From the moment of arrest, our clients risk losing their jobs, housing, basic public benefits and even the ability to live in the country—hardships that can be more devastating than the criminal charges themselves. These enmeshed penalties also trap individuals in the revolving door of incarceration and poverty, affecting not only the individuals brought before the courts, but entire families and communities as well.
At The Bronx Defenders, we have the unique opportunity to intervene early and break this cycle before problems become crises. Our Civil Action Practice provides comprehensive legal services to our clients and their families by fully integrating civil representation within our team-based structure and working collaboratively with criminal defense and family defense attorneys, advocates and social workers to assess client legal needs. We minimize the severe and often unforeseen fallout from criminal and family proceedings and actively facilitate the reentry of our clients into the community and towards the restoration of their rights. Our civil attorneys and advocates provide advocacy and representation in virtually every venue in New York City where no right to counsel exists—administrative, state, and federal—to address and preserve clients’ hard-earned jobs, maintain stable housing and public benefits, defend against the forfeiture of property, correct criminal record errors, preserve rights challenging police misconduct, and educate Judges and prosecutors about the debilitating consequences of an arrest so that they can make informed and just decisions. As experts on the direct, enmeshed penalties of criminal justice and family court involvement, our Civil Action Practice advocates also provide technical assistance and training around the country to share our proven strategies.
The Bronx is a borough of immigrants, and over 30% of residents are foreign-born according to the last U.S. Census. Even non-criminal or minor misdemeanor convictions can cost a person the right to live in the United States. With that reality in mind, criminal representation at The Bronx Defenders for over the last decade has included counsel from full-time immigration attorneys. Our immigration attorneys work alongside criminal defense attorneys and other advocates to advise non-citizen clients of the immigration consequences of contact with the criminal justice system and represent clients in immigration court, fighting for outcomes that avoid or mitigate the devastating effects criminal convictions have on the ability of residents to remain in the country with their families.
Achievements & Initiatives
- In 2014, we provided civil legal services to 4,212 clients on 4,830 matters benefiting more than 7,720 family members. Through our groundbreaking advocacy model we continue to challenge the full range of civil consequences of arrest and conviction, including immigration, housing, employment, education, and financial legal issues.
- Our Civil Action Practice attorneys have successfully challenged the use and dissemination of sealed criminal records in housing court; the role of prosecutors in eviction proceedings; the right to a jury trial in drug holdover proceedings; and the definition of illegal business in a home.
- Through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, Bronx Defenders Immigration Attorneys advocate for clients in the first-ever universal representation program for detained non-citizens facing deportation in Immigration Court in New York City. In the program’s first year we represented over 300 detained immigrants in removal proceedings who otherwise would have had no legal representation.
- We maintain a comprehensive manual on “The Consequences of Criminal Proceedings in New York State,” which serves as a valuable guide for criminal defense attorneys, civil legal services attorneys, and other reentry advocates who can access it freely on Reentry Net/NY.
- In January of 2013, we won a significant victory alongside other civil rights organizations in a federal class action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s unconstitutional trespass affidavit “Clean Halls” program.
- We filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD for charging thousands of people under unconstitutional statutes and for targeting them based on poverty, race and sexual orientation, and won a $15 million settlement on behalf of 20,000 people.
- As a Single Stop site and FEPS provider, we have helped hundreds of families each year to enroll in crucial benefits to keep them stably housed, maintain access to healthcare, and put food on the table.
- Advocates in our Civil Action Practice assist hundreds of low-income Bronx residents every year who are struggling to get their money and property back from the NYPD after an arrest. Together with our Impact Litigation Practice and Policy & Community Organizing Project, our Civil Action Practice is also fighting for systemic changes to unlawful civil forfeiture and other NYPD property seizure policies and practices.