boys who were arrested and statements from the woman and her father, who was also in the park just before the incident, and witnesses in the neighborhood, all of which cast serious doubt as to the veracity of the allegations,” she writes. “But New York law does not require the prosecutor to provide any police reports or other evidence to a person who has been arrested or that person’s attorney until a trial actually starts — often a year or more after the arrest.”
Read all of Debora’s op-ed at the New York Times.
BDS Supervising Attorney Yung-Mi Lee testified before the New York City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services yesterday. In her testimony, Lee presented several recommendations along with client stories to support justice reform beneficial to both clients and the justice system generally.
Yung-Mi argued that discovery reform is one way to cut down how long trials can take.
“In my experience, delays in turning over discovery to the defense greatly increase the length of my cases in Brooklyn,” she told the Council.
Yung-Mi also pointed out that cases are that much more difficult to investigate and argue when the defendant is incarcerated and, therefore, the Council should also look closer at bail reform.
“Oftentimes, we have not had enough time to thoroughly investigate a case or had time to obtain complete discovery,” she said. “Oftentimes, our lawyers are discouraged by our jailed clients’ unwillingness to fight the case for a longer period of time to get the right results.”
Click here to read Yung-Mi’s testimony.
BDS Reentry Specialist Wesley Caines joined a February 23 panel sponsored by Beacon Prison Action (BPA), a community organization formed in the wake of the death of Samuel Harrell who died in confines of Fishkill Correctional Facility last April. You can read about the discussion and more about conditions at Fishkill in an article posted by the local news source, Philipstown.info.
Wesley discussed his own experiences at Fishkill and what the local community can do to help ensure that incidents such as the one that resulte din Harrell’s death do not occur again in the future. He argued that the system of using force in American prisons does not encourage healthy rehabilitation of inmates and, in fact, dehumanizes people who are incarcerated increasing the likelihood of recidivism.
“We need to find out what created them,” he said. “What created that lifestyle? If you humanize them, they will humanize you, and that can only help the system.”
Reentry Specialist Wesley Caines is joining a panel discussion at SUNY Empire State College which will focus on the importance of educating individuals who are incarcerated in US prisons and the effects of education and recidivism. Topics include the school to prison pipeline, banning the box in higher education, reinstating TAP and Pell for incarcerated individual, and fighting racism in higher education.
Other panelists include Cory Greene, an organizer for H.O.L.L.A! and the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions; Kennth Innis, a counselor at Fortune Society; Edward-Yemil Rosaria, consultant at Prison Reform and Abolition; Afi Tuner, career development specialist at Strive NY; and Ato Williams, family support specialist at Fortune Society.
This workshop for teens and their families will help you navigate through New York’s legal system and the support services available for parents and caregivers of young adults with disabilities. Discussion will be presented by resented by BDS’ Brenda Zubay, Aminie Woolworth, and Keren Farkas and will end with a Q + A session with an education attorney.
Spanish interpretation provided and ASL interpretation available with advance request. For more information, please call 718-253-4948
BDS reentry specialist Wesley Caines will join a panel hosted by Beacon Prison Action Tuesday tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 7 p.m. in Beacon. Wesley will discuss his own experiences in Fishkill Correctional Facility as well as his work at BDS which includes efforts to improve conditions at prisons around the state and help people leaving prison safely reintegrate back into population.
Beacon Prison Action is an alliance of people in the Beacon area who became concerned about the conditions at the local prison after 30-year old Sam Harrell was beaten to death by corrections officers at Fishkill. This event is organized in partnership with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which holds actions on the 23rd of every month to recognize the 23 hours each day that a person in solitary confinement is isolated.
Wesley will be joining Johnny Perez, a non-attorney advocate at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project (MHP), a civil legal services firm that provides legal and social work services to people with serious mental illness; Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York (CA) and a member of the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC); and Isaac Scott, a graphic designer and fine artist who served 7 years, 8 months and 16 days of a 9-year sentence in the New York State Prison system during which he worked as an Inmate Grievance Representative (IGR) at several facilities including Fishkill Correctional.
The event will be held at Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street, Beacon, NY, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 22, 2016.
JUDGE BETTY STATON HONORED AT KINGS COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT MLK JR. DAY MEMORIAL CELEBRATION LED BY BDS’ JAMIE BURKE
On Friday, BDS’ Jamie Burke hosted the 2016 Kings County Criminal Court’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial celebration for which the Hon. Judge Betty Staton gave the keynote speech and was honored for her service. Judge Staton is currently the president of Bedfod Stuyvesant Community legal Services, Brooklyn Branch Legal Services and South Brooklyn Legal Services. In 1987, she became a founding partner in the law firm of Boyd, Staton & Cave, the first African-American female law firm in the State of new York. She also served on the New York State Family Court.
The audience was treated to the music of Schency Augustine, Chavonie cooper, Erica Gilchrist, Gregg McCann, Je-anessa Walker and the Kings County Court Choir.
Click “More” for photos.
BDS joined other public defenders questioning a new gun court part introduced by the City in an article on Politico Pro (Capital New York). The new gun part is intended to be used to expedite gun possession cases through the court system. However, public defenders foresee a number of challenges in the court including due-process questions, the quality of justice defendants will receive and whether the gun courts will actually speed up or even increase the time spent on these specific cases.
“This is transparently punitive in scope,” BDS criminal defense attorney Scott Hechinger told Politico. “None of us are for guns on the street. What we’re for are smart solutions that will ultimately reduce violence. These gun courts are not going to do that.”
Read more at Capital New York (Subscription required).
In other news, BDS’ Nyasa Hickey spoke out on raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE is raiding homes and detaining immigrants under its recently implemented Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). New York has “detainer laws” intended to limit ICE’s access to potential deportees but they appear to be getting circumvented.
As The Indypendent writes, “While the detainer laws disrupted the jail-to-detention-center pipeline, they did little to curb the data sharing and surveillance mechanisms that allow ICE to flag and find potential targets. ICE still receives fingerprint information when an arrest happens, has access to the DMV database and court hearing schedules, talks to people’s neighbors, school personnel and postal workers, and more.”
