The Westchester County Department of Corrections (WCDOC) has partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County on an innovative program that will work collaboratively with detainees and sentenced persons on discharge planning for successful reentry.
County Executive George Latimer said: “This new program, along with all that our Corrections professionals have done in enhancing physical and mental health services, education, cognitive behavioral intervention therapy and addiction treatment, make our facility one of the most forward thinking correctional institutions in the Nation. I applaud the great work by Joe, Lou, and their team along with the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County.”
The relationship between WCDOC and the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County was fostered by the work of the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Incarceration Release Planning and Programs. WCDOC and the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County began working on the newly established Legal Aid office in January of 2019. This satellite office will provide legal services and assist in the discharge planning of incarcerated clients, represented by the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County.
Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph K. Spano said: “Today is another historic moment for our agency. This partnership provides another critical service to support the many evolving needs of the clients placed in our custody.”
Deputy Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County Sherry Levin Wallach said: “The Legal Aid Society is proud to be able to offer our incarcerated clients better access to justice by establishing an office in the Westchester County Jail where clients can initiate meetings with attorneys and social work staff to not only discuss their pending matters, but also receive early assistance with re-entry planning. Thank you to the Westchester Department of Corrections for giving our clients this service and for its commitment to providing incarcerated people better opportunities for successful re-entry.”
WCDOC identified office space that met the confidentially requirements by Legal Aid, so that clients are able to discuss their criminal cases, while at the same time WCDOC strategically located the office within the WCDOC Education Center, so that other support services related to reentry can be offered in collaboration.
WCDOC Technical Service, with the assistance from Westchester County Department of Information Technology, worked with Legal Aid Information Technology Unit to set-up and establish technology resources, so that the attorneys and social workers assigned still had access to all client information seamlessly as if they were in their central office at Legal Aid in White Plains.
Lastly, WCDOC developed a scheduling process for custodial clients to request a meeting with Legal Aid. WCDOC, with the assistance from the Westchester County Human Rights Commission, translated Legal Aid request forms to multiple languages for non-English readers.
With the support of these other County Departments, WCDOC was able to leverage multiple County resources to allow for the logistics of this program to work – keeping costs minimal. Follow the principle of the Latimer Administration of utilization of shared services – either intra or inter-governmental.
First Deputy Commissioner Louis A. Molina said: “Having Legal Aid Attorneys and Social Workers embedded in the jail to provide services to our shared clients is a pivotal moment and embodies how we are operationalizing criminal justice reform strategies in Westchester County. Meaningful access to legal representation is a vital element to creating a dignity-based criminal justice system that promotes justice and hope for redemption.”
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