New York Groups & Assemblymember Mosley Introduce Nation's Most Progressive Legislation to Reform New York's Antiquated Parole System

  • Comprehensive Legislation Will Overhaul New York’s Parole System to Address Current Bias – Reducing Recidivism by Incentivizing Good Behavior and Early Release, Mandating Fair Hearings, Capping Violation Terms and Saving Taxpayer Dollars

  • New “Less is More” Campaign Will Rally Support for Passage of Sweeping Legislation in Albany

A coalition of New York groups and Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) today announced new legislation – the most progressive in the nation – to reform the state’s antiquated parole system and improve reintegration of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers to society. The Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act is comprehensive new legislation that addresses the current problems of how technical violations in the parole system lead to reincarceration. The reforms in the bill include: incentivizing good behavior and allowing New Yorkers to earn accelerated release from parole; requiring fair hearings; creating maximum terms of reincarceration for violations and eliminating incarceration as a sanction for certain technical violations; and saving taxpayer dollars by reducing the number of incarcerated New Yorkers, and reinvesting those funds back into the community.

New York Assemblyman Walter Mosley said: "Research from Columbia University shows us without a doubt that parole reform is not only possible, it's the smart move to make. Our state currently has one of the highest rates of parole failure, but there are ways for our parole system to become more effective while making life easier for people on parole. By incentivizing good behavior, preventing re-incarceration for technical violations, and creating a higher threshold for less serious offenses, our state can save money and reform our criminal justice system. My bill draws on this research and will serve to make our communities safer. We look forward to advancing and passing this legislation in the 2019 session.”

The bill introduction also marks the launch of the Less is More NY Campaign - a statewide effort to address the problems of mass supervision in New York and pass this new legislation.

Donna Hylton, Director of the Women and Girls Project at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, who was formerly incarcerated for 27 years, said: "New York State is known to be a progressive leader in criminal justice reform, a leading voice in the fight for basic human dignity, and a strong supporter of ‘second chances.’ Yet our parole system is sending so many people back to jail and prison for simple technical violations. It now has the terrible distinction of being a national leader in reincarcerating people who are on parole. Sending people back to jail and prison for simple technical parole violations is deeply flawed and undermines the reentry process. Unfortunately, Black and Brown people are more likely to be reincarcerated for a technical violation than are white people, and we all know that's not right. As a formerly incarcerated person who spent 5 years under parole supervision, I know what it's like to be afraid that after years of being incarcerated, I could be doing everything right, but a basic misstep like being late to a meeting might send me back to prison. Thankfully, we can fix this. The Less is More Act represents a great start for New York to be the beacon of progressive reform and ‘second chances’ it purports to be. We are proud to stand with Assemblyman Mosley in support of this bill, and invite others to join us in the Less is More campaign to win real reform and strengthen our communities."

The new legislation follows the recommendations of the “Less is More in New York” report released earlier this year by the Justice Lab at Columbia University. While New York City jail populations have dipped below 9,000 for the first time in 35 years, New Yorkers in city jails for state parole violations have increased by 15 percent. New York reincarcerates more people on parole for technical violations – a missed appointment, broken curfew, or positive test for alcohol – than any state in the country except Illinois. Of people on parole whom New York sent back to prison in 2016, over 65 percent were reincarcerated for technical parole violations. According to a report by the Columbia University Justice Lab, for every 10 people who successfully complete parole in New York, nine fail.

Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia University Justice Lab, Author of the Less Is More report, and former New York City Probation Commissioner, said: "New York is ironically both a leader in safely reducing its prison population and in revoking parole for non-criminal technical violations like missing appointments or possessing drugs. We have the second highest number of technical violations in the country, almost a third of people entering our prisons are entering for technicals rather than new crimes, and people incarcerated for technicals are the only growing population on Rikers Island. The Less is More Act will put New York back in the lead in this area, reducing technicals while providing resources for people to thrive when they’re released from prison.”

