Testimony delivered at the New York City Council Committees on Public Safety and Courts and Legal Services Hearing

Sarah Solon, Deputy Director of Justice Initiatives for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice - November 22, 2016


Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committees on Public Safety and Courts & Legal Services November 22, 2016

Good morning, Chairs Gibson and Lancman and members of the Committees on Public Safety and Courts and Legal Services. My name is Sarah Solon and I am the Deputy Director of Justice Initiatives for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Chidinma Ume, Associate Counsel, and Diana Gutierrez, Deputy Chief Operating Officer from my office, are here with me to answer questions.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety strategy and, together with partners inside and outside of government, develops and implements policies aimed at reducing crime, reducing unnecessary arrests and incarceration, promoting fairness, and building strong and safe neighborhoods.

A key goal of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice is to coordinate the effective and fair functioning of the criminal justice, which is done in close partnership with other Mayoral agencies, with the Courts, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and members of the public. This work encompasses everything from partnering with the City Council to reduce barriers to bail payment to partnering with leadership from all parts of the criminal justice system to develop systemic solutions to case delay. It also includes advising on and funding both effective prosecution and effective defense.

The topic of today’s hearing – the upcoming request for proposals for indigent defense services in New York City – can be seen in this larger context. Not only is New York City committed to fulsomely complying with a constitutional mandate to provide indigent defense services, we also see zealous, high-quality defense as crucial for a well-functioning, efficient, and fair criminal justice system. The City invests significant resources in providing high-quality indigent defense services. In Fiscal Year 2015, New York City spent more than $225 million on indigent representation. The City takes this investment seriously and is proud of its robust system for providing indigent defense, which serves the vast majority – over 90% – of the people who go through the City’s criminal justice system.

Several indicators distinguish New York City’s indigent defense system. Every defendant is assigned a lawyer at arraignments, which is not the case in other jurisdictions within the state and nationwide. And our City’s institutional providers have developed comprehensive wraparound services, including dedicated immigration lawyers and social workers who assess needs and connect clients to available support. Such services, coupled with high-quality legal representation, serve as a lifeline for many New Yorkers who come from chronically disadvantaged neighborhoods and face significant housing, employment, and immigration challenges, some of which can be exacerbated by contact with the criminal justice system. Additionally, the City’s Assigned Counsel Plan is currently working a cutting-edge case management technology tool to support the City’s hundreds of 18B lawyers.

The high-quality representation that exists in New York City’s indigent defense services is attributed to various quality control measures that are already in place. These include rigorous hiring standards, extensive and ongoing training, performance reviews, and constant supervision for attorneys.

The upcoming solicitation will be a competitive process explicitly designed to select the highest quality indigent defense services. The procurement prioritizes a few things: in addition to maintaining reliable methods of client communication as well as other indicators of high quality representation, selected vendors will be expected to maintain an array of resources in addition to legal staff, which may include social workers, paralegals, investigators, and experts and have the capacity to serve non-English speaking clients. The City is interested in proposers who will provide City-wide collateral consequence services in such areas as immigration, housing, and other situations arising from a criminal case. Contracts will be awarded to the vendors whose proposals are determined to be the most advantageous to the City, taking into consideration the price and other factors which will be set forth in the upcoming Request for Proposals.

This procurement round, importantly, is also designed to bring the City into compliance with the current Indigent Defense Representation Plan. In 2010, under prior administration, the City revised its Indigent Defense Representation Plan to allow institutional providers to be assigned as the primary defenders for all cases, including homicide cases. The process for codifying the plan was somewhat involved, including the issuance of an Executive Order (Executive Order No. 136 (2010)), a public comment period, the codification at Title 43, Chapter 13, Section 3 of the Rules of the City of New York (43 RCNY §13-01), and a requisite thirty days after codification before the rule took place.

Consistent with the rules of procurement, the concept paper outlining these changes was posted on our website for about 45 days beginning August 2, 2016. Many have submitted comments and we are taking these into account in preparing final procurement.

High standards for zealous, quality indigent defense in homicide cases have long existed in New York City, and these same standards will remain under the Request for Proposals that will be issued shortly by the City.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I am happy to take your questions.