Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Criminal Defense Practice Law Reform Team

The Law Reform team of the Criminal Defense Practice addresses systemic legal issues affecting the rights of Legal Aid’s public defense clients, from police misconduct to the rights of incarcerated people, and from bail reform to parole reform. The Unit also houses several strategic initiatives designed to address the unmet needs of people whose lives have been affected by the police and prosecutorial systems. In all our work, we leverage Legal Aid’s unique role as New York City’s largest and oldest provider of direct legal services, including our presence in all five boroughs and on-the-ground experience with interconnected legal systems, and work to center the experiences of our clients and empower them to fight back against systemic barriers to justice.

Policy Team

The Law Reform team leads the Legal Aid Society’s policy and legislative work on issues relating to criminal justice in both the New York State legislature and the New York City Council. Our policy team works closely with subject matter experts throughout Legal Aid to regularly comment on policy proposals, provide testimony to the state and city legislatures, and engage in coalition-building with civil society and community groups, fellow defender organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that the rights of our clients are respected and their needs are met.

Special Litigation Unit

The knowledgeable and experienced members of the Special Litigation Unit develop ground-breaking impact litigation and innovative policy initiatives, build coalitions with other community organizations and leaders, engage in public education and media advocacy, and collaborate with our colleagues across the criminal defense practice to grapple with novel legal issues arising in their daily practice. Learn More.

Cop Accountability Project

The Cop Accountability Project is a special project within the Special Litigation Unit that empowers defenders, civil rights organizations, journalists and communities across New York City to hold police officers accountable for human rights violations by maintaining the Law Enforcement Lookup database of police misconduct. The unit also advocates for greater transparency and accountability for police harassment and abuse. Learn More.

Prisoners’ Rights Project

The Prisoners’ Rights Project is a leading advocate of humane and constitutional conditions in the New York City jails and State prisons. The Project seeks to dismantle the oppression and racism of the carceral system by protecting the safety and basic human rights of the people who are subjected to it. Learn More.

Decarceration Project

The Decarceration Project fights to make pre-trial detention, commonly referred to as bail, the exception, not the rule, by working alongside public defenders in all five boroughs to ensure as many of our clients return to their communities after arrest as possible and fighting for systemic policy changes that reduce the City’s over-reliance on pre-trial incarceration. Learn More.

Incarcerated Client Services Team

The Incarcerated Client Services team provides legal representation to almost all people held in City custody who seek to appeal disciplinary infractions resulting in sentences to punitive segregation or loss of good time credit. In addition, the initiative often challenges classification decisions that result in people being placed in restraints, losing contact visits, or being labeled as a gang member or contraband recipient while they are incarcerated.

Community Justice Unit

The Community Justice Unit combines the practice’s community organizing team with our specialized unit working on the Cure Violence model for gun violence prevention. The specialized unit of lawyers and paralegals support community-based organizations that see gun violence as a public health crisis by providing wrap-around legal services to program participants, supporting the legal needs of participating organizations, and curating know-your-rights trainings. Our community organizing team further supports that work with community empowerment events, and also works to link Legal Aid’s client community to our broader law reform, strategic litigation and policy agenda. Learn More.