Neighborhood Defender Service’s clients are vulnerable in the best of times; facing a crisis, they need us more than ever. And we need you to make our indispensable work possible. Please lend your support on December 1, a global day of giving, by supporting the NDS #GivingTuesday campaign. All donations today and tomorrow will be doubled up to $10,000 thanks to a generous matching gift, so give now!

2020 exposed the systematic racism and injustice that leaves our neighbors vulnerable to the twin crises of mass incarceration and Covid-19. It also showed the power of public defense to protect and transform our communities.

NDS sprung into action this March as the pandemic arrived on the doorsteps of Harlem and Detroit. We recognized that Covid-19 posed a special threat to our clients and our neighbors. Our clients – mostly poor, mostly Black and brown, often incarcerated, and often housing insecure – are exactly those who bear the brunt of public health disasters. So we worked to get them out of jail, to house them, to keep their families together. Our efforts saved lives.

Our clients also bear the brunt of police misconduct. So when Black Lives Matter protests emerged powerfully across the country, we marched in solidarity with our neighbors. We represented them in court when they were arrested for protesting, and we built new tools to respond to their needs.We expanded our community intake, worked with clients seeking redress for police misconduct and launched a new program, NDS PACE, designed to change the way policing works.

In a year filled with immense tragedy, we continue to work tirelessly on behalf of our communities and our belief in a more just world. This difficult year has fortunately yielded some real successes that alleviated the pain of our neighbors and built a platform for a more equitable future.

Here’s how we made a difference this year:

Freeing 700+ vulnerable Detroiters

NDS Detroit, still in its infancy, has spearheaded the fight for the release of vulnerable individuals from detention in Wayne County. These client-centered efforts, manifested in thousands of hearings, applications and writs, have resulted in more than 700 people released from custody, drastically reducing their vulnerability to the virus and improving public health. More than 85% of those held in Wayne County Jail are in on pre-trial detention, so these releases are especially critical victories in the fight for justice.

Successfully advocating for change on the local and state level

NDS has taken a stand for our communities, lobbying for meaningful change – not superficial reform – in the halls of power. That includes testifying against racism in the child welfare system, arguing for an end to exclusionary housing policies that are prejudiced against overpoliced communities, and demanding that police and ICE not be allowed access to contact tracing data. Our Contact Tracing Confidentiality bill passed the legislature unanimously this summer and is awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.

Creating new community empowerment programs

In June, NDS Detroit launched community intake, so it could begin representing Detroiters as early in a case as possible. At the same time, NDS Harlem began working with clients to seek legal redress for police misconduct. Then, this November, we created the national NDS PACE Program to change policing in America.

Keeping families housed

At the height of the pandemic so far, when hundreds of New Yorkers were dying daily, NDS successfully filed an emergency illegal lockout petition in Housing Court. Our client was facing an illegal eviction and homelessness at the worst possible time due to a minor charge. NDS navigated multiple hearings on his behalf and ultimately prevailed in keeping him in his home. This work paved the way for similarly situated tenants who face illegal evictions while the courts are closed.

Keeping families together

NDS has fought relentlessly to keep families together, and preserve contact for those who are separated. That has depended on the relentless, compassionate work of our social workers, who thoroughly document the facts and work directly with our families to meet their needs. All told, we have kept families together since the pandemic began.

More victories like these depend on your support. Support our work with a gift this #GivingTuesday