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




  • The Criminal Court and the Criminal Term of Supreme Court are hearing cases by video. The only cases that are being heard in person are cases that are on the In Person DAT calendar and cases on the DAT-W calendar.  Members of the public can go to the arraignment courtroom on the first floor of 120 Schermerhorn St. and watch the video arraignment.  Arraignments of Adolescent Offenders in Youth Part 1 (YP1) at 320 Jay St. are also taking place by video.  Family and other members of the public may go to Youth Part 1 (YP1) and watch the video arraignment.
  • If you have a court date, contact your attorney who will assist you in appearing in virtual court.
  • For questions about your case, if you already have your attorney’s phone number, reach out to them directly. If not, or for additional information, please call 718-254-0700 or email bds@bds.org
  • Note: If you know or have a loved one incarcerated who is feeling ill or having difficulty accessing medical care, please contact Jail Services at 646-787-3325 (English) or 646-971-2710 (Spanish). The person must be represented by BDS.



  • Please do not travel to the Family Court as the Family Court is operating digitally and is hearing cases by phone and video. If you are a BDS client, please contact your attorney or social worker for your next court date and to discuss any issues you have with your family court case.
  • If you cannot reach your BDS attorney or social worker, or have an emergency concerning the removal of children, please call 347-592-2500. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible. ACS also has a hotline you can call to get information about where your children are located. The number is (646) 935-1411.
  • If you are not a current BDS client but you are being investigated by ACS, please call 646-974-9343 for immediate assistance. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible.
  • If you are not a current BDS client, and are not being investigated by ACS, but have questions about how to access Family Court, please follow this link for more information: http://ww2.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/family/index.shtml



  • IDV court is open for virtual appearances with Microsoft Teams.
  • If you have a court date you need to appear using Microsoft Teams.
  • IDV court is also able to hear emergency applications on custody and family offense cases.
  • If you have an order that is not being followed or need further legal relief, please contact your IDV attorney (A staff directory is listed at the top of this page)
  • Your attorney will call you or your family with your new court date.



  • To reach our immigration practice, please call: 718-564-6290
  • For questions regarding DETAINED individuals ONLY: 347-768-3040
  • ICE continues enforcement operations, including arrests at homes, places of business, and near courthouses. Know Your Rights by watching our video series: wehaverights.us
  • Until the close of business on July 1, 2020, all in-person reporting requirements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been suspended, and all appointments to report in person to ICE/ERO New York City, or any ICE sub-office (Central Islip and Newburgh) as well as to report in person to ICE contractors (BI) on ATD have been cancelled and will be rescheduled, or you will be contacted telephonically. Previously scheduled telephonic reporting has not been suspended.
  • Hearings for detained individuals are still occurring at the New York Varick Street Immigration Court; most are being conducted by video teleconference.
  • EOIR (Immigration Court): Non-detained hearing at 26 Federal Plaza and 290 Broadway in New York scheduled at least through February 19, 2021 have been postponed. Some other immigration courts have resumed non-detained hearings.
  • USCIS is reopening the local offices to the public for ceremonies on June 15, 2020 and will gradually schedule inter-views and appointments later in the month. (Additional information about details has not been provided). Applicants who are scheduled to come to the office will receive a notice and instructions in the mail. Individuals should check the USCIS website and read notices carefully regarding COVID-19 related precautions and requirements for in person appointments.



  • As of December 28, 2020, there is another universal eviction moratorium in NYC. This moratorium started immediately and is set to last until February 26, 2021. Tenants affected by COVID can further delay impending eviction cases by filling out a Hardship Declaration and mailing to their borough housing court or dropping off at a drop box outside the courthouse: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/SSI/images/corona/HardshipDeclaration.pdf. Upon the court’s receipt of the Hardship Declaration, the tenant’s eviction proceeding is delayed until May 1, 2021.
  • CDC Eviction Moratorium. On January 20, 2021, the CDC extended their eviction moratorium that prevents landlords from evicting tenants who have been financially affected by COVID-19 until at least March 31, 2021.


Tenant Safe Harbor Act

  • In June 2020, the governor signed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act into law.
  • The Tenant Safe Harbor Act is a law that stops tenants who experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 period from ever being evicted for non-payment of rent that became due during the period from March 7, 2020, until the state of emergency ends.
    • Landlords may still start eviction proceedings over rent that became due after March 7, 2020, and tenants must raise financial hardship as a defense.
    • **Landlords can still obtain money judgments against their tenants for any unpaid rent that accrued during the crisis.
    • Money judgments can still be devastating as they can result in wage garnishment and frozen bank accounts.


Housing Court

  • NYC Housing Court is not taking any action on non-payment or holdover cases until March 1, 2021.
    • The only exception to this is any nuisance cases that were commenced pre-COVID.
    • If you were the tenant in a nuisance case that started pre-COVID, please keep an eye out for potential virtual court appearances.
      • Please contact 311 and ask to speak to a legal service provider if you have any questions about whether your pre-COVID case is a nuisance case.
    • Landlords can file new eviction cases electronically or by mail, but the court will not accept the new filings without proof that they served the tenant with a hardship declaration.
    • For a tenant to further delay any action taken on their case to May 1, 2021, they must submit a Hardship Declaration to their borough housing court.
      • Tenants can also submit to their landlord, but the court must receive the declaration themselves in order for it to take effect.


  • Housing Court remains open for applications addressing post-eviction relief, illegal lockouts, and apartment repairs.
    • Tenants can file cases to compel their landlords to make repairs by going in person to the housing court in the borough in which they live or by using JustFix (an online application)


NYCHA Administrative Proceedings

  • NYCHA and other administrative hearings are still being postponed.



  • If your PA/SNAP case was due for recertification between January and March 2021 HRA will take no adverse action if you fail to complete recertification. If you receive any notice instructing you to recertify is still best to respond as instructed.
  • If you need to apply for public assistance or SNAP you can do so online or via the HRA Access app: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/.
  • Most HRA offices are closed! If you must visit in person call 311 for available locations.
  • Food assistance is available at a food pantry near you. Call 311 for locations.
  • If you have questions, or would like to speak to the civil practice, please ask your attorney to make a referral or contact us at 332-213-4193.




