New York City Council Announces Funding for Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project
WEDNESDAY, JULY 01, 2015

Council Members Vanessa L. Gibson and Andy King held a press conference yesterday and announced $750,000 in direct funding for The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project for legal services at Rikers Island.

“We cannot fool ourselves into thinking the battle is won, because it is not,” Gibson said. “These reforms will fix the damage that’s been done to many detainees, who have been witnesses and victims of brutality and sexual violence; those who have been denied access to health care, to mental health and social services, and all the critical areas that we know that they need.”

Seymour James, Attorney-in-Chief, said the funds will allow Legal Aid to support the current staff in the Prisoner Rights Project, whose staff was cut in half over the last two decades. The funding will also allow the program to hire a paralegal case handler, who will be available to directly assist clients, he said.

“This funding will allow us to continue that work on a secure and ongoing basis,” John Boston, the head of the Prisoners’ Rights Project, said during Tuesday's press conference.

Attending the press conference were Seymour W. James, Attorney-in-Chief; Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice; Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice; Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit; and John Boston, Director of PRP; Jonathan Chasan, Supervising Attorney in PRP; and Mary Lynn Werlwas, Staff Attorney.




Capital New York
Council announces funds for legal services at Rikers Island
By Colby Hamilton
Jun. 30, 2015

The City Council on Tuesday announced $750,000 in direct funding for legal service efforts at Rikers Island, part of the city's $75.8 billion budget that was approved last week.

The funds for the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners Rights Project, a decades-old program to assist and advocate for inmates in the city’s jails, will be used to hire staff and re-establish a hotline to better assist inmates with legal needs.

This is the first such direct allocation of resources for Legal Aid’s efforts at Rikers, said Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the public safety committee.

“This is an unprecedented investment in programs that promote public safety, and better serve those who are entering and exiting our criminal justice system,” Gibson said during a related press conference.

The allocation of resources for inmate legal services, she said, was part of the Council’s broad push for criminal and civil justice reforms, such as establishing a civil justice coordinator in the mayor’s office, as well as a $1.4 million budget allocation for a new bail fund for indigent detainees.

The additional resources come at a critical time for Rikers Island inmates. Last week, the city agreed to settlement terms in a class-action lawsuit brought, in part, by attorneys with the Prisoners Rights Project. Under the agreement, a federal monitor will be installed at Rikers to oversee a series of reforms aimed at reducing what the plaintiffs claimed was systemic and pervasive violence perpetuated against inmates by corrections staff.

“We cannot fool ourselves into thinking the battle is won, because it is not,” Gibson said. “These reforms will fix the damage that’s been done to many detainees, who have been witnesses and victims of brutality and sexual violence; those who have been denied access to health care, to mental health and social services, and all the critical areas that we know that they need.”

Seymour James, Legal Aid Society’s attorney-in-chief, said the funds will allow his group to support the current staff in the Prisoner Rights Project, whose staff cut in half over the last two decades. The funding will also allow the program to hire a paralegal case handler, who will be available to directly assist clients, he said.

“This funding will allow us to continue that work on a secure and ongoing basis,” John Boston, the head of the Prisoners Rights Project, said during Tuesday's press conference.