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



The mission of Brooklyn Defender Services is to provide high quality legal representation and related services to people who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defender organization that represents nearly 35,000 people each year who are too poor to afford an attorney. Our staff consists of specialized attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals and administrative staff who are experts in their individual fields.

Our staff are highly qualified and specially trained to provide excellent legal representation to people charged with a crime or facing child welfare proceedings. Every client receives the services needed to defend his or her case, including an investigator to track down witnesses or recover evidence, a social worker to improve the life circumstances of our client and an excellent attorney who will analyze the legal issues in the case, try to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter and will represent the client at a trial.

BDS has many services for our clients on-site, including civil legal advocacy, such as assistance with educational needs of our clients or their children, housing and benefits advocacy and immigration advice and representation.

People who are arrested face many obstacles, even if their case was resolved in their favor. Some examples are loss of employment, suspension from school, eviction from public or private housing, deportation, forfeiture of property and loss of licenses. Our goal is to help clients with these issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law.

Each year, there are 100,000 arrests in Brooklyn. Eighty-five percent of these arrests are for misdemeanors or a non-criminal offense. Ninety percent of the people arrested cannot afford an attorney. Brooklyn Defender Services staffs the court so that every person has an attorney as soon as they see the judge.

One thousand families each year get a similar benefit—they too have an attorney waiting in the courtroom to help them on the very day that proceedings are filed for removal of their children.

Many of our clients are people with a mental illness. Many of our clients are under the age of 18. A growing number are veterans facing difficulties in returning home. A large portion are suffering with drug addiction or alcoholism. It is only through a zealous voice advocating for those unable to speak for themselves that justice is done. BDS is that voice.


  • Criminal Defense

  • Family Defense

  • Immigration

  • Civil Justice

  • Policy & Advocacy

  • Community Office


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Cindi Elibott Giglio, Treasurer
Suprotik Basu, Board Member
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Robert J. Gunther, Jr., Board Member
Jeffrey Rona, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is committed to high-quality and zealous representation on behalf of Brooklyn residents facing the criminal, family and immigration justice systems.   As part of this mission, BDS strives to ensure pro bono partnerships leverage resources and provide critical support for our clients in and out of the courtroom to ensure our clients obtain the best result possible in court and, hopefully, a better outcome in their lives.

BDS regularly partners with New York City’s major law firms, corporations and other members of the private bar on numerous cases from all of our practice areas.  Our pro bono partners have worked on individual cases, filed complaints in federal courts, co-authored amicus briefs, co-counseled hearings, filed and argued appeals and conducted research on novel areas of law.  BDS offers pro bono opportunities that not only present ideal opportunities for pro bono attorneys to get real courtroom experience and work with clients in need, but that result in just and better outcomes for our clients.  BDS offers both short- and long-term projects and has flexible co-counseling arrangements. Additionally, we offer comprehensive training programs, mentorship and supervision that will provide a meaningful experience for the pro bono attorney and the client.

Law firms, corporations, law-firm attorneys, and in-house counsel who are interested in joining Brooklyn Defender Services’ pro bono practice, please contact Molly Meltzer, Director of Pro Bono at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Retired or Transitioning Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities are welcomed at Brooklyn Defender Services. Our organization is one of the host organizations of the Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) established by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Please visit the NY Courts website to register for the program and contact us at pbvolunteer@bds.org.

Individual Volunteers are incorporated into our practices on an as-needed basis. Please send a resume and cover letter indicating particular skills you have that are applicable to our work and your specific availability to pbvolunteer@bds.org.


BDS opened its doors in 1996 as the first borough-specific public defender office in New York City, with 38 employees working around donated conference room tables out of office space recently vacated by the New York Telephone Co. That first year we lived rent-free, while the building was being renovated around us, and handled 10,000 cases.

Today, BDS is one of the largest defender offices in the country, representing tens of thousands of clients in criminal, family, immigration and civil cases annually. Our staff of 300 includes 180 attorneys and 120 social workers, investigators, paralegals, re-entry specialists, jail liaisons, community organizers and policy specialists as well as dedicated advocates for youth, veterans and parents. Our specialized defense approach allows us to provide targeted services for clients with mental illness or developmental disabilities, adolescent clients, trafficking victims and veterans.



Our primary mission at BDS is to represent people facing serious accusations from the government. We recognize that our clients face many additional challenges and obstacles related to their poverty. As the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, BDS’s interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on site to our clients, including immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, an education attorney and social workers who specialize in areas such as mental health and youth advocacy.


ARISE (Action for Reform in Special Education)

Attorney General Office Criminal Justice and Mental Health Roundtable

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Brooklyn Community Services

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association

Brownsville Community Justice Center


Caribbean American Center of New York


Center for Community Alternatives

Center  for Court Innovation

Center for Family Life

Child Welfare Organizing Project

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Christ Church Fellowship Baptist Church

Coalition for Effective Behavioral Health Reforms and Dignity in Schools Campaign

Common Justice

Drew House & Project Greenhope



Families for Freedom

Families Rising

Fortune Society

Good Shepherd Services

Haitian Centers Council

Haitian Family Resource Center

Haitian Legal Immigration Legal Assistance Program

Health Home Initiative

La Union

Lutheran Social Services

Medgar Evers College Adult Education Department

MFY Legal Service


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

New York State Bar Association

NY Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Coalition with Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy, Vera Institute, Cardozo Law School & Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

NYU Law School

Osborne Association


Parent Providers Coalition (Bronx Defenders, Center for Family Representation)

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Pro Bono Scholars

Ridgewood-Bushwick Young Adult Literacy Program

Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brighton-Manhattan Beach, Inc.

Shriver Center




Young New Yorkers



If you are a Brooklyn resident and cannot afford an attorney, BDS will provide free advice.

In fear of being arrested? Call 718-254-0700 and ask for the operator.

In fear of having your children removed? Call 347-592-2500.


Visit our Community Office in East New York, located at:
566 Livonia Ave. (Between Alabama & Georgia Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11207
(646) 971-2722

We accept walk-in consultations on a variety of legal issues including ACS/child welfare, housing, and criminal matters. The office also offers regular Know Your Rights workshops open to community members. Past training topics included education rights, seeking employment with a criminal record, and what to do when ACS knocks on your door.

Current BDS clients, if you need to connect with your attorney or social worker, it is possible to arrange meetings to be held at the community office.

The office also has a variety of informational material and community resources, including know your rights fact sheets, community events, and voter registration forms.

For more information, call (646) 971-2722.