  • For the 2020-21 school year, the New York City Department of Education has opened its schools using a “blended learning” model, with a mix of in-person and remote learning.. More updates about the 2020-21 school year, including information about the enrollment processes and deadlines for the 2021-22 school year, can be found here.
  • The DOE initially closed all school buildings to in-person learning when infection rates in the city reached 3%. However, elementary schools reopened for in-person learning on December 7, 2020, and District 75 schools reopened for in-person learning on December 10, 2020. All middle schools and high schools remain closed for in-person learning.
  • Individual schools may close to in-person learning due to COVID-19 infections within the school community. A map of schools with school or classroom closures can be found here.
  • Families who have chosen blended learning can choose for their children to do 100% remote learning at any time by filling out this form. There are no official plans for families who have chosen fully remote learning for the school year to have another opportunity to choose blended learning.
  • Many locations around the city are serving Grab and Go meals. Students and families can pick up meals at any school building between 9:00 a.m. and noon. Members of the community can pick up meals at various locations around the city between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No registration, ID, or documentation is required to pick up these meals. People can find the closest location serving meals here, or text “NYC FOOD” or “NYC COMIDA” to 877-877 to find the closest meal hub.
  • If you or a family member are unable to work because of factors related to coronavirus, you may be eligible for immediate unemployment insurancepandemic unemployment assistancevariousforms of paid leaveworker’s compshort term disability, or a reasonable accommodation such as working from home.  You also have the right to work in safe conditions and have protections against discrimination.
  • If you want more information about your child’s educational rights in this uncertain time, or what employment benefits you might be eligible for, contact us at education@bds.orgemployment@bds.org, or call us at 646-971-2722.




  • Our community office is currently closed but we are working remotely and available to help.
  • If you have issues or questions about ACS, education, housing, employment benefits, re-entry services, criminal matters or general legal issues, please call 646-971-2722 or email us at communityoffice@bds.org.




  • La Corte Criminal y el Tribunal Penal de la Corte Suprema están atendiendo casos por video. Los únicos casos que se atienden en persona son los casos que están en el calendario DAT y los casos en el calendario DAT-W. Los miembros del público pueden ir a la sala de acusación del tribunal en el primer piso del 120 de Schermerhorn St. y ver el video de la acusación. Los procesamientos de delincuentes adolescentes en Youth Part 1 (YP1) en 320 Jay St. también se están llevando a cabo por video. La familia y otros miembros del público pueden ir a Youth Part 1 (YP1) y ver el video de la lectura de cargos.
  • Si tiene una cita en la corte, comuníquese con su abogado, quien lo ayudará a comparecer en la corte virtual.
  • Si tiene preguntas sobre su caso, si ya tiene el número de teléfono de su abogad@, comuníquese con él o ella directamente. De lo contrario, o para obtener información adicional, llame al 718-254-0700 o envíe un correo electrónico a bds@bds.org
  • Nota: Si conoce o tiene un ser querido encarcelado que se siente enfermo o tiene dificultades para obtener atención médica, comuníquese con Jail Services al 646-787-3325 (inglés) o al 646-971-2710 (español). La persona debe estar representada por BDS.




  • Por favor, no vaya al Tribunal de Familia ya que el Tribunal de Familia funciona digitalmente y está atendiendo casos por teléfono y video. Si es cliente de BDS, comuníquese con su abogad@ o trabajador@ social para su próxima cita en la corte y para discutir cualquier problema que tenga con su caso en la corte familiar.
  • Si no puede comunicarse con su abogad@ o trabajador@ social de BDS, o si tiene una emergencia relacionada con el traslado de sus niños, llame al 347-592-2500. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos la llamada lo antes posible. ACS también tiene una línea directa a la que puede llamar para obtener información sobre dónde se encuentran sus hijos. El número es (646) 935-1411.
  • Si no es un cliente actual de BDS pero está siendo investigado por ACS, llame al 646-974-9343 para obtener asistencia inmediata. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos la llamada lo antes posible.
  • Si no es un cliente actual de BDS y no está siendo investigado por ACS, pero tiene preguntas sobre cómo acceder al Tribunal de Familia, siga este enlace para obtener más información: http://ww2.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/family/index.shtml




  • La corte IDV está abierta para comparecencias virtuales a través Microsoft Teams.
  • Si tiene una cita en la corte, debe comparecer con Microsoft Teams.
  • El tribunal de IDV también puede atender solicitudes de emergencia en casos de custodia y delitos familiares.
  • Si tiene una orden que no se está siguiendo o necesita más ayuda legal, comuníquese con su abogad@ de IDV (el directorio del personal se encuentra en la parte superior de esta página)
  • Su abogad@ lo llamará a usted o a su familia con su nueva fecha de corte.




  • Para comunicarse con nuestra práctica de inmigración, llame al: 718-564-6290
  • Para preguntas sobre personas DETENIDAS ÚNICAMENTE: 347-768-3040
  • ICE continúa con las operaciones de cumplimiento, incluidos los arrestos en hogares, lugares de negocios y cerca de los juzgados. Conozca sus derechos viendo nuestra serie de videos: www.wehaverights.us
  • Hasta el cierre de operaciones el 1 de julio de 2020, todos los requisitos de presentación de informes en persona con el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) se han suspendido, y todas las citas para informar en persona a ICE / ERO de la ciudad de Nueva York, o cualquier sub- oficina (Central Islip y Newburgh), así como informar en persona a los contratistas de ICE (BI) sobre ATD, se cancelaron y se reprogramarán, o se lo comunicarán telefónicamente. No se han suspendido los informes telefónicos programados anteriormente.
  • Todavía se están celebrando audiencias para las personas detenidas en el Tribunal de Inmigración de Varick Street de Nueva York; la mayoría se llevan a cabo mediante videoconferencia.
  • EOIR (Tribunal de Inmigración): Se han pospuesto las audiencias de no detenidos en 26 Federal Plaza y 290 Broadway en Nueva York programadas al menos hasta el 19 de febrero de 2021. Algunos otros tribunales de inmigración han reanudado las audiencias de no detenidos.
  • USCIS está reabriendo las oficinas locales al público para las ceremonias el 15 de junio de 2020 y gradualmente programará entrevistas y citas más adelante en el mes. (No se ha proporcionado información adicional sobre los detalles). Los solicitantes que están programados para venir a la oficina recibirán un aviso e instrucciones por correo. Las personas deben consultar el sitio web de USCIS y leer atentamente los avisos sobre las precauciones y requisitos relacionados con COVID-19 para las citas en persona.