The new legislation adopts the following recommendations to address these disparities and reform New York’s antiquated parole system:

  • Shorten parole terms and incentivize good behavior by allowing people to earn accelerated discharge
  • Require a hearing before a judicial officer before jailing someone accused of a technical violation
  • Create a high legal threshold for jailing people on parole for less serious offenses and expedite their hearings
  • Cap the amount of time people can serve in jail for violations and eliminate incarceration as a sanction for certain technical violations
  • Require the use of graduated sanctions and rewards prior to revoking people under supervision to incarceration
  • Reallocate savings to community programs

Schyla Silburn, Katal member in Albany, New York, said: “This system is taking our men and women from our homes. After serving ten years in prison, my fiancé came home in September and was trying to find employment and get his life on track. In October, he had a curfew violation and found himself back in the county jail and now back in prison – all for a curfew violation! Before I read this legislation, I was almost willing to take an ankle bracelet despite the fact that this is another form of incarceration! He's not home to provide for his family, which is very stressful to the household and now has become another bill adding onto the bills left behind due to his departure. The rent, the children's needs, having to put money on the phone, visits – which has tremendous travel costs, motel fees because he's so far away, and packages. It's tiring and very stressful! He's already been out of our lives, in terms of not being home, for ten years. Ten years of me taking care of all of the things that hold us together as a family. When these men and women are reincarcerated, it leaves their families to take on the burden of caring for them, adding to the fact that we are struggling with balancing work and the children's needs. I had to take a second job just to make sure that he's okay. These kids are sad and missing their father. The injustice is just not fair and we need reform now. That’s why I support this legislation, and the Governor and all the lawmakers in Albany should support it as well."

Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, who has previously been on parole, said: "This bill will not only overhaul the system of community supervision and revocations, but also has the potential to transform the mentality of individuals on parole. When the threshold for returning to jail is so low because parole reincarcerates people for minor technical violations, hopelessness can set in. The Less is More bill will ensure the physical freedom of thousands of people by not sending them to jail for things that are not crimes, and will also give them the mental freedom to live their lives without the threat of a violation constantly hanging over their heads. The incentive to be discharged from supervision early is a much more positive and effective approach to supporting individuals in reintegrating into communities successfully."

Lorraine McEvilley, Director of the Parole Revocation Defense Unit of the Legal Aid Society, said: “The Parole Revocation Defense Unit wholeheartedly supports the Less is More bill. Far too often, parole violators are sent back to prison not because their violations of conditions represent a threat to the community, but as a punishment for punishment’s sake. By rewarding those on supervision to earn time off their sentence by abiding by conditions of parole, the bill creates rational incentives for those on parole to follow their supervision requirements. We applaud these New York groups and Assemblyman Mosley for introducing this measure and urging Albany to enact it immediately.”

States including: Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah have successfully implemented reforms similar to those proposed in the Less is More Act to reduce disparities and overhaul state-level parole systems. These reforms have worked: after South Carolina adopted graduated sanctions, compliance revocations decreased 46 percent, and recidivism rates for people under supervision dropped by a third. Meanwhile, crime rates dropped by over 20 percent. Similarly, after Louisiana implemented caps on jail or prison terms for first-time technical violations, the length of incarceration declined by 281 days and 22 percent fewer people under community supervision were sent back to prison for new crimes. After Missouri adopted earned time credits for people on probation and parole, supervision terms dropped by 14 months, the supervised population fell 18 percent, and average caseloads decreased 16 percent.

Permitting New Yorkers to earn accelerated discharge of community supervision will responsibly shrink the number of formerly incarcerated individuals subject to supervision and allow the state to concentrate its finite resources on where they're needed most. By passing these sweeping reforms, New York has the opportunity to reduce jail and prison populations, support people in the reentry process, and promote safety and justice for all the state’s families and communities.

The Less is More NY Campaign is organizing across the state to pass this legislation and create a safer, fairer, more equitable New York. #LessIsMoreNY

Statement Responding to Governor Cuomo’s 2019 Legislative Priority Address

The Legal Aid Society issued the following statement responding to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s address on his 2019 legislative priorities:

“For New York to reach its progressive promise, criminal justice, housing, and immigration reform must be central to Albany’s 2019 legislative agenda. This must include an overhaul to bail, speedy trial, and discovery statutes; the passage of parole reform; the legalization of marijuana and the removal of prior marijuana convictions; and the repeal of laws that shield against police transparency and accountability. Equally important, lawmakers must finally repeal vacancy decontrol and the eviction-vacancy bonus, ensure that preferential rent lasts the duration of each tenancy, and close other loopholes that landlords exploit to the detriment of rent-stabilized tenants.

And on immigration, especially in the era of Trump, Albany must pass legislation that would reduce the maximum sentence on class A misdemeanor charges by one day, which would save many from ICE detention and deportation. Lawmakers must also pass the Protect Our Courts Act and the New York DREAM Act, and ensure that all state residents have access to a driver’s license.