BDS represents clients who have diverse, complex and multi-faceted needs, in a high volume and fast-paced setting. We seek to fill an attorney position in our Immigrant Youth and Communities (“Y&C”) team.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is seeking applications from experienced attorneys to represent clients in our Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Unit.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks an energetic help desk associate to become an integral part of the IT team and provide support for attorneys, social workers, and other support staff both in the office and in court.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS represents clients who have diverse, complex, and multi-faceted needs in a high-volume, fast-paced setting. We seek to fill a staff attorney position on the NYIFUP team of the Immigration Practice at BDS.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Criminal Defense Practice is currently accepting applications from practicing attorneys who would like to continue their careers as a criminal defense public defender with BDS. We are looking for attorneys with exceptional written and oral advocacy skills who bring creativity and passion to the defense of their clients. Candidates who have criminal defense experience are especially encouraged to apply.

Interested applicants should submit a current resume and a cover letter explaining their desire to join BDS and detailing their bar admission status, as well as their experience in the law and relevant criminal defense or related experience. Attorneys who are currently under a commitment to their present employers should wait until their commitment is nearing completion to apply.

Applications should be mailed to the attention of Richard LaFontaine, Esq., Director of Recruiting, Brooklyn Defender Services, 177 Livingston Street, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, or sent via email to cdpjobs@bds.org

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire a Civil Rights Attorney focused on immigration. The Civil Rights Attorney will assist in identifying, developing, and litigating affirmative immigration-related civil challenges seeking systemic reform that benefits BDS’s noncitizen clients.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire an Administrative Assistant to provide administrative support to the Community Office located in East New York, Brooklyn. The ideal candidate is someone with experience or knowledge of BDS’ work, and who feels deeply motivated by work rooted in community.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks to hire a Policy Attorney to work with the Policy and Advocacy Team covering a range of issues across all of BDS’ practice areas. The Policy Attorney position will report to the Director of Policy and Advocacy and work closely with the Executive Director.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire a currently-practicing or former public defender to leverage their knowledge and experience to manage a national new media advocacy convening and training for public defenders, curate an online hub and activation point for public defender driven content and campaigns, and foster a national community of public defender movement leaders.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire a relocation housing relocation specialist with a commitment to social justice to join our Civil Justice Practice. This position includes helping clients locate affording housing, which requires relevant knowledge about housing resources and options in New York City.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


In April 2017, New York State enacted statewide reforms intended to improve the right to counsel for people charged with a criminal offense, who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Amendments to New York County Law § 722-e and the addition of Executive Law § 832 (4) enacted by New York State Governor Cuomo and supported by the NYS legislature encourages and enables each criminal defense provider of legally mandated representation to furnish high quality, effective representation for every client. These recent legislative reforms offer public defense providers across the state the opportunity to hire additional attorneys, investigators, social workers and support staff and develop other resources to further their efforts in improving the overall quality of mandated representation.

Persons eager to explore opportunities within the New York State public defense arena who seek a challenging work environment that promotes diversity, embraces change, and provides leadership opportunities are encouraged to participate in this Public Defenders Career Fair.

See here for more information.


BDS seeks an Administrative Assistant to provide administrative support to attorneys in our Criminal Defense Practice. The ideal candidate is someone who works well with colleagues, can multi-task and is comfortable in a very fast-paced environment.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks an experienced social worker to team up with attorneys that provide comprehensive legal representation to youth age 14 to 21 with misdemeanor and felony charges.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services seeks an attorney with relevant experience to join our Education Advocacy Unit. BDS’ Education Advocacy Unit works with BDS’ clients and their families to identify their educational goals and then provide the necessary formal or informal advocacy.

See full job posting on idealist.org.


BDS Criminal Defense Practice will be interviewing third year law students this fall for full-time post-graduate positions that would begin in September 2019. Our interviewers will meet with candidates at the law schools and job fairs listed below:

Touro 8/14
St. John’s 9/12
Brooklyn Law 9/13
Cardozo 9/13
Northeastern 9/14
Hofstra 9/17
Pace 9/19
Fordham 9/20
Columbia 9/21
CUNY 9/24
NY Law 9/24
NYU 9/27
Mass Law Consortium 10/1,2
EJW 10/26,27

All interested candidates who are currently attending one of the law schools we will be visiting should apply for an interview through their institution’s on-campus interviewing (OCI) Symplicity system. Students who are not attending one of the schools should apply through one of the job fairs we are attending. Alternatively, students not attending one of the listed schools and not able to attend one of the job fairs may apply by submitting their cover letter and resume directly to cdpjobs@bds.org  before the December 1st, 2018 deadline.



Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire a staff attorney with a commitment to social justice to join our Civil Justice Practice in providing legal assistance with housing, public benefits, and other collateral consequences to clients involved with the criminal, family or immigration court systems.

See idealist.org for the full job posting.


BDS seeks an energetic social worker to become an integral part of the criminal defense team to advocate for clients, both in and out of court.

See full posting on idealist.org.


Criminal Defense Practice Brooklyn Defender Services’ intensive training program is designed for recent law graduates and attorneys who are new to the practice of criminal law in New York. Attorneys spend the first few weeks of their employment at BDS attending in-house lectures on various aspects of criminal defense, shadowing experienced attorneys and practicing their skills through simulations of various aspects of criminal practice.

The Appellate Division has granted us a student practice order which gives us the right to have law students and law graduates working for BDS to appear in court even though they are not yet admitted to practice law. This allows our interns, fellows and recent law graduates to handle cases with supervision.


Law Student Summer Internships

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.

Brooklyn Defender Services also offers full-time summer internships to law students who have completed their second year of law school and have a commitment to public defense. The internship program lasts eight weeks. Intern duties may include legal research and writing, representation of clients in arraignments (under supervision), court appearances, client and witness interviews, trial preparation and investigation assistance.

Our law student summer internship program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. To apply for a criminal position, please send a cover letter and a resume to Jillian Modzeleski at jmodzeleski@bds.org and Ashley Kloepfer at akloepfer@bds.org. If you are interested in a family defense internship contact Ambika Panday at apanday@bds.org.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.

Internships are also available with the BDS Immigration Practice in three focus areas: Padilla, where attorneys work closely with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky; the Youth and Communities Project providing BDS clients and Brooklyn residents with affirmative immigration benefits and removal defense; and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings. To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org with “Summer Internship” in the subject heading.

Postgraduate Law Fellowships

Brooklyn Defender Services hosts fellows to work in our office on special projects. Each year, we aim to identify law student fellowship applications that meet our mission of serving underprivileged clients in Brooklyn through innovative proposals. These include Equal Justice Works fellowships, Skadden fellows, and Soros fellowships among others. We additionally welcome law students from around the country whose law schools have fellowship placement options, particularly post-graduate fellowships. Applications for fellowships for the upcoming year are now closed.

BDS Immigration Practice Summer 2018 Internship 

Description and Responsibilities:

The Immigration Practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks summer 2018 law student interns. BDS is one of the largest public defense providers in the United States.  We represent more than 45,000 clients per year in a variety of legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense.

The Immigration Practice has three primary focus areas: Padilla, Youth and Communities, and NYIFUP.

