Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Community Justice Unit

The Community Justice Unit (CJU) was established in 2011 as part of the New York City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. Recognizing the critical need to support community-based organizations whose work is to view gun violence as a public health crisis, the CJU follows the Cure Violence model: advocate for communities with legal wrap-around services to develop proactive strategies to reduce violence, especially involving young people. We partner with New York City’s Crisis Management System, a citywide network of community-based organizations, to create healthier, safer communities. Every day, in every borough, CJU brings equal justice to underserved communities, helping all New Yorkers effectively access legal services.

Our Impact

There are currently 30 CMS/CV sites in New York City and growing.  Each of these CV sites represents a safe space/location in the neighborhood where community members can meet; receive training on a variety of topics including mediation, conflict resolution, legal trainings, such as know your rights on police encounters, gang policing, and family law; participate in civic engagement by preparing community members to speak at local government meetings; and avail themselves of wrap-around services like after school programming, tutoring and literacy classes, job readiness programs including resume building, job fairs, interviewing workshops, and OSHA training, financial empowerment, mental health and legal representation.

The Community Justice Unit offers a number of essential legal services to New Yorkers across our city. In the past year, we’ve taken on more than 1,940 cases as part of our work with Cure Violence partners, including helping individuals obtain their rap sheets and seal their criminal records, offering legal advice, assisting New Yorkers with housing issues, and running a 24/7 hotline for legal emergencies. In addition, CJU staff and attorneys held 132 different community events across all five boroughs, including Know Your Rights events, rallies, and educational clinics.

FOIL Yourself (Freedom of Information Law)

The Legal Aid Society launched its FOIL yourself website in 2018 in order to streamline the process for New Yorkers to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to determine if they have been labeled by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as a gang affiliate. Like the stop and frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, the databases are likely to be over-inclusive and inaccurate. Unlike the stop and frisk records, the databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection and judicial review.

Watch video from a CJU workshop below and read more about the team’s work in our annual report.