NY1: Social Workers Team up with Public Defenders in Queens

The great work of Legal Aid social workers was reported by NY1 in observation of Social Work month. Shout out for Legal Aid social workers. Thank you for all you do.

Social Workers Team up with Public Defenders in Queens
By Clodagh McGowan
March 7, 2017

Forensic Social Workers, like Cynthia Li, play an important role in the legal system.

"We work with clients who have been arrested in the borough of Queens and we work basically to get...to understand clients more than what their charges are. A lot of times there are stories behind that the courts, the judges, the DA's don't really understand," said Cynthia Li, a forensic social worker with the Legal Aid Society Defenders Services Program.

The not-for-profit is the first public defender group in the country to incorporate social workers with its criminal practice.

This means social workers work side-by-side with attorneys, to address some of the underlying problems, like mental health or substance abuse issues, that might lead to criminal actions.

"It's incredible to be able to make a referral to a social worker to connect that client with services that maybe really helpful for them," said John Kalinowski, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society.

"These stories that the clients will tell you, sometimes will break your heart. And you never know someone's circumstances, you also learn not to judge people," said Li.

In Li's case, learning about her client Gerron Davis' background helped keep him out of jail. Davis was charged with a non-violent felony and offered jail time.

Li met with Davis and wrote to the court on his behalf. They say that helped paint a picture of Davis as a human being --- resulting in a downgraded misdemeanor charge and his placement in a one year-program to help him overcome his challenges.

Davis credits Li for helping him avoid time behind bars.

"[I] can communicate with her about anything; just talk to her she's very open, comfortable. That helped out a lot as well," said Davis.

Davis just completed his one year program and is now looking for employment, something Li is happy to help assist him with.‚Äč