First, Padilla attorneys work in close collaboration with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases, and to ensure clients are fully advised of those consequences pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. In some cases, Padilla attorneys continue to advocate for BDS clients after the criminal case is disposed. We advocate against our clients’ immigration detention, defend them in immigration removal proceedings, and provide assistance applying for immigration benefits.

Second, the Youth and Communities Project provides a full range of immigration legal services to BDS clients and Brooklyn residents, including removal defense and affirmative immigration benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), permanent residence, and victim and trafficking visas. We both identify clients in-house through our criminal and family defense practice and also participate in external clinics in close partnership with numerous community-based organizations.

Third, BDS serves as assigned counsel under the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings at the Varick Street Immigration Court and in non-detained removal proceedings if our efforts result in the clients’ release. NYIFUP attorneys provide ongoing representation to clients facing immigration detention and deportation on a wide array of defenses, applications, and other creative advocacy efforts.

Initially, Immigration Practice interns will be assigned to one of these three practice areas with the opportunity to work with multiple attorneys.  Based on interest, previous experience and capacity, the intern may also be able to be work in other practice areas.


We seek dynamic students currently enrolled in law school with a demonstrated commitment to defending immigrants accused and/or convicted of crimes. Applicants should have a strong substantive background in immigrant rights, criminal justice, and/or social justice issues. Applicants should also possess the ability to perform nuanced legal research and writing, to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, and to be a team player.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available. Most summer interns work full-time for 10-12 weeks, although we will consider split summers on a case by case basis.


Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, or other second-language fluency is preferred but not required.

Application Instructions:

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org. We are no longer accepting applications for summer 2018. Inquiries for term-time positions are still welcome.

Education Unit Internship

The Education Unit provides legal representation and informal advocacy to our school-age clients and the school-age children of our clients. As a legal and social work team, we work to improve our clients’ access to education, and a significant portion of our advocacy relates to school discipline, special education, reentry from incarceration and suspension, and enrollment in credit recovery or high school equivalency programs.


  •  Collaborate with attorneys and social workers in the criminal, family and immigration practices to address the educational needs of BDS clients;
  •  Conduct legal research on various special education issues and draft corresponding memos;
  •  Assist in special education and school disciplinary matters, including conducting client interviews, sending and following up on record requests, and attending meetings with an education attorney or social worker; and
  •  Help clients and their families navigate services and opportunities available through the NYC Department of Education.


  •  A current 1L or 2L with a demonstrated commitment to social justice;
  •  Interest in working on behalf of youth and their families involved in the criminal, family welfare or immigration systems;
  •  Able to work in collaborative teams;
  •  Strong legal research and writing skills; and
  •  Proactive, flexible, and able to think both creatively and practically.

The position will be full-time and will last approximately ten weeks. The anticipated start date for summer interns is June 6, 2018. All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.

Application Instructions:

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and writing sample to kfarkas@bds.org and maccomando@bds.org with the subject line “Summer 2018 Education Internship.” We will accept applications on a rolling basis up until April 1, 2018. Candidates selected for interviews will be contacted.

Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with an interest in and a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigators locate, interview and take detailed statements from the witnesses, run background checks on witnesses and police officers, review video surveillance footage, draft and serve subpoenas, photograph and diagram crime scenes, and transcribe audio recordings. Investigative assistants additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigator team.

While some of the investigative assistant’s work will take place in the office, much of it will be out in the field—in private homes, in local businesses, on the street and in the greater community. Ideal applicants should be comfortable working all over Brooklyn and should possess characteristics necessary to approach and interact with strangers about sensitive subjects. Candidates must be able to work in a collaborative setting and be able to produce high-quality written work.

The internship has a rolling admission deadline, and start and end dates can accommodate academic schedules. The internship will start with an intensive, multi-disciplinary two-week training where the interns will rotate shadowing some of our staff investigators. Investigative assistants will learn about our progressive approach to representation, our different practice areas and the laws and ethics involved in investigation. Following the initial training period, investigative assistants will continue to receive ongoing training and supervision from an experienced staff investigator who will serve as a mentor and will be responsible for assigning cases.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal justice, especially the fields of criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– Strong writing ability
– Fluency in another language is highly desired, but not required

This internship is unpaid. We strongly encourage interns to apply to grants, fellowships or any other funding available through school or third-party organizations. Interns will be provided with unlimited monthly metro cards for the duration of their internship.

To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to Bailey Kilkuskie at bkilkuskie@bds.org with the subject “Investigative Assistant Application.” Please specify which cycle you are applying to work for and if you will be working full or part time (e.g., Summer 2018, full time). Resumes and cover letters will only be accepted by email; no phone calls, please. If selected for an interview, applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.”





Criminal Law Reform Issues

Adolescent Justice

  • BDS Supports Raising the Age of Youthful Offender Status, A.4743B (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • Check out our one-pager on Raising the Age of YO here.


  • BDS supports the Assembly Bail Reform proposal, A.10137A (PDF ) – May 29, 2018
  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Bail Reform, A9955 & S3579A/A5033A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Supports Reform of Laws Governing Charitable Bail Organizations, A4880A/S4776A (PDF ) – February 9, 2017


  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Discovery Reform, A4360A, S7722/A10135, & S6848/A7292 (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • Check out the Repeal the #BlindfoldLaw Coalition one-pager on the urgent need for discovery reform here.

Drug Enforcement

  • BDS Strongly Opposes Increased Penalties for Opioids & K2 (PDF ) – March 26, 2018

Employment Collateral Consequences

  • BDS Responds and Proposes Amendments to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Elimination of Parole Fee and Changes to Conviction-Related Barrier to Employment and Participation in Education Councils in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Gravity Knives

  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – October 11, 2017
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – June 28, 2016
  • Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.
  • BDS Memos in Support of Bills to Decriminalize Possession of Common Workers’ Utility Knives, (A4821/S3675 PDF) (A9042/S6483 PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • Memo of Support to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” S3675/A.4821 (PDF ) – April 23, 2015

Immigrants Rights

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Protect Our Courts Act, A11013A/S8925 (PDF ) – June 14, 2018

Jail and Prison Conditions

  • BDS Supports Access to Feminine Hygiene Products in NYS Jails and Prisons, S6176/A588A (PDF ) – June 14, 2017

Police Asset Forfeiture

  • BDS Response to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Changes to Asset Forfeiture in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Prostitution and Trafficking

  • BDS Memo in Support for Expanding New York’s Vacatur Law for Survivors of Trafficking, S4997/A4540 (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support for Repeal of New York’s Penal Law 240.37, S8107A/A9704A (PDF ) – June 1, 2018


  • BDS Memo in Support for Legislation to Seal Certain Criminal Convictions and “Ban the Box” on Job Applications, A2699/ S5593 & A2990/S2029 (PDF ) – June 12, 2015