“It’s very disruptive and scary,” Nyasa, an immigration attorney, told the Indypendent. “Unfortunately stopping ICE transfers and some information sharing is just not sufficient to really protect our communities and keep the families of New York City safe.”
Read more at The Indypendent.
BDS, BLS STUDENTS HOST TRAINING ON CLEANING UP RAP SHEETS TO HELP ELIMINATE OBSTACLES TO JOBS AND HOUSING
On Monday evening, BDS’ Amanda Jack and Wesley Caines led a primer on how to read public arrest records – RAP sheets – in the state of New York at Brooklyn Law School. More than a dozen law students attended the training where they learned to spot errors in RAP sheets that can lead to years – or even decades – of hardship for New Yorkers who don’t deserve it.
The training was part of BDS and BLS’ Criminal and Police Records Accuracy Project, led by Wesley. CP-RAP volunteers help “clean up” those errors for clients, eliminating unjust and arbitrary hurdles that stand in the way of applying for jobs and housing and which can also negatively impact future contacts with the criminal justice system.
Brooklyn Law School 2L Liana Goff and 1L and CP-RAP volunteer Ken Zwerin organized the training to get more classmates involved.
“There are consequences for these errors when someone’s RAP sheet looks worse than it should,” Ken says. “We’re trying to ameliorate the challenges that the formerly incarcerated – or even those who are just arrested – have as they apply for jobs or face immigration issues. It’s also important to remember that future sentencing and bail decisions are based on those records.”
At the training, Ken and his classmates learned about what cases shouldn’t be included in the records – such as misdemeanors committed by underage defendants or arrests that were never prosecuted. They also learn how to get them removed and, if that’s not possible, to get courts to issue Certificates of Good Conduct which can also mitigate some of the effects of a “bad rap.”
Ken noted that the real world practice he gets through the project significantly complements his law school training.
“It really helped me apply real life experience to what we are learning in the class room,” he says. “We get to see the reality of what’s happening on the ground, how the criminal justice system actually works. But it also motivates me to go home and study the 50 or 100-year-old cases we are assigned in school because it inspires me all the more to become a practicing attorney.”
Can you help? Contact Wesley Caines at 718-254-0700 ext. 380 or email@example.com
BDS Youth Advocate Dorell Smallwood accompanied several of his BDS mentees to Assemblymember Walter Mosley’s 3rd annual job fair. There, they were able to discuss career opportunities with representatives from several organizations including the New York City Housing Authority and the US Coast Guard. They also participated in resume writing workshops, interviewing skills seminars, and financial literacy training.
“It’s a great opportunity for young people to access important information they probably wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise,” Dorell says.
Dorell adds that it makes sense for BDS to be involved as yet another way the organization is proactive in the community which is serves.
“There’s a correlation between employment and recidivism,” he explains. “If kids find jobs, they don’t find criminal mischief.”
But, Dorell also has his own personal reasons for being involved.
“It’s very satisfying for me because I get to see them get excited about being exposed to the opportunities that are out there,” he says. “We take these things for granted but, for a young person who doesn’t know that these things exist, the possibility of getting a job and being a productive member of their community is very appealing.”
Our Zoey Jones appeared NPR’s Morning Edition today to discuss U visas and the NYPD’s proposed rules for handling certification requests by immigrants who are assisting in the investigation of certain crimes. Listen below. Previously, Zoey was interviewed by NY1 Noticias. Watch here.
CONGRATULATIONS TO EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LISA SCHREIBERSDORF, ON BECOMING PRESIDENT OF THE CHIEF DEFENDERS ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK!
The Chief Defenders Association of New York is an association of public defender chiefs who lead indigent defense organizations across New York State.
BDS IN CITY LIMITS AND ON THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW DISCUSSING CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES IN DEPORTATION DEFENSE
A series of articles published in City Limits recently, followed up on by the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC today, offers the perfect example of the difference well-resourced attorneys can make in our justice system and how attorneys, social workers, investigators and other staff at a public defense office can positively impact the lives of those brought into the system.
In 2013, our own Talia Peleg was assigned the case of Alex Lora as part of a project spearheaded by the New York City Council to assure no immigrant is detained and deported without legal counsel. Mr. Lora spent months in immigration detention without a bond hearing because of draconian “mandatory detention” laws. BDS and the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic argued against this treatment leading to a decision by the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals which limited how long someone can be detained without a hearing. Now, as a result, no fellow New Yorker placed in mandatory detention, sometimes for arrests that were decades in the past, will be deprived of the opportunity to be heard by a judge and go home to their families.
As City Limits notes, if Lora, “had been arrested in any other city in the U.S., he would never have met a person like Peleg. He would in all likelihood have represented himself, and he would have faced a 97 percent chance of deportation.”
BDS is the first legal services provider to help immigrants in detention who cannot afford an attorney.
SUPPLEMENTAL BDS TESTIMONY BEFORE BOARD OF CORRECTION OPPOSING JAIL VISITING RESTRICTIONS & ROLLBACK OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT REFORMS
November 6, 2015
New York City Board of Correction
1 Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chair Brezenoff and Members of the Board,
Brooklyn Defender Services appreciates your consideration of the comments below as part of the record related to rulemaking regarding visiting, solitary confinement, packages, and Enhanced Supervision Housing. This letter intends to respond to the prepared testimony of Commissioner Ponte dated October 16, 2015, but not made public until after the public comment period had closed. This letter does not reflect a complete record of our concerns and should be considered supplemental to our previous testimony.
In the interest of brevity, this letter will not reiterate in detail the concerns raised by the Legal Aid Society and the Jails Action Coalition in their letters dated October 27, 2015 and November 2, 2015 respectively. We share the serious concerns raised in those letters regarding the grave implications for civil liberties, the procedural barriers for adequate public comment, as well as the detailed concerns regarding the proposed rule changes themselves. We would like to focus our comments on the important role of the Board of Correction in our city, and ask you to remember this role as you consider the proposed rule changes.