  • A partir del 28 de diciembre de 2020, hay otra moratoria de desalojo universal en Nueva York. Esta moratoria comenzó de inmediato y está programada para durar hasta el 26 de febrero de 2021. Los inquilinos afectados por COVID pueden retrasar aún más los casos de desalojo inminentes al completar una Declaración de Dificultades y enviarla por correo a la corte de vivienda de su condado o dejarla en un buzón fuera del tribunal: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/SSI/images/corona/HardshipDeclaration.pdf. Una vez que el tribunal reciba la Declaración de dificultades económicas, el procedimiento de desalojo del inquilino se retrasa hasta el 1 de mayo de 2021.
  • Moratoria de desalojo del CDC. El 20 de enero de 2021, el CDC extendió su moratoria de desalojo que evita que los propietarios desalojen a los inquilinos que han sido afectados financieramente por COVID-19 hasta al menos el 31 de marzo de 2021.


Ley de puerto seguro para inquilinos

  • En junio de 2020, el gobernador promulgó la Ley de puerto seguro para inquilinos.
  • La Ley de puerto seguro para inquilinos es una ley que impide que los inquilinos que experimentaron dificultades financieras durante el período de COVID-19 sean desalojados por falta de pago del alquiler vencido durante el período comprendido entre el 7 de marzo de 2020, hasta que finalice el estado de emergencia.
    • Los propietarios aún pueden iniciar procedimientos de desalojo por alquiler que haya vencido después del 7 de marzo de 2020, y los inquilinos deben presentar prueba de dificultades financieras como defensa.
    • ** Los propietarios aún pueden obtener juicios monetarios contra sus inquilinos por cualquier alquiler impago que se haya acumulado durante la crisis.
    • Los juicios monetarios aún pueden ser devastadores, ya que pueden resultar en embargos salariales y cuentas bancarias congeladas.


Tribunal de Vivienda

  • El Tribunal de Vivienda de la Ciudad de Nueva York no tomará ninguna medida en casos de impago o remanente hasta el 1 de marzo de 2021.
    • La única excepción a esto son los casos de molestias que se iniciaron antes de COVID.
    • Si usted fue el inquilino en un caso de molestias que comenzó antes de COVID, esté atento a posibles comparecencias en la corte virtual.
      • Comuníquese con el 311 y pida hablar con un proveedor de servicios legales si tiene alguna pregunta sobre si su caso anterior a COVID es un caso de molestias.
    • Los propietarios pueden presentar nuevos casos de desalojo electrónicamente o por correo, pero el tribunal no aceptará las nuevas presentaciones sin prueba de que entregaron al inquilino una declaración de dificultades.
  • Para que un inquilino demore aún más cualquier acción tomada en su caso hasta el 1 de mayo de 2021, debe presentar una Declaración de dificultades a la corte de vivienda de su condado.
    • Los inquilinos también pueden presentarse a su arrendador, pero el tribunal debe recibir la declaración ellos mismos para que entre en vigor.
  • El Tribunal de Vivienda permanece abierto para solicitudes relacionadas con el alivio posterior al desalojo, los cierres patronales ilegales y la reparación de apartamentos.
    • Los inquilinos pueden presentar casos para obligar a sus propietarios a hacer reparaciones yendo en persona al tribunal de vivienda en el municipio en el que viven o usando JustFix (una solicitud en línea).

Procedimientos administrativos de NYCHA

  • NYCHA y otras audiencias administrativas continúan pospuestas.



  • Si su caso PA / SNAP debía ser recertificado entre enero y marzo de 2021, la HRA no tomará ninguna medida adversa si no completa la recertificación. Si recibe algún aviso que le indique que debe volver a certificarse, es mejor responder según las instrucciones.
  • Si necesita solicitar asistencia pública o SNAP, puede hacerlo en línea o mediante la aplicación HRA Access: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/.
  • ¡La mayoría de las oficinas de la HRA están cerradas! Si debe visitar en persona, llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones disponibles.
  • Hay asistencia alimentaria disponible en una despensa de alimentos cercana. Llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones.
  • Si tiene preguntas o le gustaría hablar con la práctica civil, pídale a su abogado que lo recomiende o comuníquese con nosotros al 332-213-4193.




  • Para el año escolar 2020-21, el Departamento de Educación de la Ciudad de Nueva York ha abierto sus escuelas utilizando un modelo de “aprendizaje combinado”, con una combinación de aprendizaje en persona y remoto. Puede encontrar más actualizaciones sobre el año escolar 2020-21, incluida información sobre los procesos de inscripción y las fechas límite para el año escolar 2021-22, aquí.
  • El DOE inicialmente cerró todos los edificios escolares para el aprendizaje en persona cuando las tasas de infección en la ciudad alcanzaron el 3%. Sin embargo, las escuelas primarias reabrieron para el aprendizaje en persona el 7 de diciembre de 2020 y las escuelas del Distrito 75 reabrieron para el aprendizaje en persona el 10 de diciembre de 2020. Todas las escuelas intermedias y secundarias permanecen cerradas para el aprendizaje en persona.
  • Las escuelas individuales pueden cerrar el aprendizaje en persona debido a las infecciones por COVID-19 dentro de la comunidad escolar. Puede encontrar un mapa de los cierres de escuelas o aulas aquí.
  • Las familias que han optado por el aprendizaje mixto pueden elegir que sus hijos realicen un aprendizaje remoto al 100% en cualquier momento completando este formulario. No hay planes oficiales para que las familias que han elegido el aprendizaje completamente remoto durante el año escolar tengan otra oportunidad de elegir el aprendizaje combinado.
  • En muchos lugares de la ciudad se sirven comidas para llevar. Los estudiantes y las familias pueden recoger las comidas en cualquier escuela entre las 9:00 a.m. y el mediodía. Los miembros de la comunidad pueden recoger comidas en varios lugares de la ciudad entre las 3:00 p.m. y 5:00 p.m. No se requiere registro, identificación o documentación para recoger estas comidas. Las personas pueden encontrar el lugar más cercano que sirve comidas aquí, o envíe un mensaje de texto con “NYC FOOD” o “NYC COMIDA” al 877-877 para encontrar el centro de comidas más cercano.
  • Si usted o un miembro de su familia no pueden trabajar debido a factores relacionados con el coronavirus, puede ser elegible para Seguro de desempleodesempleo por pandemiavariasformas de vacaciones pagadascompensación de trabajadoresshort term disability, o acomodación razonable como trabajar desde casa. Usted también tiene derecho de trabajar en condiciones seguras y tener protección contra la discriminación.
  • Si desea obtener más información sobre los derechos educativos de su hijo en este momento incierto, o para qué beneficios laborales podría ser elegible, comuníquese a education@bds.orgemployment@bds.org, o llámenos al 646-971-2722.




