New York, NY, November 8, 2021: I am honored to have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Legal Action Center, NYC.
The Legal Action Center (LAC) uses legal and policy strategies to fight discrimination, build health equity, and restore opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records, substance use disorders, and HIV or AIDS. LAC uses a multi-faceted approach, including impact litigation, legal services, education, and policy advocacy.
LAC was founded by The Vera Institute of Justice in 1973 to break the cycle of addiction and crime. When the HIV epidemic tore apart communities already affected by addiction and incarceration, we expanded our mission to help improve the lives of men and women trying to cope with these multiple crises.
Decades of punitive criminal justice and drug policies have led to over-incarceration and failure to invest in community healthcare. The results of these failed policies have devastated lives, communities and perpetuated systemic inequities on a massive scale. Today, 1 in every 3 American adults has a conviction record and the disproportionate impact on low-income individuals of color is unmistakable. Tens of thousands of laws exist to block people with histories of conviction from accessing basic necessities, such as employment, housing and education, essentially sentencing people to a lifetime of poverty. Millions more Americans cannot access or afford the health care they need, and individuals with substance use disorder and mental illness are often criminalized instead of treated due to the lack of affordable, accessible treatment options and discriminatory insurance barriers.
Direct Legal Services
Our free legal services are offered to New York residents facing discrimination based on their arrest or conviction records, substance use disorder, HIV, or AIDS status.
LAC provides free legal services to approximately 1,500 individuals in New York every year. We help people overcome discrimination, get fair treatment in the workplace, protect their HIV privacy rights, access the mental health and substance use disorder care they need, and attain jobs, homes, benefits, voting rights, and more. Our services range from brief advice to informal advocacy and full representation.
Most services are offered via our telephone hotline, which is staffed by paralegals under attorney supervision. We also provide services offsite at community-based organizations. LAC does not accept walk-in clients.
We work with clients to seal cases, correct background screening errors, and gather evidence of positive change to increase their chances of obtaining employment, housing, and other life essentials. We also represent clients when they are illegally denied these opportunities. For clients with HIV or substance use disorders, we provide education and representation to address privacy violations and discrimination – whether in health care settings, employment, insurance coverage, the criminal legal and family regulation (child welfare) systems, or elsewhere.
We work with policymakers and advocacy partners in Washington, DC, New York, and other states across the country to advance laws and regulations that eliminate discriminatory policies, protect access to health care, and promote opportunity.
LAC works to protect our constituents from discrimination by fighting to change laws and regulations at the national, state, and local levels.
In this way, we work to break down the barriers that keep millions of people from the dignity and equity they deserve, and we advocate for reforms and funding that increase their access to opportunity. All of our policy advocacy is rooted in a health-first approach that aims to shift the historically punitive and racist response to drug and criminal justice policies to one that stresses the need to expand treatment, promote community-building, and support restorative justice.
Training and Technical Assistance
We provide training and resources to educate directly-affected individuals, providers, attorneys, policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders about current laws, best practices and much-needed policy reforms.
We conduct our trainings in-person in New York City and other locations when requested, as well as through online webinars.
Likewise, we provide technical assistance nationally in response to requests from policymakers, public officials, advocacy organizations and direct service providers who need help navigating laws and policies and who want information about model programs, practices or policies related to our priority areas.
We also participate on panels and educational discussions hosted by partner organizations to share our expertise related to our issue areas.
Our impact litigation establishes important legal precedents to fight discrimination and promote opportunity.
Coalitions and Collaboration
We believe in the power of partnerships, and by leading and working in coalition with diverse advocacy partners, we magnify our voices and amplify our impact.
Working with lawmakers, officials from health, mental health, substance use, labor, and justice agencies, as well as advocates, service providers, and directly-impacted individuals throughout the country, LAC engages in cooperative efforts to empower our constituencies and advance sound public policy related to our issue areas.
For example, during the run-up to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), LAC helped form the Coalition for Whole Health – a group of over 100 national and state mental health and substance use disorder organizations that is co-chaired by LAC Director/President Paul Samuels. The Coalition, which continues to operate to improve access to mental health and substance use disorder care ten years after the ACA became law, was instrumental in securing provisions in the ACA that require coverage of mental health and addiction benefits at parity.
LAC also founded and co-leads the Coalition of Reentry Advocates (CoRA), which is a New York State coalition of advocates that works to promote policies that help people overcome the challenges of reentry and reduce recidivism and its associated costs. Similarly, the Alternatives to Incarceration/Reentry Coalition in New York, which LAC has led since 1984, works to ensure that people who have had contact with the criminal legal system in the state have a fair chance to succeed as full community members. The ATI/Reentry Coalition is comprised of 11 nonprofits that collectively offer effective and groundbreaking services to reduce crime and break the cycle of incarceration, while saving tax dollars and strengthening communities statewide.
Some of our other main collaborations include: Parity at 10, a campaign uniting local and national advocates in 10 states to pursue full enforcement of the Parity Act, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the law lives up to its promise nationwide; the Addiction Solutions Campaign, a coordinated effort to leverage five organizations’ collective expertise across research, policy, and communications to tackle the escalating overdose crisis in our country; FFACTS, a group of individuals whose friends and/or family members have been directly impacted by substance use disorder and mental illness and the lack of access to care for these health issues; New York State’s End the Epidemic Coalition, which works to end the AIDS epidemic in the state through research, advocacy, prevention, and treatment; and Clean Slate New York, an initiative co-led by LAC and the Community Service Society of New York to achieve automatic expungement in the state and reduce the barriers associated with a conviction record.
LAC also has active ongoing pro bono programs with major law firms that support our litigation efforts by co-counseling cases in both state and federal courts.
New York Office: 225 Varick St, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10014, T (212) 243-1313, F (212) 675-0286
Washington DC Office: 810 1st Street, NE, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20002, T (202) 544-5478, F (202) 544-5712