New York City is fortunate to have the Board of Correction to oversee its jails. In most jurisdictions, jails and prisons operate without oversight, and people suffer. With unfettered access to the jails and authority to establish Minimum Standards independently of the Department of Correction, the Board plays a critical role in mitigating the harm suffered by people who are incarcerated in New York City. New Yorkers should benefit from a Board who champions its independence and prioritizes the rights of incarcerated New Yorkers and their families. The Board was established in the shadow of Attica to help our city be more humane, more just, and more democratic – to move our jail system closer in line with the values which define our city.
For the first time in history, criminal justice, incarceration, and Rikers Island in particular, are the subject of unprecedented public scrutiny. At this moment, your independence is crucial. Earlier this year, the Board took major steps to recognize the dignity of the people held in New York City Jails by acknowledging the harm of solitary confinement and limiting its use in our city. We urge you to continue in the right direction, toward an approach to violence reduction which prioritizes the dignity and rights of New Yorkers as foundational.
Throughout the rulemaking process, the Department has described their view of visiting and packages in comforting terms, noting how important visits are, and how they plan to deliver essential items to people through the uniform system. But the Department’s actions have fallen far short of their promises, to detriment of the people in their care and their families. Our office has submitted several complaints to the Board regarding the rollout of uniforms including about clients coming to court without warm clothing, being deprived of medically-ordered shoes, being denied trial clothing, being forced to wash their clothing in sinks, and about many people returning to the community in their uniforms. Each and every time someone is deprived of such a fundamental need, their dignity is violated.
Our Jail Services Social worker is a part of the Visit Committee, and has described to you in a recent letter and prior testimony how the Department has taken no concrete action to improve visiting, or provide the Committee with data. As a result of the lack of urgency on the part of the Department to address the horrifying conditions for visitors, families and children who visit the jails continue to be humiliated by invasive searches, intimidating dogs, rude staff, and interminable waits in order to see their loved ones. This process is devoid of dignity for the tens of thousands of people who visit the jails each year – innocent New Yorkers just like you.
As we have stated many times, we are deeply concerned about violence in the jails, and the safety of our clients as well as correctional staff. Conditions in city jails which are contrary to human dignity foment resentment and violence. We believe that the solution to violence is founded on restoring respect for the human dignity of the people held in our jails and their families. The Board should invest its resources in monitoring compliance with existing minimum standards as a first step to preserve basic human dignity. We urge you to push our jails to reflect the values we share, and resist any movement in the opposite direction. Thank you for your consideration of our supplemental comments.
Riley Doyle Evans
Jail Services Coordinator
Brooklyn Defender Services
OP-ED BY WESLEY CAINES, BDS’ REENTRY SPECIALIST: “CLOSE FISHKILL AND END THE CULTURE OF ABUSE IN NEW YORK’S PRISONS”
Today, the Albany Times-Union published an op-ed by Wesley Caines, BDS’ Reentry Specialist, calling for an end to the abuse and killings of prisoners in New York State. The piece is timed to coincide with a hearing held by the NYS Assembly’s Correction Committee on oversight of the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and includes specific recommendations for legislators.
In the op-ed, Mr. Caines highlights the case of Samuel Harrell, who was allegedly brutally killed by the infamous “Beat Up Squad” in Fishkill Correctional Facility for non-violent behaviors related to his mental illness. Written from personal experience with incarceration at Fishkill, the op-ed calls for strict new measures of oversight and transparency, including mandatory public reporting of uses of force and greater facility access for the media. However, the piece also notes that the culture of Fishkill is beyond repair and calls for its closure, along with the closure of a number of other prisons rife with abuse, in the upcoming state budget.
You can find the entire op-ed below.
On November 18, 2015, lawyers, judges, court staff and social service providers convened to celebrate the opening of the Brooklyn Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court (BMVTC). The court connects veterans charged in low-level misdemeanor cases to social service providers including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A veteran’s successful completion of treatment results in non-criminal dispositions and case dismissals.
BDS Staff Attorney and Veterans Defense Coordinator Cameron Mease, who testified recently on veterans in the criminal justice system, spoke at the event:
“Veterans, while strong, can still be vulnerable and while independent, are still deserving of our support. With greater numbers of veterans being identified and given special attention by the courts, BDS is accordingly expanding in-house services. Our team of social workers, paralegals, immigration attorneys and housing and benefits attorneys will continue to learn how we can best connect our veteran clients with the services they want and deserve.”
The point of diversion is public safety. Diversion programs, or prison alternatives, have successfully lowered prison and jail populations by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior. For two decades, Brooklyn Defender Services has worked to establish and support alternative-to-incarceration options and problem-solving courts in Kings County. Brooklyn diversion programs have been an enormous success: Arrests are down and fewer people are spending unnecessary time in jail or prison.
Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf published an opinion piece in the Gotham Gazette last week outlining the important role that diversion programs play in keeping New Yorkers safe. Her article comes in the wake of government backlash against diversion programs after the tragic death of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder. As we mourn and seek answers to this tragedy, we must not repeat the mistakes of past decades and allow retributive impulses to supersede evidence-based approaches to public safety.
BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) team and the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic won a precedential ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week. The Second Circuit’s decision in Lora v. Shanahan now assures a bond hearing and the chance at liberty for detained immigrants in proceedings in New York if detained for more than six months. The Court ruled last week that “mandatory detention for longer than six months without a bond hearing affronts due process.”
The New York Times wrote recently of the victory, noting the importance for many New York families:
The ruling applies to immigrants convicted of certain crimes that are considered removable offenses. Previously there had been no limit on how long they could be detained while awaiting an immigration hearing. The decision could affect hundreds of immigrants in the New York City area alone.
BDS’ Director of Family Defense Practice Lauren Shapiro joined the heads of six other family defense organizations on Wednesday morning in a joint statement expressing concern over the recent Elisa W Consent Decree. The statement, “The State Has Surrendered the Due Process Rights of Vulnerable Foster Care Children and Put Family Re-unification at Risk in its Settlement of the ACS Lawsuit“, can be read in full on the BDS website.
Representatives from each of the seven organizations that co-authored the statement held a press conference on October 21st to show solidarity in denouncing the decree .
POR: CRISTINA LOBOGUERRERO
19 OCTUBRE 2015
En la primavera del año pasado Clarence Threlkeld acudió a su segunda audiencia en la Corte Criminal de Brooklyn para resolver un caso por un delito menor y, de repente, fue arrestado por agentes del Servicio de Inmigración (ICE).