  • Nuestra oficina comunitaria está cerrada actualmente, pero estamos trabajando de forma remota y disponibles para ayudar.
  • Si tiene problemas o preguntas sobre ACS, educación, vivienda, beneficios laborales, servicios de reingreso, asuntos penales o asuntos legales generales, llame al 646-971-2722 o envíenos un correo electrónico a communityoffice@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
Jason Starr, 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.

If you or a loved one are arrested in Brooklyn during the protests and need a lawyer, call this number for legal assistance 240-531-1971.

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

In fear of having your children removed? Call (646) 974-9343.


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’s Immigration Practice consists of deportation defense under the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), Padilla advisals, and the Immigrant Community Action Project (ICAP).  The immigration practice is staffed by attorneys, DOJ accredited representatives, social workers, paralegals, and administrative assistants. The Padilla Team advises criminal defense colleagues and clients, helping to devise strategies to minimize the immigration impact of clients’ criminal and family court cases, screens clients for immigration relief and represents some clients in affirmative applications and removal proceedings.

Under the direct supervision of a Supervising Attorney, the Attorney works with clients to determine their immigration status, screen for eligibility for relief, and identify strategies to mitigate the immigration consequences of criminal proceedings.

Visit our Career Center for full job posting.



Under the direct supervision of the Director of Human Resources, the HR Analyst performs a variety of system configuration, data analysis, and process analysis responsibilities to help the department operate more efficiently and effectively.

Visit our Career Center for full job posting.


Under the general supervision of the Director of Human Resources, the HR Generalist owns the HR onboarding, leaves of absence, accommodations, and offboarding processes.  The HR Generalist applies subject matter expertise and empathy to help employees navigate the various policies, benefits, and resources available to them in times of need.

Visit our Career Center for full job posting.


BDS’s Family Defense Practice (FDP) represents low-income parents in Article 10 (abuse and neglect) proceedings in Brooklyn Family Court. Our mission is to fight the removal of children from their families and advocate for families to be reunified as quickly as possible. FDP defends parents’ due process rights by fighting unwarranted state intervention in their lives. Using a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, our teams of attorneys, social workers and paralegals help families obtain the benefits and services they need to keep their families safe and stable. The office also advocates for systemic change in the family court and family regulation systems.

FDP is a client-centered practice which involves a great deal of contact with clients. Attorneys spend most of their time in court proceedings with frequent hearings and trials, often on an emergency basis. Staff attorneys are expected to provide high-quality and vigorous representation at all court appearances and throughout the course of a case. Our office takes a collaborative team approach to representation and attorneys work closely with supervisors, social workers, paralegals and our Administrative team to provide inter-disciplinary representation.

Under the direct supervision of a Supervising Attorney, the Attorney will represent clients in Article 10 (abuse and neglect) proceedings in Brooklyn Family Court.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Immigration Practice in Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks rising third year law students, judicial law clerks, and recent law school graduates to sponsor for post-graduate public interest law school-based fellowships.

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender office that represents approximately 30,000 people per year who cannot afford an attorney in a variety of legal proceedings in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. We represent and provide services to people who have diverse, complex, and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and fast-paced setting. Our staff of 450 are attorneys, social workers, paralegals, investigators and administrative staff as well as the leadership of the organization.

BDS’ Immigration Practice works at the intersection of immigration and criminal law. The Immigration Practice has three primary focus areas: ICAP, NYIFUP, and Padilla.

• The Immigrant Community Action Project (ICAP) team provides a full range of immigration legal services to BDS clients and Brooklyn residents Attorneys represent noncitizens in non-detained removal proceedings and for affirmative immigration benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), adjustment of status, and victim and trafficking visas. We identify clients in-house through our criminal and family defense practice and also participate in external clinics in partnership with numerous community-based organizations.
• BDS serves as assigned counsel under 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 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.
• 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.


BDS’ Immigration Practice is interested in sponsoring dynamic candidates to zealously represent and advocate on behalf of our noncitizen clients. Candidates must have a clear commitment to immigrant rights, criminal justice, and/or social justice issues. Applicants must be strong legal writers, clear communicators, team players, and have the strong organizational skills necessary to manage a fast-moving docket and high volume of cases. They must work effectively and respectfully with indigent clients, including clients experiencing mental illness, trauma and poverty. Fellows will have a diverse, challenging docket supported by close supervision and peer collaboration. Fellows will be fully integrated into one of the three practice areas depending on preference and needs.

Fluency in Spanish or another second language is strongly preferred.

Application Requirements

To apply, please submit a cover letter including a statement of interest, resume, writing sample, and at least two references. Please indicate whether you have a preference for one of the three Immigration Practice areas and detail any requirements and timelines for your school-based fellowship. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis with preference to those applying before May 1, 2021. Applications should be emailed to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a proud equal opportunity employer committed to creating and maintaining a diverse work environment and supports a nondiscrimination policy in all employment practices. We are focused on equity and inclusion and thus strongly encourage candidates of all identities, expressions, orientations, disabilities, experiences, and other characteristics that make us different to apply. If you need assistance or an accommodation due to a disability, you may contact the Director of Human Resources at cwallace@bds.org.


Under the direct supervision of the Social Work Director, Criminal Practice, the Social Worker is an integral part of the criminal defense team to advocate, both in and out of court, for clients with serious mental illness who are facing criminal charges.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Criminal Defense Practice is currently accepting applications from practicing criminal defense attorneys who would like to continue their careers with BDS. Applicants must have an appreciation of, and ability to relate to, the obstacles faced by our indigent clients and be prepared to advocate on their behalf effectively and zealously. Candidates whose own background and experience reflect the diversity of Brooklyn’s communities are particularly 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 criminal defense generally and public defense particularly. Attorneys who are currently under a commitment to their present employers should wait until their commitment is nearing completion to apply.

Applications should be sent via email to rlafontaine@bds.org and addressed to Richard LaFontaine, Esq., Director of Recruiting, Brooklyn Defender Services, 177 Livingston Street, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201.