Solitary Confinement 

  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A3080B/S4784A (PDF ) – March 8, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support of Restricting Segregated Confinement for Juveniles and Special Populations, A1346A & A1347 (PDF ) – April 3, 2015

Speedy Trial

  • BDS Memo in Support of Speedy Trial Reform – Kalief’s Law, S7006B & A3055A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Releases Statement in Support of Kalief’s Law, S5988A/A8296A (PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law, S5988/A7841 (PDF ) – August 18, 2015


Child Welfare Law Reform Issues

Adoption Subsidies

  • BDS Supports Amendments to Monthly Adoption Subsidies to Foster Parents, S6518/A8313 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Family Court ACDs

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – April 16, 2018
  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – May 8, 2017

Kinship Care

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Kinship Guardianship Assistance Legislation, S4833/A7554 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Post-Termination Contact

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, S5790/A8020 (PDF ) – November 1, 2017
  • Preserving Family Bonds Coalition Joint Memo in Support (PDF ) – June 19, 2017
  • BDS Calls on the Governor to Sign Law to Codify Existing Practices Prioritizing and Supporting Sibling Relationships (PDF )- July 28, 2016


February 4, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Client Experience at HRA Centers. (PDF)

January 16, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Evaluating Programs that Aim to Reduce Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Youth. (PDF)

December 19, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on the Need for Legal Representation in Immigration Court Under Trump. (PDF)

December 3, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice and the Justice System Oversight Hearing: “Why Does the City Make it so Hard to Post Bail?” (PDF)

November 27, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Justice System and General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Removals from Parents and Caretakers In Child Welfare Cases. (PDF)

BDS testifies before New York Senators Luis Sepúlveda and Gustavo Rivera’s Public Forum on New York State’s Parole Process, Structure of the Parole Board, and Data Indicating Systemic Bias in Parole Decisions. (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Committee on Hospitals, Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction and Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Correctional Health (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration, Health & General Welfare on the impact of the proposed “public charge” rule in NYC (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS submits testimony to the NYS Assembly in support of guaranteed access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in New York’s prisons and jails (PDF)

October 25, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Governmental Operations and Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on Language Access Implementation Plans. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on Pay Hearing and Retention Rates for ADAs and Public Defenders (PDF)

October 16, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly on legalizing the adult use of marijuana (PDF)

Shakira Kennedy, an advocate and parent who is represented by BDS’ Family Defense Practice, testifies before the New York State Assembly on the harms of cannabis prohibition on New York’s racially and economically marginalized families (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Education on employment and school transportation (PDF)

October 3, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Governmental Operations and Criminal Justice on voting rights for people on parole (PDF)

September 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on the Cost of Justice (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York State Commission on Parental Legal Representation (See PDF for attachments)

September 17, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration and the Committee on Youth Services Oversight Hearing on LGBTQ immigrant youth in NYC (PDF)

September 6, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees Immigration and Youth Services Oversight Hearing on Abolishing ICE (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Criminal Justice and Women Oversight Hearing Examining Sexual Abuse and Harassment in City Jails (PDF)

July 12, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the impacts of the Trump Administration Family Separation Policy in NYC (PDF)

June 21, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Criminal Court (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Gang Takedown Effects (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS Submits Comments to the NYS Dept. of Financial Services & NYS Dept. of State Listening Session on Abuses by the Bail Bond Industry (PDF)

May 2, 2018 

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the harm of the commercial bail bond industry (PDF)

April 24, 2018

BDS submits written testimony to the  NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on NYC Support for Immigrant Parents of Children Ages 0-5 Years (PDF)

April 23, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Safety and Security in City Jails (PDF)

April 18, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on  NYC’s Preparedness to Raise the Age and Reso. 0283-2018 (PDF)

March 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Budget Hearing on Immigration (PDF)

February 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Justice System on Issues with Criminal Discovery Practices (PDF )

February 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council in Support of Marijuana Legalization and, in the Interim, Immediately Ending Marijuana Arrests and Prosecutions (PDF  )

January 11, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly Hearing on Legalizing & Regulating Adult Sale and Possession of Marijuana and its Prospective Effects on Public Health and the Criminal Legal System (PDF  )

December 14, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Oversight Hearing on Examining Forensic Science Practices in the NYPD Crime Lab and OCME (PDF )

December 4, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Progress in Closing Rikers (PDF )

November 28, 2017

BDS comments: Proposed state regulations on solitary confinement in local jails only codify the practice of torture (PDF )

November 21, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on NYPD’s role in school safety and efforts to improve school climate (PDF )

November 16, 2017

BDS, along with 100 community and advocacy groups across NYS, submit letter to Governor Cuomo with recommendations for changes to New York’s pretrial detention system

November 15, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council’s Oversight Hearing on the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (PDF )

October 30, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Healthcare in NYS Prisons and Local Jails (PDF )

October 26, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Reentry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF )

October 25, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council oversight hearing on violence in city jails (PDF )

October 23, 2017

Do You Qualify to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed? A BDS One-Pager. (PDF )

October 16, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety (PDF )

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Technology on Algorithm Transparency (PDF )

September 27, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth (PDF )

September 20, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Aging in support of Int. No. 1616–– a Local Law in relation to establishing a temporary task force on post-conviction reentry for older adults (PDF )

September 18, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Hearing on New York’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts (PDF )

September 13, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee oversight hearing on Best Practices for NYC Agencies, Courts, And Law Enforcement Authorized to Certify Immigrant Victims for U and T Visas (PDF )

September 7, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety  & Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services joint Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Responses to Persons in Mental Health Crisis (PDF )



Brooklyn Defender Services handles approximately 40 percent of the overall criminal cases for the Borough of Brooklyn, making our client profile indicative, if not entirely representational, of the wider law enforcement trends across the city, as they pertain to arrests, custody and court adjudication.



BDS’s Special Litigation Counsel works with BDS defenders and clients, outside counsel and activists, to identify systemic criminal justice deficiencies and constitutional violations that unjustly affect criminal justice outcomes for our clients. Once identified, special litigation lawyers strategically litigate those issues in State and Federal courts to improve both process and outcomes for all accused New Yorkers. From challenging unreasonable bail conditions when a case starts to overbroad barriers to re-entry when it’s over, BDS is striving to make the criminal justice system accountable to those it intends to serve through its growing impact litigation practice.


Brooklyn Defender Services has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise on the complexities that inform our client’s lives and their involvement in the justice system. BDS works with each of the courts and other stakeholders to improve procedures and policies that affect our clients in each of the courts where we are the institutional provider.

As zealous advocates for our clients and the communities we serve, it is also our duty to contribute to the larger conversations taking place within the criminal, family and immigration justice systems in order to facilitate meaningful changes. Through our presence on working groups and coalitions, the use of our external communications, position papers, blog, and other forums we seek to educate system players, legislators and community members about the critical issues facing our clients and give voice to some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.