“Había ido a mi segunda cita en la corte y cuando fui a entrar escuché mi nombre, pensé que era mi abogado, el que se me había asignado. Pero eran dos hombres vestidos de civil que me informaron que había una orden de arresto de parte de Inmigración”, relató Threlkeld, quien es padre de cinco hijos. More
BDS TESTIFIES BEFORE NYC COUNCIL HEARING ON THE IMPACTS OF COURT OBSTACLES AND OVERCRIMINALIZATION ON IMMIGRANTS
On October 19, Sarah Vendzules, Supervising Attorney in BDS’ Immigration Practice, testified before a New York City Council oversight hearing on immigrants in the criminal justice system. The Council specifically asked BDS to address collateral consequences, access to justice, and services available to justice-involved immigrants and immigrants who are victims of crimes.
As Vendzules testified, “the term collateral consequences can imply subordination to criminal sentences, but in reality, ‘collateral’ consequences can be far more severe.” She highlighted a number of ways the system fails immigrant New Yorkers, and emphasized the need to end overcriminalization, as even minor offenses trigger detention and deportation. You can read her full testimony here (PDF ).
BDS client Clarence Threlkeld also testified at the hearing. BDS strongly believes that people with direct experience in the criminal justice system are best positioned to advocate for change. Threlkeld told the story of his courthouse arrest and subsequent detention by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), despite having a non-frivolous claim to U.S. citizenship. He called on the Council to do all it can to stop courthouse arrests and make sure nobody else faces the injustice that he endured.
Three BDS NYIFUP clients won federal habeas grants in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) at the end of August before Judge George Daniels, ensuring their right to bond hearings in immigration court and vastly increasing their chances of success in their merits cases. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) incarcerated these three clients without any bail hearing for periods ranging from 10 to 17 months, asserting that it is mandated to do so by Congress (under the “mandatory detention statute”).
BDS and pro bono counsel from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP filed habeas petitions in the SDNY, seeking an order directing the immigration judges to hold prompt bond hearings in all three cases. Judge Daniels ruled that a plain reading of the “mandatory detention” statute limits its scope to those noncitizens who are transferred directly from state criminal custody to ICE. Because none of the three petitioners had been transferred directly to ICE, Judge Daniels granted the habeas petitions. The most egregious example of the three cases involved a BDS client who never spent a single day in jail following her lone conviction. ICE waited almost ten years after her conviction to lock her up in an attempt to deport her. With the help of NYIFUP, these clients can start preparing for bond hearings and will hopefully be released within the month!
These cases are three among many that BDS and pro bono counsel have been litigating, and the issues raised are currently under consideration at the Second Circuit in the lead case of Lora v. Shanahan, in which BDS co-counseled with NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. They also underscore the limits of the recent NYC laws prohibiting law enforcement officers from cooperating with ICE except in narrow circumstances. Since the detainer ordinances were enacted we have seen an increase in ICE enforcement actions in the community, and arrests (in homes and workplaces) of many immigrants who have rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community following old convictions.
In 2013 BDS Attorney Renee Seman argued a Mapp hearing on behalf of a client who was arrested for possession of a gun — a charge he vehemently denied. After hearing the Detective’s testimony on a Wednesday, Hon. Judge Guy J. Mangano criticized what was incredible testimony by the officer and stated he would be issuing his decision on suppression the following Monday. Prior to the Judge’s decision, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office came back to the client with an offer of time served; having already served a year in jail and away from his wife, the client understandably took the offer so that he could go back to the life he had before he was falsely arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
Renee was devastated about the guilty plea, believing firmly that her client was innocent and the case continued to haunt her. Believing in her client- Renee continued to advocate on his behalf and after much effort and as a result of her phenomenal advocacy, today June 26, 2015, in front of Judge Mangano, the DA’s office vacated the plea and dismissed the indictment.
Since his release, our client has gotten his life back, working hard at a great job and is back with his wife. After his plea was vacated, he left the courtroom, turned to Renee and said “you always had my back.”
Ronald Schneider, BDS Social Work Team Leader for the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team, was honored on June 10, 2015 for his dedication and commitment to exalt and his unwavering dedication to youth.
exalt is a Brooklyn-based alternative to incarceration program that serves youth at all junctures along the spectrum of criminal justice involvement. The program aims to re-engage young people in their love for learning and, in helping them understand the urgency of taking action, to reverse their journey along the school-to-prison pipeline.
exalt Intern Liaison Kevin Williams, a former client of Ron’s, presented Ron with the award. Ron is a long-time supporter of exalt and the empowering programs that they provide for BDS’s clients.
Upon accepting his award, Ron spoke to the importance of the exalt program: “No child should be defined by the mistakes they are bound to make, but they should be nurtured and glorified for the unlimited potential for success that they all have.”
On May 21st, BDS hosted its 2015 Benefit Gala, honoring Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, non-profit 826NYC, and Michael Baum, Esq.
BDS IMMIGRATION PRACTICE DIRECTOR MARIANNE YANG RECEIVES NYC BAR ASSOCIATION 2015 LEGAL SERVICES AWARD
On June 10th, Brooklyn Defender Services’ Immigration Director Marianne Yang received the New York City Bar Association‘s Legal Services Award, established to recognize the efforts of lawyers and non-lawyers who have directly provided free legal services to indigent clients on a full-time basis for an extended period of time.
Other 2015 Legal Services Award recipients include: Toby Golick, Cardozo Law School; Jim Provost, Manhattan Legal Services; Kim Susser, NYLAG; & Mohammed Sheriff, Bronx Defenders. Presenting the awards, on behalf of the NYC Bar Association, was the Honorable Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Judge of the New York Court of Appeals.
On May 7, Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of BDS, delivered testimony before the New York State Assembly on the urgent need for real criminal justice reform. In her testimony, Ms. Schreibersdorf shared the stories of BDS clients who have suffered immensely at the hands of a vicious, unfair, and counterproductive system. Please see the testimony here.
