Projects, Units & Initiatives
For thousands of low-income New Yorkers who have been detained at Rikers Island after being accused of violating state parole and post-release supervision, the Legal Aid Society stands alone in its knowledge, abilities and commitment to providing the best legal services in New York State parole revocation proceedings. Formed in 1972, the Parole Revocation Defense Unit at the Legal Aid Society (PRDU) became the first dedicated unit in the country to represent clients in parole revocation proceedings.
Today, 50 years later, the Parole Revocation Defense Unit, through a dedicated team of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and social workers, represents over 6000 parolees per year with the stated goal of both shortening their length of incarcerations on Rikers Island, and upon release, assisting parole clients in the community to avoid violations and re-incarceration. Due to the work of PRDU, clients enjoy a high rate of return to the community resulting from parole warrant holds being lifted or clients being restored to the community even after a revocation due to compelling mitigating factors.
PRDU currently staffs a rotating team of 21 trained parole attorneys in courthouses throughout New York City on a daily basis who represent clients at parole recognizance hearings, preliminary hearings, and final revocation hearings. In addition to staff attorneys, experienced attorney supervisors oversee courthouse operations on a daily basis and provide training for lawyers in-house and in the larger criminal defense community on parole representation. PRDU also carries a dedicated training attorney.
PRDU also has two appellate lawyers who represent clients in Habeas Corpus petitions, Article 78 Petitions and who develop and handle impact litigation involving the New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
In 2021, PRDU was part of a statewide coalition that successfully lobbied Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the Less Is More Act, legislation that comprehensively reforms the State’s parole system.
The Less Is More Act – which garnered wide-ranging support from public defenders, prosecutors, criminal justice reform advocates, and impacted communities – reforms New York State’s parole revocation system by eliminating incarceration for most minor non-criminal violations, requiring prompt judicial review of parole violation charges, placing caps on revocation sanctions, and providing a path to earned discharge from supervision.
The new law allows New York to turn the page on a draconian parole revocation system that helped perpetuate mass incarceration for decades.
With a fixed and permanent writ legal team, PRDU has had many successes in obtaining early release and elimination of parole for some clients. Our work has also resulted in critical changes in the policies and procedures of the courts in which we practice. For example, in April of 2015, our writ team secured a victory in the Court of Appeals that held that legal competency was a Due Process requirement in a parole violation proceeding. This important ruling now allows incompetent individuals accused of parole violations to receive mental health treatment rather than incarceration. In addition to this type of important legal work, the unit continues to file administrative appeals and conduct other appellate work on behalf of our clients.
Both PRDU and other post-conviction units at the Legal Aid Society have expanded to address the conditions in communities which negatively affect compliance with parole conditions. Going forward, these units will dedicate legal staff to maintain client and parole officer contact past incarceration to monitor imposition of conditions which will often unnecessarily result in a loss of housing or employment for the client. The loss of these two important social stabilizers often result in violations and re-incarceration. Our preliminary work in this area of reentry has already successfully staved off numerous violations and helped our clients navigate an often onerous parole system.
Last Updated: 23 September 2022
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