By Christina Goldbaum for the New York Times

Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Facing serious overcrowding in immigration courts, federal authorities in New York adopted a high-tech solution last year: Immigrants would be kept in detention centers for their legal proceedings, appearing before judges only by videoconference.

Now, a new lawsuit claims that the policy infringes upon immigrants’ constitutional rights in a deliberate attempt to speed up and increase deportations.

Read full article at NYtimes.com.




February 13, 2019

Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, 347-592-2579, dball@bds.org


Detained Immigrants and New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Providers Sue U.S. Government over Refusal to Produce Detained Immigrants In-Person for Deportation Hearings

Lawsuit Seeks to Restore the Constitutional and Statutory Rights of Hundreds of Detained Immigrants by Ending ICE’s Blanket Use of Video Teleconferencing at Varick Street Immigration Court

(NEW YORK, NY) Late yesterday, seven immigrants, representing a class of all detained immigrants in the New York City area, and the three New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) providers—Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), The Legal Aid Society (LAS), and The Bronx Defenders (BxD)—filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) refusal to bring immigrants to court for deportation hearings. Instead of letting detained immigrants appear in court, ICE has been forcing them to use a video connection to challenge their detention and deportation.

ICE’s policy of denying in-person hearings when immigrants’ liberty, family unity, and potential exile is at stake is a cruel extension of the federal administration’s aggressive efforts to deny immigrants equal justice and due process.

[Link to complaint.]

For the first four and a half years of NYIFUP, in-person hearings ensured that detained immigrants had an opportunity to fully access the courts and participate in their defense during removal proceedings and allowed attorneys to more effectively represent and meaningfully protect their clients’ rights and interests.

Without warning, ICE’s New York Field Office announced on June 27, 2018 that starting that day, removal proceedings at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City would be conducted exclusively by video teleconferencing (VTC). Immigrants detained by ICE would appear by video feed from the county jail at which they are held—disconnected from the court, their lawyers, evidence presented by the Government, and their case.

The Plaintiffs are asking the federal court to enforce the government’s constitutional and statutory obligation to provide detained immigrants with due process, to ensure access to the courts, and to preserve the right of clients to communicate with their attorneys.  BDS, LAS, BxD, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP represent the class and the organizational plaintiffs.

“Because of ICE’s refusal to bring our clients and other detained immigrants to court, hundreds of immigrants are unable to fully and fairly participate in their own hearings to decide their freedom, whether they can stay with their families or whether they will be deported to persecution or, even death,” said Andrea Saenz, Attorney-in-Charge of NYIFUP at Brooklyn Defender Services, “This policy is not just a small administrative change – it goes to the heart of whether our clients will get a fair day in court to contest their deportation. We, as a society, owe due process to people facing such enormous consequences—not to lock them up and show them a TV screen where they cannot properly hear the judge, speak to their lawyers, or see their loved ones in-person.”

“When ICE stopped the in-person production of detained immigrants at the Varick Street Immigration Court, it was not only an affront to the dignity and humanity of our most vulnerable clients, but a direct assault on their fundamental due process rights to be present during their hearing and trials,” said Jennifer Williams, Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, “The refusal to produce policy has effectively sanitized the immigration courtrooms of our clients’ raw human emotions and experiences, which are at the heart of these proceedings, and is preventing effective and meaningful representation by their attorneys.  This policy is yet another example of the Administration’s goal to carry out swift deportations without due process of law.”

“ICE’s refusal to bring New Yorkers to the immigration courts in which their fates will be determined represents yet another effort by this administration to deport as many people, with as few protections, as possible,” said Sarah Deri Oshiro, Managing Director of The Bronx Defenders’ Immigration Practice. “This is a bald attempt to punish a ‘sanctuary city’ and undermine the successes of the nation’s first universal representation program which has ensured that hundreds of families have remained united.”

“We are proud to be part of this important lawsuit to vindicate the constitutional and statutory rights of detained immigrants in the New York area,” said Robert Gunther, a partner at WilmerHale. “ICE’s policy of refusing in-person hearings is wrong on every level and is just the latest effort on the part of the current administration to deny rights to those most in need of our compassion and our help.”

“Detained immigrants are guaranteed a right to due process, and the ICE policy infringes on that right,” said Susan Gittes, a partner at Debevoise.  “The hearings taking place by video teleconference are totally inconsistent with the bedrock principles of our judicial system—judges are forced to make credibility determinations while separated by video screen, detained immigrants cannot confidentially confer with their attorneys during proceedings, and detained immigrants with intellectual disabilities or in need of interpretation services may not even be able to understand the hearings that determine their rights. These plaintiffs have a right to fair hearings and full access to their counsel, and this lawsuit seeks to restore those rights.”


The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, run collectively by Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, and The Legal Aid Society, is the first program in the nation providing publicly-funded counsel to immigrants detained and facing deportation and separation from their families and communities.



Today, Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), RAICES, and ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) are announcing the launch of the “While They Wait” (whiletheywait.org) campaign, which includes a new fund and call to action to help raise awareness and support for immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum and/or facing family separation. There are over 1 million immigrants, including 300,000 asylum seekers, currently living in the United States, who are going through the legal steps to gain immigration status. This campaign is being launched in tandem with the release of the new music video directed by Jake Schreier, for the song “I Found You / Nilda’s Story” by benny blanco, Calvin Harris, and Miguel.

Read full press release here.



December 11, 2018

Contact: Daniel Ball

(347) 592-2579



(Brooklyn, NY) – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, issued the following statement on the Dismissal of Charges against Jazmine Headley:

“The charges against Jazmine Headley relating to the violent arrest she suffered at an HRA office in Brooklyn have been dismissed. We are filing a special application to ask the judge to release her on the New Jersey matter today. If the judge does not grant this application, she is scheduled to be transferred to New Jersey tomorrow.

Ms. Headley is still detained at Rikers, for the fifth day away from her infant son. Brooklyn Defender Services has been frequently visiting her and speaking with her on the phone, and she is staying strong. We are keeping her updated on the public attention her case has received and she is heartened by the outcry and support.

I hope District Attorney Eric Gonzalez analyzes his office’s procedures do that cases like Jazmine’s are not prosecuted in the future.”

About Brooklyn Defender Services

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a non-profit public defense office in Brooklyn, New York. BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration and other civil legal services, and social work support to over 30,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year.