TESTIMONY OF BDS JAIL SERVICES COORDINATOR RILEY DOYLE EVANS BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON FIRE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
We support the efforts of the Council to improve transparency in our city jails through Legislation requiring reporting by the Departments of Correction and Health and Mental Hygiene. Transparency is an important step toward addressing the decades of neglect in our city’s jails, which we hope will be followed by the more important step of accountability and enforcement of the law. I would like to take this opportunity to raise an urgent issue which is not addressed in the proposed bills, but which demands our attention.
People with Developmental Disabilities and Intellectual Disabilities are one of the most vulnerable populations in jail and prison settings. They are frequently the targets of violence, sexual violence, extortion, and abuse from staff and other incarcerated people. However, in New York City, when these individuals enter the criminal justice system there is no meaningful mechanism to keep them safe, provide accommodations, or direct them to necessary services.
Neither the Department of Correction, nor the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene includes the identification of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities as part of their intake screening process. Very often individuals with such needs have masked their disabilities during the course of their lives and may not feel safe or able to affirmatively offer up information about their needs. Even worse, they may have an impairment that has not been identified in the community, but which nonetheless necessitates accommodation and services.
Because there is no meaningful screening process, it is typically up to our office to identify for the Departments our clients who need accommodations for their cognitive deficits. Of course, lawyers are not often clinically trained to identify such conditions, and an arraignment interview is not the proper setting to do so. Therefore, we can only assume many of our clients with developmental disabilities pass through the system and are victimized not only by other individuals but by the system at large.
Currently people with developmental and intellectual impairments are placed in General Population housing units or in Mental Observation housing units with people who do not have the same needs. Almost without exception our clients with developmental and intellectual impairments are victimized while in these settings. Additionally, because certain disabilities make it difficult to follow instructions or obey jail rules, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities may be more likely to have altercations with staff and suffer placement in solitary confinement.
While we emphasize that the vast majority of people held in city jails are there unnecessarily – people with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities are a particularly egregious case. Once incarcerated, the lethargy of institutions charged with placing individuals into services in the community or to restore them to competence can leave people incarcerated for weeks and months for no good reason.
We would like to share the experiences of our clients which illustrate an all-too-common set of outcomes for individuals with cognitive impairments in the criminal justice system.
Mr. Spaulding suffers from moderate to severe mental retardation as well as mental illness. Despite multiple requests to the Department of Correction for Protective Custody, Mr. Spaulding bounced between several mental observation and general population settings. He was the victim of several beatings including a slashing attack to his stomach. Our office continued to request safe housing for Mr. Spaulding, but he continued to be victimized – he was again severely beaten, this time necessitating surgery to his face, and leaving his arm in a sling for several months. When Mr. Spaulding returned to population after hospitalization, his disability caused him to have trouble with jail rules – he did not understand why he was required to be strip searched and refused the traumatizing practice. In response, he was placed in solitary confinement in a contraband watch cell where he remained for several days, and where he was denied a counsel visit. In order to have him removed from these harmful conditions, our office provided DOHMH records regarding his intellectual disability. A five minute conversation with Mr. Spaulding is enough to raise serious red flags about his cognitive abilities. A meaningful intake screening process could have prevented repeated brutalization, months of pain in the hospital, and the suffering he endured in solitary confinement.
Mr. Williams suffers from a severe intellectual impairment and was charged with a misdemeanor. Mr. Williams was initially released on bail. However, when he was found to be too intellectually disabled to participate in his own defense, the judge, over vociferous objections, remanded him to city jail pending placement with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). It took OPWDD approximately two months to have Mr. Williams released from jail, only to refer him for outpatient services at the very same facility at which he had received services in the past. Because his charge was a misdemeanor, it was dismissed upon his placement in OPWDD. Effectively, Mr. Williams was incarcerated for two months on no charges, during which time he was assaulted in his housing unit, suffering blows to his head and eye. Mr. Williams was determined to be safe to live in the community by OPWDD, yet our criminal justice system found him so dangerous he was forced to live in a jail that could not keep him safe.
The City has a responsibility to people like those I’ve just described. We have a responsibility to ensure that our police officers are trained to engage these individuals safely and with care; that there are facilities in the community to address their needs before during and after police contact; that our judges release these individuals to services rather than incarcerate them from a position of misguided fear and misunderstanding; that our jails provide targeted services, meaningful safety and programming should they be held despite interventions along the way. BDS is eager to work with the council and city and state agencies toward a caring and just approach to serve our most vulnerable neighbors.
TESTIMONY OF BDS SOCIAL WORKER KIMBERLY NASATIR BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON FIRE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
My name is Kimberly Nasatir and I am a licensed master social worker at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). At BDS we represent over 45,000 justice-involved individuals each year, and of those individuals, about 6,000 are incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) during the pendency of their cases.
One of our BDS clients, now an advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals as a result of her own experience at Rikers Island, brought to our attention a re-entry book called Connections: A guide for formerly incarcerated people in New York City published by the New York Public Library. We also learned, through a survey conducted throughout our office that less than 1% of our staff had ever heard of Connections or seen our detained clients in possession of this book. Few clients knew of it. This year marks 20th anniversary of the book’s publication.
BDS feels that a guide specifically targeted for individuals returning to their community, including basic steps to re-entry among additional resources in each of the five boroughs, should be in every individual’s hand during their time in custody. The New York City Department of Corrections (DOC), apparently agrees, listing in the “Inmate Handbook” that every person “should have been given [Connections] upon admission.” Yet, clients are processed through intake, and almost no one receives the book. We have also come to know that some of our clients do not receive their “Inmate Handbook,” the list of rules and regulations that someone who is detained must rely on to know their rights and obligations. Further, detained individuals are required, during intake, to sign for both books, even though they do not receive them. Everyone should be given both books without exception.
This issue is twofold: we know that when a client has some control of her future, with a resource re-entry guide that can either equip her to take steps immediately upon release towards self-help and self-promotion, she will be less likely to be re-arrested. We believe that NYPL has created a resource that speaks to prevention of recidivism that should not be ignored.
The second part of this issue is that the Inmate Handbook must be provided at intake as a protective mechanism. Often, we know that issues arise between DOC officers and detained individuals, and we believe that if both parties have a guide to be clear about rules and rights, this is one step closer to eliminating misunderstandings on the part of our clients and on the part of the DOC officers. We have heard stories that rules “have changed without notification” and this book offers detained clients and DOC a consistent set of guidelines that cannot be contested.