Lastly, reform must also be a sweeping depart from a status quo that has fueled a disparate system and one that over-criminalizes communities of color. The Legal Aid Society looks forward to finally righting these long-standing injustices early next year.”

 

The Legal Aid Society Adds New Homicide Unit, Appoints Jamal Johnson Director

Jamal Johnson, Director of the Homicide Defense Task Force

Jamal Johnson, Director of the Homicide Defense Task Force

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

(New York, NY) – The Legal Aid Society announced the creation of a specialized Homicide Defense Task Force today and the hiring of public defender veteran, Jamal Johnson, as the Task Force’s director. Jamal will manage the citywide unit and work to create a best practices model to serve New Yorkers in all five boroughs.

“The Legal Aid Society has served as New York's primary public defender for decades, and we are proud to have Jamal Johnson – an exceptional litigator, leader and advocate – supervise this unit. While we have always represented clients in homicide matters, and have incredibly experienced litigators and professionals already working at our organization, the Homicide Defense Task Force centralizes all these resources for the betterment of our clients,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “I am extremely thrilled and honored to be selected Director of the Homicide Defense Task Force. Throughout my years at Legal Aid, I have been privileged to work with some of the best and brightest minds in criminal defense. I now look forward to utilizing many of the superb resources we have, including our in-house mitigation specialists and our DNA and Forensic Units, to make our citywide homicide practice the best in the country," said Jamal Johnson, Director of The Legal Aid Society’s Homicide Defense Task Force.

Previously, homicide representation for low-income New Yorkers was divided between defender organizations and 18B attorneys. However, the City is taking a best practices approach and recognizing that defender organizations are better positioned to fully counsel individuals accused of these serious crimes.

The Task Force will officially start representing New Yorkers on January 1, 2019.

Jamal Johnson Biography:

Mr. Johnson first joined The Legal Aid Society 17 years ago as a staff attorney in the Bronx Criminal Defense Practice. He quickly obtained senior status while establishing himself as a highly successful trial attorney.

He then went into private practice, opening the Law Office of Jamal Johnson. His primary focus was criminal defense and civil rights law. During this time, he represented clients facing a multitude of different charges, from low-level misdemeanors to crimes as serious as homicide, as well as submitting civil claims for false arrest and sexual harassment.”

In 2013, Mr. Johnson returned to Legal Aid as a Supervising Attorney where he assembled, mentored and supervised various trial teams resulting in numerous acquittals. Additionally, he has kept his superb trial skills sharp by leading or otherwise playing an active part in many trials ending very successfully for the clients.

Mr. Johnson has tried cases in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. He has also practiced in the federal district courts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Mr. Johnson earned his Bachelor's Degree at Howard University and his law degree at the Syracuse University College of Law where he was named best advocate “among 22 teams from NY, NJ, and Connecticut” in NYSBA’s National Trial Competition.

He is a recipient of the American College of Trial Lawyers “Medal for Excellence in Advocacy”.

Mr. Johnson has lectured in trial advocacy issues at CUNY Law School and in other forums on the topics of the science of cross examination and opening statements.

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The Legal Aid Society exists for one simple yet powerful reason: to ensure that New Yorkers are not denied their right to equal justice because of poverty. For over 140 years, we have protected, defended, and advocated for those who have struggled in silence for far too long. Every day, in every borough, The Legal Aid Society changes the lives of our clients and helps improve our communities. https://www.legalaidnyc.org

Statement on Violent Arrest, Separation of Young Mother From One-year Old Child at Brooklyn HRA Center

The Legal Aid Society released the following statement responding to the violent arrest of 23-year-old Jazmine Headley, a mother of a one-year-old boy, who was forcibly separated from her son and was arrested after a verbal dispute with a security guard at the Fort Greene Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Brooklyn:

“The horrific treatment Ms. Headley and her one-year-old child suffered at the hands of the NYPD and others last week truly shocks the conscience. We hear horror stories from our clients on a regular basis about their negative experiences with these bureaucratic offices and staff – agencies and people who are ostensibly supposed to show compassion and help New Yorkers with their struggles.

While we are horrified that these officers acted so quickly, we are not surprised given the NYPD’s continued failure to engage with communities in any meaningful way. Ripping a one-year-old child from a mother’s arms is a heartless ICE tactic employed at the border that we all have denounced.

We call for:

  • an immediate investigation into the involved officers’ conduct;
  • an end to long delays in HRA offices where people seek relief;
  • the dismissal of all charges against Ms. Headley.