(Brooklyn, NY) – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, issued the following statement regarding the violent mistreatment of our client Jazmine Headley at a SNAP office in Brooklyn:

“We are appalled by the abuse that our client Ms. Headley and her 1 year-old son suffered at the hands of the NYPD, and we question why police were ever involved. In our experience, people are often treated abysmally when seeking support from many of the city bureaucracies that are supposed to be helping them. While their experiences are not always caught on video, they tell us about their struggles – from randomly terminated benefits to hours-long wait times and hostile security staff. We appreciate elected officials’ calls for investigations of the response by NYPD and the actions of HRA security staff. A social services agency whose mission is to provide critical support for vulnerable New Yorkers must treat all people with dignity and compassion, and should not call the police for this type of matter. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office should immediately dismiss the charges. Further, ACS should respect the family and ensure their immediate reunification.”


About Brooklyn Defender Services

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a non-profit public defense office in Brooklyn, New York. BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration and other civil legal services, and social work support to over 30,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year.



Our immigrant clients need your help.

Exorbitant application fees are often the only thing keeping them from obtaining lawful status, supporting their families, and living a life out from under the shadows and fear of deportation.

This Giving Tuesday, you can help break this barrier by donating to our Immigration Fees Fund.

Your support has already helped dozens of our clients pay for DACA application forms ($495), green card renewals ($540), work authorizations ($410), medical exams ($175-300), and more.

Here are some of their stories:

  • BDS helped a father of three facing deportation win his immigration case and stay in the United States. However, because he could not afford the fee required for him to work, his family faced eviction from their home. Our Immigration Fees Fund helped him get authorization and support his family.
  • A mother struggling with poverty and homelessness lost her documents that proved her lawful immigration status, which she needed to apply for Medicaid. Our Immigration Fees Fund covered the cost of her green card application so she could access the benefits needed to keep her family together.
  • A father was facing the very real possibility of detention and/or deportation if his I-130 immigration application (based on his children’s U.S. resident status) wasn’t filed ASAP. Out of work because of a recent car accident, the $535 fee was out of the question. Donations to our Immigration Fees Fund covered this cost.
You can help more families like these with a one-time or recurring donation to our Immigration Fees Fund. We thank you for your support.



Brooklyn Defender Services is excited to invite our neighbors and partners to join us in celebration of the one year anniversary of BDS’ Community Office at 566 Livonia Ave.

We are thrilled to have a presence in East New York and to serve Brooklyn residents with legal information, education and assistance.

Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP here.





Hemangi Pai – Criminal Defense Practice




Presented before

The New York City Council

Committee on Justice System

            Oversight Hearing on the Cost of Justice

September 27, 2018


My name is Hemangi Pai and I am a senior staff attorney in the criminal defense practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). Our organization provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy in nearly 35,000 cases involving indigent Brooklyn residents every year. I am a senior staff attorney on the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team (BART), a specialized unit at BDS made up of dedicated attorneys and social workers who represent over two thousand adolescents ages 13-24 annually. During my tenure at BDS, I have defended hundreds of young people accused of crimes in Brooklyn’s criminal and Supreme Court.

I thank the New York City Council Committee on Justice System, and in particular Chairperson Rory Lancman, for the opportunity to testify about the use of monetary penalties in our criminal legal system. On any given day, thousands of indigent people plead guilty to crimes or non-criminal violations and become burdened with various court-imposed fines, fees and surcharges that they have no ability to pay. This continues to be an issue that disproportionately impacts poor defendants and their families, particularly those who are Black and Latinx.


Monetary penalties have a deep and pernicious impact on people with criminal legal system involvement. These penalties include: bail, fines, restitution, and child support obligations that are ordered by the court. New Yorkers may also be subject to surcharges, user fees, late fees, payment plan fees, and interest. Unpaid debt often accumulates, making it more difficult to pay, affecting a person’s employment options, credit applications, ability to obtain loans and housing, driver’s license, and sometimes even leading to incarceration.

Fines and fees are an enormous source of income for state and local entities. In 2017, for example, village and town courts in New York State collected a total of $171 million in 2017 just for traffic tickets and other minor violations.[1] In the same year, the New York State Office of Court Administration reported an intake of $607 million from all state, county and city remedies, though not all of that revenue came from defendants or their families.[2]

As with most aspects of the criminal legal system, monetary penalties disproportionately impact poor Black and Latinx people and their families. The legal system’s reliance on financial penalties siphons much-needed money from already vulnerable communities and deepens inequality in our society.

Client Story

A few years ago, the BDS adolescent team represented Maria, a high school student with no prior criminal record who was accused of a misdemeanor. Maria participated in Young New Yorkers, an eight-week youth arts program, and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation that allowed her to avoid a permanent criminal record. However, people convicted of violations are required to pay a mandatory surcharge of $95, with a crime victim assistance fee of $25, for a total of $120.

Maria was still in high school and had no source of income or immediate job prospects. Maria lived with her mom, who did not have a job or any other source of income. Though the court deferred the payment to a later date, she would be subject to a civil judgment if she could not pay the $120 by the court-required deadline. A civil judgment would act as a lien against future property and would have remained on Maria’s credit score for up to seven years, even if she managed to pay it off, limiting her ability to obtain school loans, rent an apartment, secure employment, and even obtain healthcare. BDS filed a resentencing motion on behalf of Maria, in the interest of justice, and we convinced a judge to waive the surcharge, allowing Maria to graduate high school and pursue her dream of going to college without these mandatory and unaffordable surcharges and fees hanging over her head.

Another recent example is Marcus, a Black teenager, whom we represented after he was brought into late-night arraignments because he failed to pay a fee on a marijuana summons a few months earlier. The warrant squad arrested him at his home and took him into custody, where he remained for hours before he was finally brought before the judge. To the credit of the King’s County DA’s Office, once the Assistant District Attorney saw the charge, they immediately dismissed the case. But Marcus still suffered the indignity of being forced from his home in handcuffs and detained in a putrid holding cell because he was too poor to pay the fine for engaging in behavior that is now legal in seven other states, and that white people throughout New York City regularly engage in without fear of arrest or fines.[3]

Mary and Marcus are just two of the hundreds of clients that I and the rest of the BART team represent every year who are impacted by heavy fines and fees that limit their ability to overcome their previous criminal legal system involvement. We call on the Council to require more extensive reporting on this issue and to join with advocates to call on the state legislature to end, wherever possible, this systemic extraction of wealth from poor people.

 Fines and Fees


Fines are monetary punishments for infractions, non-criminal violations, misdemeanors or felonies. Fines are usually intended to deter crime and compensate victims for losses, but given the broader inequalities in our criminal legal system, they unduly burden poor defendants and their families. Depending on the conviction, fines can be used as an alternative to incarceration, but in many cases, if a person cannot pay then they will be incarcerated. Currently, the statute for collection of fines and surcharges stipulates that payments are first allocated to surcharges, then to fines, which is problematic because non-payments of fines can land a person in jail.[4] Some common fines are listed below:


  Level/Type of Offense Fine Amount Notes
Crimes Felonies (A-I, A-II, B, C) $15,000 – $100,000[5]  
  A misdemeanor $1,000 or double the value of the property disposed of in the commission of the crime[6]  
  B misdemeanor $500[7]  
Non-Criminal Violations Violation $250 or as specified for the violation[8]  
  Disorderly behavior Up to $200[9]


Vehicle and Traffic Law Violations Traffic infraction $75 to $2,000[10]  
  Traffic misdemeanor $300 to $2,500  
  Traffic felony (E, D) $1,000 to $10,000[11]  
Prison and Jail Infractions NYCDOC disciplinary infraction $25 per ticket/rule violation[12] This usually is in conjunction with other punishment such as solitary confinement and other restrictions, essentially a perverse system where individuals pay to be locked up in “The Box.”
  NYSDOCCS disciplinary infraction $5 per infraction Same as above.