We believe these two books go hand in hand, and we ask that legislation be put into action that requires the DOC to fulfill their obligation during intake to provide the NYPL Connections re-entry guide and the “Inmate Handbook.” We further request a tracking mechanism to ensure these items are actually distributed.
City Council is considering new legislation today, a Bill of Rights to be read out loud and provided in writing to every individual during intake. This very important time for an individual in the process of being incarcerated can be more comprehensive and impactful if both Connections and the “Inmate Handbook” are part of this bill.
New York City has endless resources, many funded by the City, that go untapped and underutilized. Connections can be a linkage to strengthen individual ties to community resources that already exist, which we believe will ultimately result in reducing the number of people incarcerated in City jails.
I thank the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, and particularly Chair Elizabeth Crowley and Councilmember Daniel Dromm for this opportunity to testify before you today.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
Michael Baum, Esq
Thursday May 21 2015 at 6:00pm
205 State St., 22nd Floor
Entertainment will include:
- Poetry by Mahogany L. Browne, Falu, Katherine George, and Roya Marsh
- Music by DJ Sureshot and Scratch Academy
- Production by Bema Creative Group
- Artwork by Young New Yorkers
- Catering by Riviera
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nueva York – Legisladores estatales y grupos que abogan por los derechos de los inmigrantes pidieron ayer al gobernador Andrew Cuomo que apruebe fondos para implementar un programa que daría defensoría legal gratuita a los inmigrantes indocumentados que afrontan un proceso de deportación.
(State Legislators and groups advocating for the rights of immigrants have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to consider funding free legal defense for undocumented people facing deportation.) See here or below. More
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.
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.
From the New York Law Journal:
Lisa Schreibersdorf, the founder of Brooklyn Defender Services and its current executive director, said standards in indigent defense were used “as a sword and a shield.”
For her colleagues outside the city handling indigent defense with limited funding, Schreibersdorf said the standards were used to say the organizations were falling short.
But she said that in the city, there are caseload caps and an administration and city council “that really cares about us.”
“If we have standards, we can use them affirmatively to show what we want to do, or what we should be doing … so I welcome them, only because it’s New York City,” she said.
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.
An edited version of the following letter was published in the Daily News on January 15.
On January 9th, the Daily News published an article about the shooting death of my client, Jaquay Bennett, who was 19 years old at the time. After providing the details of his brutal shooting, the article reported that he “had several prior arrests.” These are among the last words that will ever be written about Jaquay, a teenager, who died tragically.
As widely reported, a vastly disproportionate number of people of color are arrested in New York City every year. In Jaquay’s case, as in that of many others, he had yet to have been convicted of any crime. Jaquay’s arrests do not justify his murder nor do they make it any less horrible. Further, given the disproportionate arrests of people of color, his arrests do not give any insight into his character.
Your blog contained no mention of the fact that he had been attending a program at Medgar Evers College, that he was dedicated to his family – including five siblings, his parents, and a one-year-old son, or that he had spent time working with Crown Heights Mediation Center. Jaquay will be missed and had an impact on the world beyond the fact that he had been arrested.
Brooklyn Defender Services
A Brooklyn man who claimed that gun-possession charges against him were manufactured by the police had his case dismissed on Thursday, amid two investigations into the practices of a group of police officers in the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush.
The man, Jeffrey Herring, had maintained his innocence ever since his arrest on June 4, 2013, asserting that officers had planted the gun on him and fabricated the circumstances of his arrest.
The officers claimed that they had received a tip from a confidential informer that Mr. Herring had a gun. Prosecutors had been instructed to bring the informer to court on Thursday; the defense had challenged whether that informer even existed.
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.
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.”
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
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.
Mayor de Blasio announced on Monday that the NYPD will no longer arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana, issuing summonses instead. Advocates expressed cautious support.
NEW YORK CITY — The New York Police Department will no longer arrest people for low-level marijuana possession, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced in a press conference on Monday.
The NYPD will issue violation summonses to people caught with small amounts marijuana, instead of putting them in handcuffs and taking them to a precinct. The summonses will require people to appear in court at a later date and pay a fine.
The policy, which will go into effect on Nov. 19, will not protect people who are found with more than 25 grams of marijuana, those who are smoking in public, or those caught with the drug near schools or playgrounds, the officials said. People who have open warrants, are subject to an active investigation, or do do not have proper identification could also be arrested.
Speaking at the press conference, Mayor de Blasio said that the new policy is intended to refocus the attention of police officers away from petty offenses and toward more serious crimes.
“When an individual gets arrested for even the smallest quantity of marijuana it hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing, to qualify for a student loan,” de Blasio said. “This policy will allow officers to continue on with their work and to put more time and energy into fighting more serious crime rather than get bogged down with an unproductive arrest.”
The new policy could bring about a sea change in the way the city is policed. Misdemeanor-level marijuana possession accounts for a large percentage of the city’s arrests, a vast majority of which happen to young black or Latino men living in poor neighborhoods.
“This is a huge improvement,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, told BuzzFeed News. “Summonses don’t get you fingerprinted. This will be better for people who are vulnerable to collateral consequences, like immigrants.”
Still, Schreibersdorf cautioned that the policy will not fulfill its goal unless the NYPD relaxes its identification requirements for summonses. Immigrants and teenagers often do not carry valid identification, she said, which often means that they cannot be processed for a summons. She added that the policy change does not address what she called the root cause of the problem — police officers in New York routinely stopping people without probable cause.
“Having summonses is an improvement for people who are already being stopped, but that doesn’t mean they should be stopped in the first place,” she said. “The problem, from my perspective, is that stopping people without cause is unconstitutional.”
BDS has launched a postcard campaign, through which we intend to send messages from thousands of New Yorkers directly to Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, calling for the end to solitary confinement, which has been described by a wide-range of observers as torture. BDS staff recently visited the underbellies of the City Jails at Rikers Island and were able to confirm first hand the inhumanity of the conditions there, specifically in the Solitary Confinement and Restricted Housing Unit sections. If you would like to send a postcard, please contact us at 718-254-0700 x269. Or write the commissioner directly yourself.