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.


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. We are currently accepting applications for Summer 2021 internships.

  • For the Immigration Practice internship is no longer accepting applications for the Summer 2021 program.
  • For the Family Defense Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Ambika Panday (apanday@bds.org) and Aisha Alleyne (aalleyne@bds.org).
  • For the Civil Justice Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Lauren Price (lprice@bds.org).
  • The Criminal Defense Practice is no longer accepting applications for the Summer 2021 program.

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


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.


Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigative assistants locate, review, and download video surveillance; photograph and document crime scenes; and conduct background research on witnesses. They additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigations unit.

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.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– 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.

We are not currently accepting applications for the investigative internship.



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 Memo of Support for Repealing Gravity Knife Law (PDF ) – May 22, 2019
  • 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, S4203/A2199 (PDF ) – April 2019
  • Preserving Family Bonds Coalition Joint Memo in Support (PDF) – April 2019


February 11, 2021

BDS sends coalition letter to Governor Cuomo and Democratic leadership outlining family defense legislative priorities for 2021 (PDF)

December 26, 2020

BDS sends coalition letter to Governor Cuomo and Democratic leadership outlining criminal legal priorities for 2021 (PDF)

November 16. 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction (PDF)

October 28, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee (PDF)

October 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the The New York City Taxi and and Limousine Commission about proposed rule changes (PDF)

October 16, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Health on Reopening NYC Public Schools (PDF)

October 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on Proposed Rule re Biometric Data Collection (PDF)

September 30, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Health and Hospitals about NYC’s COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing Program. (PDF)

September 22, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections & Committee on Health about the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and jails. (PDF)

BDS submits letter to New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts on structural racism in the Unified Court System. (PDF)

Report to the New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts submitted by The Judicial Friends Association. (PDF)

September 21, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice & Committee on Hospitals about the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services’ management of COVID-19 in jails. (PDF)

September 18, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the exclusion of immigrants in COVID-19 relief. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council about the looming eviction crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PDF)

September 15, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on issues facing NYC renters, including discrimination against people who use housing vouchers. (PDF)

May 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice & the Justice System Oversight Hearing on COVID-19 in City Jails and Juvenile Detention Centers.

February 28, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Immigration and Hospitals Oversight Hearing ICE’s Escalated Attacks on NYC Policies Protecting Immigrants. 

February 25, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Jointly with the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing DNA Collection and Storage in NYC. (PDF)

February 24, 2020

BDS Testifies before NYC Council Committee on Justice System and Committee on Housing and Buildings Oversight Meeting and Introduction of Bills Int 1104-2018 and Int 1529-2019. (PDF)

February 10, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety on Preventing Hate and Violence (PDF)

February 3, 2020

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

January 21, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS and DOJ Proposed Rule Re: Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility

January 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS Proposed Rule Re: Asylum Applications, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants

December 30, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rule of the USCIS Fee Schedule

December 18, 2019 

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on the POST Act (PDF)


December 11, 2019

BDS testified before the New York City Council Committees on the Justice System and on Government Operations about day fines and collateral consequences of drug arrests and conviction (PDF)

December 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Committee on Codes and Committee on Correction Hearing on Sealing of Criminal Records and Expansion of Youthful Offender Status (PDF)

November 21, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on family separation in the child welfare system and family court system

November 15, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rules on Special Immigrant Juvenile Petitions, 84 FR 55250.

November 14, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on pre-trial services and ATI’s in light of the new bail statute (PDF)

November 12, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on DNA-Sample Collection for Immigration Detainees 84 Fed. Reg 563973.

October 17, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Codes Hearing on Potential Legislative Changes to Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law (PDF)

September 23, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on Department of Homeland Security “Notice on Designating Aliens for Expedited Removal 84 Fed. Reg. 35409.

September 3, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration (PDF)

August 9, 2019

BDS testifies before the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids Addiction and Overdose (PDF)

June 27, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019. (PDF)

May 22, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Implementation of Pre-Trial Justice Reforms Enacted by New York State (PDF)

May 1, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on the Experience of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in NYC Jails (PDF)

April 29, 2019

BDS joins the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem and NY County Defender Services in urging enactment of a slate of criminal justice reforms before session ends (PDF)

April 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration and the Justice System Oversight Hearing on ICE Out of New York Courts Resolution 0828-2019 regarding Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176 / S.425). (PDF)

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Hospitals Joint Oversight Hearing on the Impact of Marijuana Policies on Child Welfare. (PDF)

February 27, 2019

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Public Safety, Justice System, Consumer Affairs & Business Licensing, and Civil & Human Rights Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. (PDF)

February 26, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Department of Correction Programming. (PDF)

February 25, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Family Separation in Criminal Cases (PDF)

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.





As of June 25th, limited in-person family visits have resumed in NYC DOC facilities Wednesday through Friday. Televisits are still occurring on Saturday and Sunday, from 8am-2pm. Both in-person and televisiting follows the Department’s existing in-person visit schedule, which organizes visit days based on the first letter of the person in custody’s last name. For more information regarding in-person visits, visit the DOC site: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doc/inmate-info/In-PersonVisits.page

Visitors are strongly encouraged to pre-register for in-person visits, as priority will be given to loved ones who pre-registered. To access the pre-registration form, use this link. Visitors who do not pre-register, and who do not receive confirmation of their scheduled visit, cannot be guaranteed a visit upon their arrival to the DOC facility.

If you have any issues or questions with the visiting process, please call the Board of Correction at (212)-669-7900.



June 9, 2021


Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org 

***For Immediate Release***

Brooklyn Defender Services Urges Governor Cuomo to Sign the Preserving Family Bonds Act

Legislation to Allow for Open Adoptions from Foster Care Passed Both Houses of Legislature 

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Nila Natarajan, policy counsel and supervising attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice, released the following statement urging Governor Cuomo to sign the Preserving Family Bonds Act (A6700/S6357 – Joyner/Savino) following its passage in the New York State Assembly this afternoon and the New York State Senate on Friday:

“With the passage of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, New York has taken bold action to recognize the importance of openness in adoption and continuing family ties for children who are adopted from foster care. Even if a biological parent is unable to care for their child, post-termination contact allows a child to retain a vital relationship with their parent and allows that biological parent to play a positive role in the child’s life. This legislation ensures that children who would benefit from contact or visitation with their birth families after a parent’s rights have been terminated are able to do so, to the benefit of the children, their birth families, and their foster and adoptive families. 

