Justine Olderman Presented Testimony at City Council’s Preliminary Budget Hearing
New York City Council Committee on Justice System Preliminary Budget Hearing
March 19, 2019
Testimony of The Bronx Defenders By Justine Olderman, Executive Director
The Bronx Defenders provides innovative, holistic, and client-centered services to low-income people of the Bronx- these services include criminal defense, family defense, immigration representation, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy. Our staff of over 350 represents nearly 30,000 individuals each year and reaches many more through outreach programs and community legal education. The primary goal of our holistic defense model is to address the underlying issues that drive people into the various legal systems and to mitigate the devastating impact of that involvement, such as deportation, eviction, the loss of employment, student loans and public benefits, or removal of children from the home. Instead of referring to these outcomes as “collateral consequences,” we use the term “enmeshed penalties,” which better reflects the grave risks and realities that our clients face from the moment of legal system involvement.
One of the unique aspects of our model is our interdisciplinary team structure. The Bronx Defenders is arranged into ten interdisciplinary teams. Each team is comprised of criminal defense attorneys, family court attorneys, immigration and general civil attorneys, investigators, social workers and other social services advocates. Through the team model, each client has seamless access to multiple advocates and services to meet his or her legal and related needs.
Our interdisciplinary model reflects the intersectional nature of system involvement. A woman, arrested in her home on low level drug possession charges, will not only be put through the criminal legal system, but if she lives in public housing she may face eviction; if she is an immigrant, she may face deportation; and if she is a mother, she may end up fighting to retain her right to parent her child. Legal system involvement begets more system involvement. Our model of indigent defense means that we not only anticipate this intricate web of enmeshed penalties but that the client has a team of lawyer and non-lawyer advocates to help her navigate these different systems. We are there with her every step of the way. We go where she goes.