New York City Department of Corrections
75-20 Astoria Blvd.
East Elmhurst, NY 11370
We are encouraged that the New York City Council is discussing issues of brutality and neglect on Rikers Island and is seeking to hold accountable the public and private officials tasked with managing these facilities. It seems there is widespread agreement that the status quo in City jails is untenable. However, we are concerned efforts for reform will fall short if City Government continues to avoid addressing the primary driver of many of these problems – too many admissions to jails in the first place.
Read more on our Huffington Post Blog
In the November 2014 Smithsonian Magazine, BDS employees Dorell Smallwood and Joseph Williams were honored and featured in an article called “The Great Escape.”
The article was written based on an activist named Max Kenner and his work with BDS staff Smallwood and Williams about the power of education with no limitations or boundaries to your environment. Read More
On Tuesday BDS, along with advocates from across the state, including recently exonerated individuals and their family members, spoke out about the need for reforms to discovery laws that prevent individuals accused of crimes and their attorneys from seeing the evidence the state is using against them.
“It’s trial by ambush,” said New York State Assemblymember Joe Lentol.
At a press conference at City Hall, Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf joined Lentol, New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, City Council Members Andy King, Laurie Cumbo, Fernando Cabrera, Brad Lander, Vanessa Gibson and Antonio Reynoso, Public Advocate Letitia James and groups including Discovery for Justice, It Could Happen to You, New York State Chaplin Taskforce, Committees for Change, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Iron Workers Union, DC 37, 1199 SEIU, Local 100 and the Teamsters to advocate for the repeal of CPL 240 and the enactment of CPL 245, which would secure open, early and automatic discovery for the people of New York.
On Sunday, October 5th Brooklyn Defender Services participated in the 2014 Liz Padilla Memorial Run.
Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla, a graduate of Cornell Law School, joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project as a Pro Bono Coordinator/Staff Attorney in December 2004 with the goal of helping those less fortunate than herself. Liz approached each day with excitement, eagerly seeking opportunities to give back to her community, especially to those most in need of a helping hand.
In the early summer of 2005 Liz, a competitive runner, was planning a 5k Race to benefit the VLP as a unique way of joining two of her favorite activities. On Thursday, June 9th, 2005, Liz was tragically killed in a road accident when she was biking to work.
Her absence continues to weigh heavily on those who knew and loved her, yet she continues to inspire us. This race is dedicated to honoring her legacy of kindness and generosity. BDS is proud to be an annual supporter and participant.
lizabeth Kasulis Padilla, a graduate of Cornell Law School, joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project as a Pro Bono Coordinator/Staff Attorney in December 2004 with the goal of helping those less fortunate than herself. Liz approached each day with excitement, eagerly seeking opportunities to give back to her community, especially to those most in need of a helping hand.
In the early summer of 2005 Liz, a competitive runner, was planning a 5k Race to benefit the VLP as a unique way of joining two of her favorite activities. On Thursday, June 9th, 2005, Liz was tragically killed in a road accident when she was biking to work.
Her absence continues to weigh heavily on those who knew and loved her, yet she continues to inspire us. This race is dedicated to honoring her legacy of kindness and generosity.
– See more at: http://lp5k.com/#sthash.875id0XG.dpuf
What if Michael Brown’s story had ended differently?
A teenager. A misdemeanor. A cop. But then, instead of bullets, what if Mr. Brown had received a granola bar, a “safe space” to discuss concepts like choice, and an invitation to make a collage as part of a deal to erase the arrest from his record?
In Mr. Brown’s hometown of Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, American teenagers who are born poor and dark are routinely arrested for things that others get away with. Sometimes, guns fire and lives disappear. More often, the encounter can risk destroying a life more slowly. But in Brooklyn — which was infamous for crime before becoming known for artisanal whiskey — an experiment is testing whether these early police encounters can be reinvented as an opportunity: to reach out to troubled youth, get them help and bend their perception of the law.
Terrell, 17, was an apt candidate for bending. A high school graduate bound for community college, he had already endured two rounds of “stop-and-frisk,” a pre-emptive police tactic that a judge eventually found unconstitutional. Then this summer he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
When he arrived for his court date, his public defender informed him of a new program for 16- and 17-year-old defendants: Instead of pleading guilty, performing community service, having a criminal record and being supervised for up to a year by probation officers, he could participate in something called Young New Yorkers that afternoon. If he did, his case would be dismissed and sealed — erased from public records. (The Times agreed not to publish his last name and details of his arrest in exchange for his cooperation.)
Surprised, Terrell took the deal.
The United States, which accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners, is in the midst of a great rethinking of its criminal justice system, including changes in sentencing laws, more lenient marijuana policies and so-called restorative justice efforts.
The Brooklyn program is part of these changes. It is rooted in the belief that the criminal justice system often takes decent but mildly troubled young people and, instead of reforming them, turns an ephemeral circumstance — a crime — into an enduring identity: criminal.
“Theoretically, it’s supposed to be correctional,” said Judge George A. Grasso, who supervises the Brooklyn program. “But most people going through, it’s not correcting.”
Judge Grasso calls the program “collaborative justice.” Various parties — the judge, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, even the city’s Department of Education — work together to decide which program each defendant should enter (Young New Yorkers is one of a handful). Read More
Imagine you were charged with a crime. You would search for the best attorney you could afford, for you would know that your future depended upon being represented by zealous counsel who had sufficient time and resources to provide you with excellent representation. You will need a dedicated, well-resourced attorney as you are facing a prosecutor supported by the almost unlimited resources of the state.
This basic truth about our criminal justice system – that it works only when both the prosecutors and defense counsel are zealous, competent attorneys who have sufficient resources to represent their clients – is why the U.S. Supreme Court held 50 years ago that the Constitution guarantees the right to a state-provided attorney for all criminal defendants who cannot afford counsel.