Fees are itemized payments for court activities, supervision or incarceration charged to a defendant found guilty of infractions, misdemeanors or felonies or individuals who have not been charged and are going through the criminal justice process. Fees serve as a regressive form of punishment because criminal debt presents an increasingly larger burden for a person on the lower end of the income scale. Moreover, when a person cannot pay the cash amount of the court-mandated financial penalty upfront, their debt only grows with payment plans fees, late payment fees or interest. We list below many, but not all, of the fees that typically burden our clients and their families.

Surcharges and fees:

  • Mandatory surcharges[13]
    • Felony – $300 and a $25 crime victim assistance fee
    • Misdemeanor – $175 and a $25 crime victim assistance fee
    • Violation – $95 and a $25 crime victim assistance fee
  • DWI probation administrative fee – $30 per month[14]
  • Parole supervision fee – $30 per month[15]
  • DNA databank fee (including for people who have already had their DNA taken) – $50[16]
  • Sex offender registration fee – $50[17]
  • Supplemental sex offender victim fee – $1,000[18]
  • Supervision fee while in prison – $1 per week[19]
  • Termination of license fee – $100[20]
  • Administrative fee of 3% on every credit card bail payment
  • Non-refundable 2.49% fee per transaction for online bail payments
  • Fee for obtaining one’s own RAP sheet (which may be riddled with errors) – $65

As we know from Intro. No. 741, a bill the Council recently passed to make domestic phone calls in Department of Correction facilities free to people in city jails and their families, our system has many egregious user fees that often go unnoticed unless brought to the forefront by advocates and elected officials. We want to reiterate our thanks to Speaker Johnson and the Committee on Criminal Justice for passing Intro. No. 741 and hope we can continue the momentum towards eliminating other costs that burden indigent people and their families.

The reality is that paying fines, fees or any monetary penalty comes with a very real human cost. Every time a person shows up to court to resolve their case or make payments towards their financial penalty they have to take off from work, which means potentially losing income for that day or days. People who are reliant on the subway have to pay $2.75 per ride to get to and from the courthouse to go before the judge or to make payments at the courthouse. The money they pay could have gone toward rent, food, medicine, or other necessities.

Punishments for people who cannot pay their criminal debt

Fines and fees incurred during the criminal legal process may follow people months or years after their case is resolved. Even for people who have not been sentenced to jail or prison, the non-payment of monetary sanctions may lead to unnecessary warrants, arrests, incarceration or probation revocations. For people on parole, failure to pay the supervision fee can be used as a reason to deny early discharge or a person’s application for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.[21] Unfortunately, our clients are sometimes rearrested and sentenced to up to 15 days in jail for failure to pay these fees. When we ask for an indigency hearing to prevent our clients from incarceration for inability to pay, judges may be skeptical, asking why our clients asked for time to pay in the first place if they could not actually do so. Financial hardship is not static – for many of our clients living paycheck to paycheck or on fixed incomes, their ability to afford their day-to-day expenses can change quickly and unexpectedly. But for people interacting with the criminal legal system and experiencing poverty, these changes that make it impossible for a person to pay a fine or fee may result in incarceration, exacerbating harm to both our clients and their families, simply because they are poor.

Fines also follow our clients who are sentenced to jail or prison time. People in City jails may have their minimal wages or commissary accounts garnished to pay off accumulated fines, surcharges and fees. The state prisons system may also garnish payment from an incarcerated person’s commissary account, money earned from work release programs or any source of income or money in a person’s possession. For people incarcerated in upstate prisons who owe criminal legal debt and are paid pennies for every hour worked, the state removes 20 percent from their commissary every two weeks and 50 percent of any money added to their account by a loved one or family members.[22] Also, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision regularly takes two percent of funds in a commissary account for the $40 (also known as “gate money”) given to every person upon their release.[23] The parallels between slavery and Jim Crow and this nearly-unpaid work scheme for incarcerated people are staggering and are not lost on our clients and their families. Our clients frequently tell us that fines and fees limit their ability to overcome their criminal legal system interactions and move on with their lives.

How is the money being allocated?

It takes a great amount of time and research to track these fines through the criminal legal system and figure out how they are being allocated. I am sure we do not know all the ways the city and state use money that extracts from poor New Yorkers who become involved in the criminal legal system, but we are sure that it is not being reinvested into more needed programs or into the communities as viable resources. However, we were able to find out some of the places where money is being allocated. Based on the Criminal Court of the City of New York 2016 Annual Report, $29,828,600 was generated from fines, summons, DNA fees, transcript fees, bail and more.[24] This money went to the “operational cost of the unified court system.” A New York State Commission of Correction report found that as of March 2017, “there was $3,538,419.60 waiting to be transferred to the Police Property Payable Fund.”[25] This figure refers to money that belonged to incarcerated people that was not returned to them after their release. BDS is well acquainted with how difficult it is for our clients to have their own money returned to them after their release from DOC custody. It is unconscionable that the City has not improved this process and allows the police to utilize this money to continue to target and arrest poor people of color. In short, it is unscrupulous for our city and state to collect money from impoverish communities and not be transparent about how and where the money is being allocated.

Racial biases in arrests and summonses generate revenue for the criminal legal system and perpetuate harm

Fines and fees are particularly problematic because of the intentional discrimination, racial bias and stereotyping of Black, Latinx and immigrant communities that leads to the racial disparities that are well-documented at every stage of the criminal legal system.[26] It is unconscionable that in our progressive city we continue to create and bolster more ways to extract money out of low-income communities of color, while neglecting to sufficiently invest in them as a means to prevent the continuous interaction with the justice system.

Pushed by advocates for criminal justice reform, and in this era of heightened awareness about racial disparities in NYPD enforcement and the immigration impacts of criminalization, New York City has begun to reduce arrests for certain low-level offenses. Indeed, misdemeanor arrests have declined in most categories. However, it is important to recognize replacing racially targeted arrests with racially targeted summonses does not end the harm. Criminal summonses, which can result in warrants that trigger pre-trial detention upon arrest, and civil summonses, which can damage a person’s credit and even trigger debt collection, are not the answer to an unequal criminal legal system. This is particularly true for offenses linked to poverty, such as fare evasion, where hefty fines are clearly out of reach for those who could not afford a $2.75 fare in the first place. Instead, we should question the impulse toward punishment altogether, and pursue models of support and harm reparation that do not involve police.