New York City must be better; and these immediate actions must be taken.”

Legal Aid Society Files Lawsuit Demanding Transparency From NYPD on Gang Policing Practices

The Legal Aid Society and partner organizations rallying against the NYPD’s Gang Database | October 2018

The Legal Aid Society and partner organizations rallying against the NYPD’s Gang Database | October 2018

The Legal Aid Society recently filed an Article 78 lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) demanding answers about the Department’s gang policing tactics that ensnare entire communities and operate largely unchecked.

The lawsuit was brought after the NYPD denied a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking to obtain basic information for a LAS client and his inclusion in the database. This efforts stems from Legal Aid’s “FOIL Yourself” campaign, which was launched in February to help New Yorkers submit FOIL requests to determine if they have been labeled by the NYPD as a gang affiliate.

“The NYPD’s gang policing is the epitome of government secrecy,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “The public knows virtually nothing about the Department’s gang enforcement tactics, and its database that ensnares black and brown New Yorkers at record speed under this Administration. We hope this lawsuit finally brings some daylight to an issue that the City Hall has long tried to keep in the shadows.”

The suit was jointly filed by LAS and law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, a long-time pro bono partner of LAS in representing indigent clients in criminal defense cases.

Background on the NYPD’s Gang Database

For years, the NYPD has maintained a Criminal Group Database to track and surveil alleged members of local gangs or crews. Over the past decade, the number of individuals designated as gang or crew members in New York City has increased dramatically, with thousands of New Yorkers indiscriminately caught in the NYPD’s gang labeling dragnet.

The Department’s anti-gang tactics overwhelmingly target communities of color. According to recent reporting, nearly 66 percent of those added to the database between December 2013 and February 2018 were black, and 33 percent were Latinx. Blacks and Latinos respectively make up 25 percent and 27 percent of the city’s residents. Over the same four-year period, only 0.8 percent of the 17,452 people added to the list were white.

Background on Petitioner

Keith Shenery is a 21-year-old African-American resident of Harlem, who was arrested for possessing a small bag of marijuana and a folding knife that was later found in his pocket. Mr. Shenery was charged with possession of a “gravity knife,” a crime that the Manhattan District Attorney prosecutes more harshly than any other New York City DA.

In this case, the prosecution repeatedly asserted that Mr. Shenery was a “gang member” according to the NYPD. However, there was no evidence supporting these assertions nor any such allegations in the indictment.

The Legal Aid Society and Kramer Levin seek the police records underlying this so-called gang membership.

Legal Aid, White & Case Win Sixth Amendment Victory Against City Over Recordings in Attorney-client Interview Booths at Local Courthouse

The Legal Aid Society and White & Case LLP lauded a ruling today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacating and remanding an earlier decision permitting the use of surveillance cameras by the City of New York in attorney-client interview booths at the Richmond County Courthouse. The U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York will now hear this case with the Second Circuit’s guidance that the cameras’ potential “chilling effect” on free and open attorney-client communications must be given ample consideration in deciding whether the cameras are permitted under the Sixth Amendment.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Sixth Amendment and a victory for due process,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Our clients are entitled to meet with their attorneys in private – a fundamental part of the right to counsel. We look forward to arguing the merits of this Sixth Amendment chilling effect on our client’s right to speak freely with counsel, and call on the City to terminate this practice on Staten Island and elsewhere in the interim.”

“We’re very pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision, which affirms the constitutional right of individuals accused of a crime to speak candidly with their attorneys. The Second Circuit appropriately recognized that the presence of surveillance cameras may impede that right because detained individuals may fear that their conversations are being monitored and recorded. We look forward to the next stage of the litigation,” said Colin West, Associate at White & Case.

BACKGROUND

When the courthouse first opened in 2015, Legal Aid attorneys quickly discovered that cameras were installed in the booths, facing the accused. Pursuant to a case settled in 1999, the new courthouse was mandated to provide private and confidential meeting spaces for its pre-arraignment interviews.

The Legal Aid Society, along with White & Case LLP, filed a motion in September of 2015 for a preliminary injunction halting all recording, which was granted. However, less than ten days later, NYC Department of Correction (DOC) again started filming inside the attorney client interview booths which a judge again prohibited them from doing.

While the preliminary injunction remained in place, Legal Aid and DOC worked in settlement conferences towards a resolution. Those negotiations were abandoned in February 2016.

In the subsequent months, DOC began to install cameras at other facilities, ensuring Legal Aid that all cameras would remain off until the matter regarding the Staten Island cameras was resolved.