We thank Assemblymember Latoya Joyner and Senator Diane Savino for championing this legislation and the many advocates and families statewide who fought for years for this change. We urge Governor Cuomo to immediately sign the bill into law.”


The Preserving Family Bonds Act (A6700/S6357) provides Family Court judges with discretion to order continued visitation and/or contact between children and their families of origin after a parent’s rights are terminated, and recognizes the value that post-termination contact has for many children and their families of origin.

The current law in New York allows open adoption and post-termination contact when parents voluntarily surrender their parental rights, but deprives courts of the authority to allow for contact between children and their biological parents after a parent’s rights have been involuntarily terminated. This procedural distinction should not determine whether and how children have ongoing contact with their families of origin.

Most children placed in foster care have significant ties to their biological families. Even children who enter foster care at birth and are ultimately adopted will likely have had regular contact with their biological families for a lengthy time period, even years, and developed strong bonds with them prior to termination of parental rights. Children who enter foster care and are eventually adopted can experience long-term emotional consequences stemming from the break-up of the biological family, the disruption in the children’s most basic source of security, and feelings of displacement that may follow.

A growing body of research shows that retaining contact with biological family members may be in that child’s best interest. Even when a biological parent is unable to care for their child, post-termination contact allows the child to retain a relationship with his or her family, and allows a biological parent to play a positive role in the child’s life. It can help a child develop a more secure sense of self by offering them the ability to better understand their biological family and what led to the termination of their legal relationship. Biological parents can reinforce that the termination was not the fault of the child and that the parent still loves and cares for the child, even if they are unable to parent him or her. Post-termination contact allows children access to their racial, ethnic, religious and cultural histories, critical in developing a sense of self.

The Act is consistent with the federal government’s latest guidance regarding state efforts to obtain permanency for children in foster care, issued in January 2021, which placed significant emphasis on the importance of maintaining children’s ties to their families and communities of origin. The guidance made clear that in the vast majority of families, “adoption should be viewed as an opportunity to expand a child’s experience of family rather than replace their previous family,” and that children’s relationships with their biological parents, siblings, and extended family members should continue even after termination of parental rights and adoption. “Children do not need to have previous attachments severed in order to form new ones. In fact, they will be better positioned to develop new relationships if we work to preserve their original connections, sparing them from additional grief and loss.

The Preserving Family Bonds Act will allow New York law to better address the realities and needs of families involved in the child welfare system, and will allow family courts to tailor dispositional orders in termination of parental rights proceedings to meet the needs and best interests of children.

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, immigration, and civil legal representation, as well as social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney.





May 20, 2021


Alejandra Lopez, The Legal Aid Society, AILopez@legal-aid.org, 917-294-9348

Daniel Ball Brooklyn Defender Services, dball@bds.org 

Ryan Karerat, The Bronx Defenders, rkarerat@bronxdefenders.org


NYIFUP Urges Enactment of the Dignity Not Detention Act in New York State

Proposed Legislation Would End Immigration Detention Contracts with ICE in New York State

(New York, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders – New York City’s defender organizations providing free legal representation to detained immigrants through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) today released a memorandum in support of the Dignity Not Detention Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Karines Reyes (A.7099A) and Senator Julia Salazar (bill no. pending), upon its introduction in the New York State Legislature. NYIFUP also released the following statement:

“ICE enforcement and detention is racist, inhumane, and a danger to us all. It separates families, subjects people to the extensive trauma and harms of incarceration, deprives people of basic human needs and rights, and has killed hundreds of people. Yet in New York State, numerous county and city jails are paid by ICE to incarcerate people solely because of where they were born. 

The Dignity Not Detention Act comes at a critical moment as the Biden Administration begins to reckon with the violence of the immigration detention system.  Just today, ICE announced it will cut the contracts of two detention facilities, Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, and the Bristol County Detention Center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The end of these contracts is an important first step in ending ICE detention nationwide, and it is time for New York to join this growing movement.

The Dignity Not Detention Act will get New York State out of the immigrant detention business, putting an end to the inhumane and unnecessary incarceration of immigrants in New York jails and curtailing ICE enforcement by limiting its space to detain people. 

The deportation machine must end in all of its forms, and this legislation is one critical step New York can take to reduce its power and scope.”

BACKGROUND: The New York Family Immigrant Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the nation’s first public defender system for immigrants facing deportation—defined as those in removal proceedings before an immigration judge. Funded by the New York City Council since July 2014, the program provides a free attorney to almost all detained indigent immigrants facing deportation at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.



We hope you can join us for Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice’s virtual fundraising benefit on June 10th, bringing together the families we represent, our valued partners, and generous supporters who make our work possible.

This year, we celebrate 14 years of keeping families together.

Honoring: Young Parents Who Are Themselves in the Foster System & Our Pro Bono Partners

For more information or to sponsor the event, please contact Lauren Shapiro at lshapiro@bds.org or Sabrina Paul at spaul@bds.org.

Purchase tickets here.



On February 2, 2021 the New York legislature repealed the loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute, commonly called the “Walking While Trans Ban.” This means loitering for the purposes of prostitution is no longer a criminal offense in New York, and the records of past convictions will be sealed automatically.

In response to the loitering repeal, prosecutors in New York City moved to dismiss and seal certain cases charging prostitution-related offenses as follows:

Brooklyn: On January 29, 2021 and March 24, 2021, open cases charging prostitution or loitering for the purposes of prostitution were dismissed and ordered sealed. This includes cases in bench warrant status. 1,119 cases were dismissed.

Questions? Please contact the office who represented you:

1. If you have an open case or warrant for prostitution or loitering in New York City or an open case or warrant for unlicensed practice of massage in Manhattan and want to find out if your case was part of this mass dismissal, or

2. To confirm that your conviction for loitering has been sealed, or

3. To find out whether a conviction for prostitution is eligible to be dismissed or sealed.

Contact Jillian Modzeleski at Brooklyn Defender Services: jmodzeleski@bds.org


Leigh Latimer at The Legal Aid Society: lelatimer@legal-aid.org



“We fervently hope that the conviction this week of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, has brought some relief to George Floyd’s loved ones and people around the country who needed to see that it’s possible for a murdering police officer to be charged and found guilty.

