Projects, Units & Initiatives
Parole Revocation Defense Unit
For thousands of low-income New Yorkers who have been detained at Rikers Island after being accused of violating state parole and post-release supervision, the Legal Aid Society stands alone in its knowledge, abilities and commitment to providing the best legal services in New York State parole revocation proceedings. Formed in 1972, the Parole Revocation Defense Unit at the Legal Aid Society (PRDU) became the first dedicated unit in the country to represent clients in parole revocation proceedings. Today, almost 45 years later, the Parole Revocation Defense Unit, through a dedicated team of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and social workers, represents over 6000 parolees per year with the stated goal of both shortening their length of incarcerations on Rikers Island, and upon release, assisting parole clients in the community to avoid violations and re-incarceration. PRDU currently averages about a 25% rate of return to the community for our clients resulting from parole warrant holds being lifted or clients being restored to the community even after a revocation due to compelling mitigating factors.
PRDU currently staffs a rotating team of 21 trained parole attorneys at the Rikers Island Judicial Center on a daily basis who represent clients at both preliminary hearings and final hearings. There are also three experienced attorney supervisors who staff the hearing center daily and are also responsible for training lawyers in-house and in the larger criminal defense community on parole representation.
In addition to representing our parole clients at their hearings, PRDU has two appellate lawyers who represent clients in Habeas Corpus petitions, Article 78 Petitions and who develop and handle impact litigation involving the New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
With a fixed and permanent writ legal team, PRDU has had many successes in obtaining early release and elimination of parole for some clients. Our work has also resulted in critical changes in the policies and procedures of the courts in which we practice. For example, in April of 2015, our writ team secured a victory in the Court of Appeals that held that legal competency was a Due Process requirement in a parole violation proceeding. This important ruling now allows incompetent individuals accused of parole violations to receive mental health treatment rather than incarceration. In addition to this type of important legal work, the unit continues to file administrative appeals and conduct other appellate work on behalf of our clients.
Both PRDU and other post-conviction units at the Legal Aid Society have expanded to address the conditions in communities which negatively affect compliance with parole conditions. Going forward, these units will dedicate legal staff to maintain client and parole officer contact past incarceration to monitor imposition of conditions which will often unnecessarily result in a loss of housing or employment for the client. The loss of these two important social stabilizers often result in violations and re-incarceration. Our preliminary work in this area of reentry has already successfully staved off numerous violations and helped our clients navigate an often onerous parole system.