Sadly, tens of thousands of New Yorkers face prosecution each year and are represented by attorneys who do not have those resources. New York public defenders are zealous, caring and dedicated attorneys who are often unable to provide the best representation to clients because they lack access to expert witnesses and investigators, support staff or sometimes even office supplies or a computer. Furthermore, insufficient state support for our important function results in understaffed offices where attorneys handle caseloads significantly higher than is recommended by various bar associations.
The state provides abundant resources to prosecutors and police agencies, while simultaneously ignoring its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate resources to public defense attorneys. As but one of many examples, according to a recent finding by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state provided dedicated public defenders in Onondaga County only $28,161 for investigators in 2011, while funding the prosecutors with 35 times as much. This significant disparity of resources has led to an unbalanced and broken criminal justice system for us all.
NOV 6TH CITY BAKERY
Over 300 guests celebrated the work and history of Brooklyn Defender Services at the organization’s first annual benefit gala at One Hanson Place in Brooklyn.
“Six months detention without an opportunity to be heard raises serious constitutional questions,” Judge Hellerstein wrote. “Araujo-Cortes’ continuing detention has become unreasonable.”
The judge gave authorities one week to provide Araujo-Cortes with a bond hearing, where it will need to show that he is either a risk of flight or dangerous in order to continue the detention.
Bridget Phillips Kessler, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services who represented Araujo-Cortes on the habeas petition, said it is far more difficult for an individual to prepare his or her case when incarcerated.
“It’s a wonderful decision for our client, and we are glad he will have an opportunity to have a judge determine his risk of flight and dangerousness so he can hopefully obtain a reasonable bond and rejoin his family while he fights his immigration case,” Kessler said.
Sixteen-year-old inmate Trevor Mobley was waiting in line for food on Rikers Island when a Correction officer ordered him to back up.
“I told him, ‘I’m next to get food,'” Mobley recalled. But the officer continued to demand that he move, eventually writing Mobley a rule violation for disobeying a direct order and verbal abuse. Mobley, who was awaiting trial for drug possession, was sentenced to 60 days in solitary confinement. It was his first month at Rikers Island.
In solitary (known as “the bing” on Rikers), people spend 23 to 24 hours a day inside a small cell with only a mattress and a toilet-sink combination. They are allowed one hour of recreation outside the cell in a small cage. Recreation is offered at 4 a.m., and to take advantage of it the person must be awake and standing by their cell door. Mobley never bothered.
On Friday, Staten Island resident Eric Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide. For the last two weeks, New York City has been roiled by video of him gasping his last words—“I can’t breathe!”—after an NYPD officer put him in a choke-hold while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. At Garner’s funeral on July 23 at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, reporters and news crews swarmed the block, interviewing relatives, high-profile guests like the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other attendees.
What the local press didn’t see that evening, and what has gone unreported until now, is that police officers chose the funeral of a man whose death in police custody has put the NYPD on the defensive to make another, very public arrest of a guy who wasn’t doing anything illegal at the time.
The New York City Council is investigating mental health services and violence on Rikers Island and in other city jails as recent media reports have renewed the public’s interest on this topic. At a recent oversight hearing conducted by the council, mayoral officials, union leaders, corrections officers, civilians working in city jails and other advocates testified to their experiences. Notably absent from the discussion were people with personal experience inside the cell blocks; with 120,000 people each year churning through city jails — over 1 million over the past ten years — it seemed incongruous that the Criminal Justice and Mental Health Committees of the City Council had not included these voices. The City Council legal department has declined to provide us with the list of official invitees to the hearing.
More than 75 percent of the people on Rikers Island and in other city jails are not in custody due to a conviction. They are in jail on bail, sometimes as low as $250, because they cannot afford to meet this cash obligation. According to the Criminal Justice Agency, just 12 percent of people accused of misdemeanors are able to post bail at arraignments. Prosecutorial requests for bail and the choice to insist on cash bail when other options are legally viable, is a matter of public policy. And so we have decided to place people accused of the most minor of crimes in jail solely because they have been locked out of the social and economic resources and opportunities that would otherwise enable them to post a couple of hundred dollars as collateral. A recent Vera Institute report on the Manhattan District Attorney’s office found that race plays a significant factor in making bail determinations.
A homeless man arrested for trespassing, like Jerome Murdough who unable to pay $2500 bail subsequently died in a Rikers Island solitary confinement cell, is more likely to be held in city jails than a Bernie Madoff, a Richard Haste, a John Gotti. And it is these indigent people who are subjected to solitary confinement and other abuses in city jails.
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
BDS attorneys will be on-hand to answer legal questions about immigration and criminal court issues. Come on out!
“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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in a family internship contact Megan Brown at email@example.com. If you are interested in an immigration internship contact Marie Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BDS’s own Shijuade Kadree (Staff Attorney, Family Defense Practice) and Gittel Kagan-Follman (Director of Social Work) discuss foster care in Brooklyn on BK Live.
Brooklyn Defender Services sent six of its investigators to the annual National Defender Investigation Association conference, held in New Orleans from April 23 to 25. At the conference, the investigators attended trainings on interviewing juveniles, staying safe in the field, interpreting police reports and confessions, the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse, building relationships with witnesses, and investigating child molestation cases.
The conference also included several keynote speeches. Anne-Marie Moyes, now a public defender in Nashville, discussed the years-long investigation she conducted before she became an attorney, which led to the reversal of a murder conviction for the man who later became her husband. Tom Ullmann and Matt Whalen, respectively a public defender and a public defense investigator in Connecticut, discussed their work representing a high-profile murder suspect who attracted hostile national media attention. And Jarrett Adams, the recipient of the NDIA’s Investigator of the Year award, spoke of his life, in which, after spending nearly a decade incarcerated on a wrongful conviction, he has become an investigator for the Federal Defenders in Chicago and is on his way to a law degree and a future as a public defender.
The BDS investigators also got the chance to meet many of the over 300 conference attendees, the vast majority of whom were also public defense investigators from around the country, and to attend a fundraiser dinner for the launch of the Ben Sullivan Investigator Fellowship, which will sponsor a new investigator position at Orleans Public Defenders in memory of Ben Sullivan, a former investigator in that office. With the BDS investigators newly enrolled as NDIA members, they look forward to building relationships with the organization and its members in the future, and to attending the NDIA next annual conference, sadly a full year away.
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.
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.
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.