We understand acutely that the conviction of a single police officer does not address the pervasive corrupt, racist, dehumanizing systems of policing that allowed for the killing of George Floyd to happen in the first place.  We must, as a national imperative, institute real changes that will protect all people from an unchecked police force that terrorizes our communities, specifically communities of color.

Right here in NYC, the NYPD continues to employ officers who have committed countless acts of violence, ranging from traumatizing young people by taunting them, knocking down people’s doors and destroying their homes, employing negligent investigation practices that trample on peoples’ rights, overcharging people so they are forced to go to jail for minor infractions, to targeting and surveilling communities of color with theories that result in mass incarceration, separation of families through foster care, ICE enforcement, torture in jail and prisons, failing to provide needed health care to someone in custody and thousands of other symptoms of a system that is set up to ensure the systemic dehumanization of Black and Brown people. This calculated system built on white supremacy and anti-Black racism sets up a culture where violence by enforcement agents is inevitable. 

The police and other enforcement agencies, including prosecutors, are tied together in cultural values that allow and support each of these acts every day, by teaching officers to lie so they can get away with wrongful acts, to trying to hide information from the public, the disempowerment of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and affirmative violation of standards by the Department of Correction. Prosecutors play their part by declining to prosecute police for serious offenses and rarely holding officers accountable for perjured testimony, illegal searches and seizures, shoddy police work and improper treatment of individuals in their custody.  

As defenders who represent people arrested within these structurally racist systems, we advocate for policy and legislative change to dismantle the application of unfair procedures and harsh outcomes for individuals. As we at BDS continue to do our part  to fight for a just future, we call upon our leaders to dramatically  reduce governments’  reliance on policing and invest the public’s resources into people, families and communities.”



April 16, 2021


Alejandra Lopez

The Legal Aid Society




Joint Statement in Response to Reports that NYC Family Court Clerk Used Racial Slurs to Refer to 15-Year-Old

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, Lawyers For Children and Center for Family Representation issued the following joint statement in response to reports that a New York City Family Court clerk used racial slurs to refer to a 15-year-old during a virtual court proceeding:

“White supremacy and violence fill every crevice of our criminal legal system. The killing of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old child in Chicago, lays bare the impact of that racism and dehumanization at its most brutal. As the images of his death are still fresh in our minds, we are reminded of the insidious racism that Black and brown people experience inside New York courtrooms every single day. The use of racist slurs by court staff is part and parcel of the same system that allows police to repeatedly and disproportionately shoot Black and brown children, and we must seriously reckon with the ideology that fuels both.

Racism within the court system has a long-standing history in our city as well. There is a direct link between the funneling of thousands of Black and brown New Yorkers into a system of punishment every year and the racist attitudes of the court staff within that system. Over the last year, multiple court staff have been disciplined for racist social media posts and for disparaging comments towards colleagues of color. An independent statewide review of state courts issued in October confirmed what our clients and staff experience daily: racial prejudice and other biases are very much embedded in our court system. Our court system must have zero tolerance for this egregious behavior, and OCA must swiftly implement the recommendations laid out in last year’s review.

OCA must also be held accountable for addressing the systemic racism that permeates the court system but the only way to truly confront the harm is by fundamentally shrinking the criminal legal system and stemming the endless tide of Black and brown people that the NYPD funnels into that system.”




April 7, 2021


Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org



(BROOKLYN, NY) – Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel with Brooklyn Defender Services’ Criminal Defense Practice released the following statement in response to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s dismissal of 90 cases handled by former narcotics officer Joseph Franco:

“The Brooklyn DA’s decision to dismiss prior cases handled by Detective Joseph Franco, who has been indicted for framing people in Manhattan for crimes they did not commit, was the correct one. But while the dismissals handed down today are a first step towards accountability, neither Franco’s indictment nor the dismissal of his prior cases will make his victims whole or address the ongoing abuse of New Yorkers in the name of narcotics enforcement. We have every reason to believe that Franco’s misconduct extends well beyond the instances where his lies were caught on camera, and the accounts we have heard from his victims are a powerful reminder that the harm he and his colleagues have caused is significant and lasting.

This is not a case of a single bad actor. Franco was a member of NYPD units in multiple boroughs operating as a team. He rose through the ranks from an undercover narcotics officer in Brooklyn to a detective in Manhattan, his promotions establishing him as an example of valued police work. Other NYPD members facilitated his abuses, watched him harm New Yorkers, followed his orders, and learned from his conduct.  It would be foolish to believe that the abuse alleged in these indictments is limited to his individual conduct in those specific cases.

Brooklyn North Narcotics, as well as drug enforcement units throughout the City, engage in the same tactics described both in the criminal indictments against Franco and in the accounts of his victims. Specialized narcotics units—and the prosecutions of the cases they bring—continue to amass victims of the War on Drugs without serving any legitimate public health or safety purpose. The NYPD takes great pains to conceal the identity of undercover narcotics officers such as Franco, including from defense counsel, making it nearly impossible to challenge their credibility. NYPD members continue to present falsified evidence against New Yorkers, knowing their testimony is given greater credence than the word of people they target. Prosecutors pursue cases brought by officers known to have committed misconduct and credit the word of officers over people who maintain that they have been harmed by the NYPD, compounding the harms of abusive policing.

A true reckoning with Detective Franco’s conduct is incomplete without the realization that his conduct is not an aberration. We cannot engage only in retroactive attempts at justice, but must dismantle the system that empowered Detective Franco and continues to empower others like him.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney.



April 1, 2021

CONTACT: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org



(Brooklyn, NY) – Kelsey De Avila, Jail Services Project Director at Brooklyn Defender Services released the following statement following the enactment of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S. 2836/A.2277) late Wednesday night:

“Last night, after a near-decade-long campaign led by survivors of solitary confinement, families who have lost their loved ones, and families with loved ones currently in solitary, the HALT Solitary Confinement Act was finally signed into law. Today, we remember those who lost their lives to the torture of solitary and hold in our thoughts those enduring this state-sponsored cruelty at this very moment.

This victory is a testament to the resolve and dedication of survivors and families, joined by public defenders, social workers, mental health professionals, faith leaders, LGBTQIA+ leaders, human rights and health advocates.

For too long, New York has ignored the humanity of people confined to jails and prisons, their isolation from loved ones, and the torture inflicted on them and our communities. Whether in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence, people we represent may be subject to the torture of extreme isolation, confined in elevator-sized cells without any meaningful human interaction or access to programs for months, years and even decades with no viable due process protections—and no clear way to get out.