In January 2017, DOC filed a motion under seal essentially asking the Court to lift the injunction. However, shortly thereafter, DOC withdrew their motion, without any explanation. Legal Aid attorneys were then notified by DOC that cameras had in fact been operating and recording at the Richmond County Courthouse for long periods of time.

Legal Aid and White & Case then filed contempt papers last March with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (SDNY) demanding that the cameras be completely removed and that the City be sanctioned for violating the court orders.

After the SDNY ruled against plaintiffs in February 2018, Legal Aid and White & Case appealed this matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

This decision is an important victory for the right of individuals accused of a crime to speak freely, openly and privately with their attorney. It will have far reaching effects throughout the City and beyond. This decision recognizes that the presence of surveillance cameras in attorney-client interview rooms may prevent detained people from speaking freely and openly because they may fear their conversations are not private. The Court sent a clear message that due consideration of the accused’s perspective must be balanced against the City’s justification for installing cameras.

Plaintiff-Appellant’s counsel intends to confirm with the City that the cameras have been turned off in accordance with the Second Circuit’s ruling today.

Statement On Landmark COA Decision Granting Non-Citizens The Right To A Jury Trial

The Legal Aid Society issued the following statement today responding to a historic decision rendered by the New York State Court of Appeals granting non-citizens charged with a deportable offense the right to a jury trial even if the offense at issue carries a jail sentence of six months or less:

“This landmark decision will provide our clients a meaningful opportunity to fight against criminal charges that could bring possible deportation. In New York State, and in the era of Trump, it is crucial that our judiciary weigh potential immigration consequences that could lead to nightmarish outcomes. The court’s ruling holds that, in light of these severe consequences, our non-citizen clients must be afforded a jury of their peers instead of a single decision-maker to scrutinize the charges. Lastly, this decision highlights an unequal treatment between New York City and the rest of the State where jury trials are afforded in every misdemeanor case. The Legislature should fix this next session.”

Pro Bono Bulletin | December 2018

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Community Justice Unit Partners with Kramer Levin to Assist Clients Wrongfully Added to Police Database

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Every day, hundreds of people of color in New York City are being added to NYPD’s Gang Database despite not having ever been a member of a gang, simply because of how they look. This inappropriate stigmatizing can result in serious consequences for our clients, including deportation, higher bail, and severe restrictions of confinement for those who are incarcerated.  But Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit (CJU), with the help of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, LLP, is doing something about it.

Under the current framework of “gang policing”, communities of color are criminalized wholesale through the database and there are no constitutional protections. People provided no notice of being entered into the database, no opportunity to challenge inclusion, and ultimately no opportunity to be removed entirely. Working with Kramer Levin, Legal Aid has been able help hundreds of potentially impacted people submit requests under our “Do It Yourself” FOIL (Freedom Of Information Law) Initiative. Working with Kramer Levin has allowed the CJU to expand and amplify its work on behalf of these marginalized community members.

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Anthony Posada, the Supervising Attorney for CJU describes an added benefit of the collaboration with Kramer; “Pro Bono partnerships reinforce in our clients the sense of dignity and humanity that the criminal justice system and over-criminalization has consistently stripped them of.” He also notes the benefits of this partnership for the pro bono partners, by allowing them to better understand the communities where these injustices are occurring, and empowering them to advocate on their behalf. Pro Bono projects are critical to broadening the scope of the work CJU is able to do, both at an individual and at a policy level. “When our communities receive that positive treatment that welcomes them… they feel that we really care about them and that their lives matter, and that is something you cannot quantify.”

 

 “Case Closed” Leverages Law Firm Volunteers to Seal Prior Records

 

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A criminal record can pose a significant roadblock for clients who are striving to move out of poverty.  By restricting someone’s ability to find employment, join the armed forces or pursue educational opportunities, clients are often left with few options to increase their ability to advance. But thanks to a 2017 change in the Criminal Procedure Law, individuals in New York who meet certain requirements are eligible to seal their criminal records, allowing them to move on with their lives without a past mistake hampering them.

Through our Case Closed Project, eligible clients work with an attorney to prepare all the proper paperwork to make a motion to seal their prior record. This is work that changes the lives of the clients, and Legal Aid is fortunate to have two pro bono partners, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Winston & Strawn LLP, assisting these clients. These firms take on full representation in criminal record sealing application cases.  Work includes meeting with clients, gathering documents, submitting motions to Criminal and Supreme courts in all five boroughs, as well as guiding clients throughout the process. Emma Goodman is the Legal Aid Staff Attorney who oversees Case Closed. Although Emma is available to the firms at every stage of representation, the pro bono attorneys generally handle all aspects of the case. Additionally, the firms are developing internal expertise, so with time they will need less support which allows Legal Aid to help more people.

