Director of Community Justice Unit Testifies Before City Council Committees

Sandeep Kandhari, the Director of the Community Justice Unit, testified before the New York City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations and the Committee on Public Safety.

"Our Community Justice Unit began four years ago as part of the City’s adoption of the Gun Violence Crisis Management System and we serve 17 precincts across the city. This initiative is an evidence-driven approach to reducing gun violence and The Legal Aid Society is able to bring free legal services to these historically underserved communities by partnering with all of the Cure Violence providers. We provide legal outreach, trainings and regular office hours in areas as far-reaching as East New York, Far Rockaway and the Stapleton area of Staten Island. New York City is the only city, among the 50+ that have adopted Cure Violence, to integrate legal services as part of a drive to reduce gun violence. Our work directly in our impacted communities provides us insight into the many ways a lack of governmental transparency, accountability or responsiveness create misgivings within poor communities."

Int 1136-2016 Improves Transparency but Needs to be Amended "We welcome any attempt to improve transparency and the City’s risk management plans through the reporting of the lawsuits described in Int 1136-2016. The bill will help bring transparency to the conduct of Department of Correction’s staff and may demonstrate trends or patterns, that once detected, may lead to better oversight and supervision of our City’s jails. The utilization and availability of information will improve and inform management as well as increase the public understanding and comment on the administration of our City’s jails. For example, the bill will identify whether specific staff are responsible for a significant number of lawsuits brought against the Department of Correction and will identify specific locations within the jails where problems repeatedly arise. However, we believe that the language of the bill must be amended to serve this intent."

Crime Victim Services Unit

"This bill would give the Mayor’s Office the ability to create an executive agency which coordinates with various nongovernmental agencies to serve the needs of crime victims. While The Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Practice often represents those charged as an alleged perpetrator of crime, our work within the Gun Violence Crisis Management System exemplifies how a public defender can assist victims as well. The Community Justice Unit offers legal services to all Cure Violence providers in New York City and reports our work to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Cure Violence providers such as Man Up! Inc. in East New York, Life Camp in Jamaica, Queens, and True to Life in Staten Island are all serving communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence. The 17 precincts selected to be served by Cure Violence providers account for 51% of all gun violence in New York City. The work of the Community Justice Unit demonstrates a new model of public defense, one that includes partnering with communities to proactively reduce violence by engaging community members, mostly young people in positive structures and legal services.

"We encourage inclusion of Cure Violence providers in this initiative to allow the work of these partners in the Gun Violence Crisis Management System to take even deeper root in our most violent communities. By involving Cure Violence organizations, who hire local community members who were formerly incarcerated, to engage with victims, the Crime Victim Services Unit will be simultaneously coordinating victims services with anti-violence programs, connecting victims to programs that are already overseen by the city and providing meaningful employment for people recently released from prison. The Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit has the unique position of providing legal services to all Cure Violence program participants citywide and our experiences demonstrate the vital role that our Cure Violence partners can play in New York City.”