Impact on young people

On any given day, hundreds of indigent young people plead guilty and become burdened with various court-imposed fines, fees and surcharges that they have no ability to pay. This includes children 16 and 17 who, even after Raise the Age is fully implemented, will be forced to pay $120 in fees if convicted of disorderly conduct. These court costs discriminate heavily against the poorest young people. Young people from middle-class families who can afford to pay the court costs on their behalf face a mere inconvenience while young people from poor families face what is in many cases a longer lasting punishment than the sentence. When a person cannot pay the costs associated with criminal justice involvement, these costs are entered as a civil judgment against them. A civil judgment ruins young people’s fledgling credit scores before they even have a chance to develop them and erects barriers to becoming responsible income-earning adults. A civil judgment on a credit score affects the young person’s future applications for apartments, employment, car loans and even student loans, even though these resources are correlated with reducing recidivism.


City Actions

The City should compile a comprehensive list of all the user fees, fines and surcharges that exist within the criminal legal system, imposed at the state and city level, and document the total revenue generated, where it is going and how it is spent. This information should be easily accessible to the public, so that people facing criminal justice involvement and their families can know the costs that they potentially face.

The Council should also require reporting on the number of New York City residents who are incarcerated or had their driver’s license suspended because of their inability to pay a fine, surcharge or fee and the number of civil judgments issued against defendants by the courts.

If the City imposes any user fees on criminal defendants, the Council should eliminate them or allow judges or clerks to waive them for indigent people. Additionally, the City should eliminate other costs imposed on incarcerated people and their families, such as JPAY service charges and fines for alleged infractions in city jails.

The City should assess current criminal debt collection practices, with particular attention to the practices of private debt collection agencies. Often there are little to no enforceable regulations when people attempt to seek recourse against these entities for abuse or misconduct.

Supporting State Reforms

The Council should join with advocates to call on the New York State Legislature to eliminate or significantly limit most court fines and fees and call for broader discretion for judges to waive them for indigent defendants. People should never be incarcerated due to failure to pay criminal court debt, especially if the court has not made an ability-to-pay determination. People should never be saddled with a civil judgment for failure to pay criminal legal debt absent a court determination that they are not indigent (i.e., able to pay without unreasonable hardship). Fees and fines should be tailored to an individual’s ability to pay and courts should be allowed to reduce or eliminate such fines and fees based on a person’s change in circumstances.

One suggestion is to pass a Resolution in favor of A.9786/S.7917, a bill that passed the New York State Assembly earlier this year, that would authorize judges to waive certain surcharges and fees for a defendant under the age of 21 under certain circumstances. That said, BDS believes that all indigent people, regardless of age, should not be burdened with the financial responsibility for our legal system.


Financial penalties exacerbate both the economic and emotional distress for impoverished families involved in the criminal legal system. These penalties force families to choose between paying court fines and fees or paying for basic needs such as rent or food, putting pressure on family ties. This hearing is an important first step in better understanding the problems associated with fines and fees and the burdens they impose on our communities, but further investigation is necessary to provide a full understanding of what steps the Council can take to address this problem.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this important issue. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Saye Joseph, Policy Associate, 718-254-0700 ext. 206 or scjoseph@bds.org.

[1] Michelle Breidenbach, 50 Upstate NY towns that collect most fines for speeding, traffic violations, New York Upstate, July 26, 2018, available at https://www.newyorkupstate.com/expo/news/erry-2018/07/ab2e7d572e1626/50-upstate-ny-towns-that-colle.html.

[2] New York State Unified Court System 2017 Annual Report (2018), available at http://ww2.nycourts.gov/sites/default/files/document/files/2018-09/17_UCS-Annual_Report.pdf (Note: This revenue includes fees for attorney registrations and criminal search histories. The report does not break down what percentage of the $607 million was charged to defendants or indigent defendants).

[3] See, e.g., P.R. Lockhart, Black people in NYC are 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, Vox, May 14, 2018, available at: https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/5/14/17353040/racial-disparity-marijuana-arrests-new-york-city-nypd.

[4] N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 420.10.

[5] N.Y. Penal Law § 80.00.

[6] N.Y. Penal Law § 80.05.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 10-177.

[10] N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 1800.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Erika Eicherlberger, The Literal Cost of Solitary Confinement, The New Republic, Sept. 15, 2015, available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/122822/prisons-use-solitary-confinement-empty-inmates-wallets.

[13] N.Y. Penal Law § 60.35.

[14] N.Y. Exec. Law § 257-c.

[15] N.Y. Correct. Law § 201 (9)(a).

[16] N.Y. Penal Law § 60.35 (1)(a)(v).

[17] N.Y. Penal Law § 60.35.

[18] Ibid.

[19] N.Y. Correct. Law § 189.

[20] N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 503.

[21]New York State Corrections and Community Supervision, Community Supervision Fees (Mar. 9, 2017), available at http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Directives/9250.pdf. See also Center for Community Alternatives, Sentencing for Dollars: The Financial Consequences of a Criminal Conviction (Feb. 2007), available at http://www.communityalternatives.org/pdf/financial%20consequences.pdf.

[22] Ibid.

[23] N.Y. Correct. Law § 125.

[24] Criminal Court of the City of New York, Annual Report (2016), at 56, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/2016-Annual-Report-Final.pdf.

[25] New York State Commission of Correction, The Worst Offenders, Report: The Most Problematic Local Correctional Facilities of New York State (Feb. 2018), available at http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pdfdocs/Problematic-Jails-Report-2-2018.pdf.

[26]  U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Targeted Fines and Fees Against Communities of Color: Civil Rights & Constitutional Implications (Sept. 2017), available at https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2017/Statutory_Enforcement_Report2017.pdf. see also Greg Ridgeway, Analysis of Racial Disparities in the New York Police Department’s Stop, Question, and Frisk Practices (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2007), available at https://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR534.html.



In April 2017, New York State enacted statewide reforms intended to improve the right to counsel for people charged with a criminal offense, who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Amendments to New York County Law § 722-e and the addition of Executive Law § 832 (4) enacted by New York State Governor Cuomo and supported by the NYS legislature encourages and enables each criminal defense provider of legally mandated representation to furnish high quality, effective representation for every client. These recent legislative reforms offer public defense providers across the state the opportunity to hire additional attorneys, investigators, social workers and support staff and develop other resources to further their efforts in improving the overall quality of mandated representation.

Persons eager to explore opportunities within the New York State public defense arena who seek a challenging work environment that promotes diversity, embraces change, and provides leadership opportunities are encouraged to participate in this Public Defenders Career Fair.

See here for more information.