Case Closed can also be impactful for the volunteers, as Emma notes “I have heard one story after another of law firm attorneys being moved by the work that they do to help our clients. I think that spending time with our clients is truly eye-opening to attorneys that may not know what it’s like to be struggling to support yourself financially in New York City. They see firsthand what people’s lives are like and develop a better understanding of how incredible our clients are.”

Currently, Emma is the only attorney at Legal Aid who focuses exclusively on sealing work and she has over 150 eligible clients.  Sullivan & Cromwell and Winston have taken on about 25 clients allowing Emma to devote more time to other clients and focus on broader areas of community outreach and legislative advocacy. Of the 26 successful sealing applications in the last year, 11 clients were represented by pro bono attorneys. Several of these clients have already found new jobs that they were previously unable to get before their records were sealed.

Still, more work needs to be done. Case Closed hopes to not only expand its work providing direct representation, but also by advocating for broader legal reform through class action and other affirmative litigation. “We all know that the laws are only effective if they are followed, and pro bono partnerships can help us to ensure that sealing protections are available to all New Yorkers, regardless of their income,” said Emma.  

The impact that record sealing can have is truly life-changing, and we look forward to expand this work in the future to help more clients.

 

“Decarceration Project” Expands Work Through Pro Bono Collaborations

In June 2016, The Legal Aid Society launched the Decarceration Project, a bail reform initiative fighting to end the illegal incarceration of New York’s most vulnerable populations.

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For nearly a year, attorneys in the Decarceration Project have worked with pro bono attorneys at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to fight for our clients’ release and for bail reform through litigation. They have contributed significant and impactful insight, research, briefings, and oral advocacy to meet these goals. In June of this year, months of planning culminated in a mass bail action in Brooklyn and Queens. Davis Polk associates observed arraignment shifts in both boroughs for an entire weekend, taking notes and providing feedback. In week that followed, they were stationed in Legal Aid offices in both boroughs to assist trial attorneys and Decarceration Project staff in bringing approximately a dozen writs to challenge bad bail decisions. The effort won the release of at least three clients in this first stage of litigation. Through this process we gained crucial strategic insight into how we can most effectively challenge New York’s bail system through litigation. This partnership is ongoing and the Davis Polk team continues to be generous with its time, creative problem-solving, and incredible research capacity. We are grateful to have as partners this dedicated group of lawyers who have an obvious interest in the long-term success of our Project, our clients, and bail reform in New York state.

On another front, the Decarceration team has partnered with Kasowitz Benson & Torres LLP to challenge the practice of Bail Forfeiture.  Assisting individual clients and families that have lost monies posted for bail when an individual misses a court date. This often means that the client, and more frequently their family, lose not only the initial premium they paid to a bondsman, but are then sued by the bondsman seeking to collect the entire bail amount from the family. In these circumstances family typically have had no representation, and have been left to deal with the bail bondsman directly. In one case, the firm has filed an appeal challenging a judge’s holding that our client’s family did not even have standing to intervene and try to recuperate their lost money.

The work of these dedicated pro bono partners has greatly enhanced the work of the Decarceration Project and ensured they are able to assist as many clients as possible.

 

 

 

Our Statement on Transgender Day of Remembrance

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, The Legal Aid Society commemorates the numerous victims of transphobic violence, hate, and prejudice.

In the last year alone, at least 23 transgender people—the vast majority people of color—have lost their lives to transphobic violence in the United States. Today, we mourn and stand in solidarity with transgender communities and their allies to recognize the family and friends no longer with us.

Now more than ever we must acknowledge that transgender individuals of color who are poor and undocumented are targets of systemic oppression through over-policing, denial of essential rights and benefits and acts of violence. We view these injustices from an intersectional point of view, acknowledging that race, class and immigration status contribute to these systemic and institutionalized acts of oppression and violence.

At The Legal Aid Society, we reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection and progress of the transgender community through legal advocacy, education, and community engagement. We will continue our groundbreaking work in our Civil, Criminal Defense, and Juvenile Rights Practices to passionately fight for the rights and safety of transgender communities and all marginalized groups within our society.