This historic action to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York State’s prisons and jails, takes our state closer to addressing this ongoing human rights crisis and replacing solitary confinement with humane and effective alternatives. We thank Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry for championing this legislation and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie for their leadership in passing the bill with supermajorities in both houses.

We urge that this legislation is not undermined by unnecessary amendments that create new forms of solitary by another name. We will continue our work alongside other advocates to ensure HALT is implemented fully and appropriately. We also urge the legislature to not stop here and continue its work to transform New York’s criminal legal system by passing Fair and Timely Parole, Elder Parole, the Less is More Act and more this session.”

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, immigration, and civil legal representation, as well as social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney.




NY Supreme Court Rules Incarcerated People Must be Offered COVID Vaccine Immediately

Judge sides with public defenders and advocates in suit, says state’s exclusion of incarcerated people from vaccine eligibility is unconstitutional

March 29, 2021


Sam McCann, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (smccann@ndsny.org)
Arianna Fishman, New York Civil Liberties Union (afishman@nyclu.org)
Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society (rhaskins@legal-aid.org)
Ryan Karerat, The Bronx Defenders (rkarerat@bronxdefenders.org)
Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services (Dball@bds.org)

(New York, NY) – A judge in New York Supreme Court ruled today that Governor Cuomo violated the constitutional rights of incarcerated people in refusing to offer them a COVID-19 vaccine alongside other groups in congregate settings, and ordered that every incarcerated person in the state be made eligible for the vaccine immediately.

The court sided with a coalition of advocates – Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, The Bronx Defenders, The Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Brooklyn Defender Services – who brought the suit on behalf of incarcerated people in New York City jails. The group argued that the Governor’s decision to exclude people held in jails and prisons was dangerous and discriminatory, and ignored public health guidance. The court agreed, ruling the state arbitrarily excluded incarcerated people, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Read the full decision here.

On January 11, Governor Cuomo initiated vaccination Phase 1b, which made groups living in congregate settings, such as  homeless shelters, as well as DOC staff, eligible for vaccination. But  incarcerated people, who are forced to live in the quintessentially congregate settings of jails and prisons, were generally ineligible for vaccination prior to todays’ decision, despite the extraordinary COVID-19 risks posed by those crowded environments.

Jail and prison populations are surging to pre-pandemic levels, and the infection rate is unsurprisingly spiking. As of March 18, there are 577 people currently in DOC custody with confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 306 at the start of the year. Every day that passed without the vaccine endangered the lives of incarcerated people, as underlined by a recently-uncovered Board of Correction report on three Covid-related deaths on Rikers Island.

The exclusion of incarcerated New Yorkers from vaccination eligibility also conflicted with New York’s stated goal of ensuring equitable vaccine access for Black and brown communities, and across class lines. Poor people and Black and brown New Yorkers comprise the overwhelming majority of New York’s incarcerated population. The failure to vaccinate them compounds existing inequality.

In court on March 22nd, the coalition presented testimony from public health experts to back up its claims that the state’s decision to not vaccinate incarcerated people presented an imminent danger. The experts – as well as public health guidance –  explicitly advise that states vaccinate jail and prison staff and incarcerated people at the same time, and say the state’s action to date have been wholly inadequate. “[O]ffering vaccines only to staff and subsets of people in custody, such as those of a certain age or with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness, is not an intervention sufficient to mitigate the inherent risk of congregate residential setting,” wrote Dr. Victoria Adewunmi in an affidavit.

The coalition also provided the court with statements from named petitioners who spoke about the persistent danger Covid-19 poses in jails and prisons. Their statements echoed the BOC report investigating deaths on Rikers last Spring.  “[Rikers Island] is very unsanitary and risky. It is impossible to stay six feet apart,” said Charles Holden in a statement. You eat together, you use the same showers. DOC does not supply masks within the housing area, so people are walking around without masks. I am simply asking to be treated fairly and with dignity.”

The court’s decision means that Governor Cuomo must make incarcerated people eligible for vaccination, and that jail and prison officials must offer the vaccine to those in custody immediately.

“Today’s decision provides a measure of overdue relief to our clients who fear for their lives and to our neighbors who lie awake at night worried about their loved ones’ safety while held in city and state custody. The state’s abdication of its responsibility to protect incarcerated people during the pandemic – culminating in its unconstitutional denial of the vaccine –  ranks as one of the cruelest and most horrifying actions I have seen in my years as a public defender,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “We are grateful that the court stepped in today to intervene in the Governor’s callous disregard of our clients’ humanity. The decision will make our jails and prisons much safer, but make no mistake: the situation remains incredibly dangerous and we urge officials to continue to reduce the jail and prison population immediately.”

“It is an affront to public health guidance and common decency that New York State had neglected to offer vaccines to all incarcerated New Yorkers in NYC DOC custody, and our legal action has now brought this cruel and discriminatory practice to its immediate end,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The NYCLU will not stop fighting for the safety and wellbeing of New Yorkers who are incarcerated, which helps keep all New Yorkers safe.”

“Governor Cuomo’s decision to withhold the vaccine from the people confined to dense,  congregate settings of jails and prisons always ignored the unambiguous public health guidance that called for priority vaccinations in this uniquely dangerous setting, and exacerbated the vastly disproportionate toll of this virus on Black and Latinx communities,” said Mary Lynne Werlwas, Director of The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. “These New Yorkers should have had priority access to the vaccine, and this never should have required litigation.”

“The Court’s decision to expand vaccine access to all incarcerated people will bring much-needed relief to thousands of New Yorkers who badly need protection from this deadly virus. It is shameful that it took repeated legal action for the New York State government to ensure that incarcerated people have access to this critical immunization–a protection that has been accessible to people living and working in other congregate settings, including those working in prisons and jails, for over two months,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “Moreover, while vaccine access is an important step towards dramatically reducing the risk of COVID-19, jails and prisons are intrinsically dehumanizing and dangerous. The best and most humane way to protect people’s health during a pandemic is to decarcerate.”

“Governor Cuomo’s ongoing, irrational, and punitive exclusion of incarcerated people from vaccine eligibility has needlessly put thousands of New Yorkers’ lives at risk,” said Justine Olderman, Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders.  “We are relieved that the court has acted today to right this terrible wrong so that each and every one of the people we represent who wants a vaccine can finally receive one.”