On Tuesday, May 5, Neighborhood Defender Service is participating in #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Our clients are vulnerable in the best of times; facing a crisis, they need us more than ever. And we need you. Give to NDS today and make our indispensable work possible. Your gift will be matched 2:1 up to $5,000!

2.3 million people are held in jails and prisons that leave them particularly vulnerable to public health crises. Every day that passes during the COVID-19 outbreak puts them at heightened risk — risk of indefinite incarceration, risk of illness, and indeed risk of death. It also jeopardizes the health of everyone: an outbreak of coronavirus in our jails and prisons spreads like wildfire behind bars and beyond.

That is why NDS immediately leapt into action at the outset of this crisis: filing emergency motions and writs, submitting new reports from social workers, zealously investigating each and every fact of our cases, and tenaciously fighting for our clients, first in courtrooms and then over Skype calls, from Detroit to Harlem. 

All of our communities face this same elevated threat, and NDS has fought for justice in every forum. Our family defense practice has left no stone unturned in its efforts to reunite families during this already stressful time, when they need each other more than ever. Our immigration defense team has sought to stand in the way of a deportation machine that seeks to churn on amid a pandemic. And our civil team has fought to keep our clients and their families safely housed. 

We’ve not only fought – we’ve won. Here are some of those success stories:

194 people released in Detroit

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 194 people removed 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. 

Limiting Incarceration for Low Level Arrests

Our clients – predominantly poor people of color – often face arrest and detention for minor complaints. That is unjust in the best of times; during a pandemic it’s life-threatening. That’s why the interim Managing Attorney of our Harlem criminal defense practice successfully lobbied the District Attorney’s office and the Office of Court Administration to issue a citywide directive to the NYPD with the aim of keeping people out of courts for unnecessary reasons. This has resulted in fewer of our neighbors being detained for hours or days, risking exposure, due to trivial charges that result from over-surveillance.

Keeping families housed

At the height of the pandemic to date, 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. Our team is leading the way on trailblazing advocacy like this every day.

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. 

Tenacious Advocacy in Digital Arrangements

Arraignments carry on digitally in this new world, and our arraignment team has been present for each and every one of our clients, insisting on their humanity before the court.