New York State Criminal Justice Legal Services
The Legal Action Center (LAC) helps individuals with criminal records overcome a host of barriers that can often keep them out of jobs, housing, and other critical areas even when they are rehabilitated and ready to reenter society. We assist over 2,000 clients annually, with funding from the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, the New York State Assembly, New York City Council, and Ira De Camp Foundation.
LAC helps people with criminal records:
- overcome discrimination in employment, housing, government benefits, and other areas
- get copies of their criminal history records (rap sheets) and correct errors,
- get documents that demonstrate rehabilitation and that can be helpful in getting jobs and occupational licenses.
To download publications describing cases brought by LAC (“Legal Action Center’s Leading Cases”) and the rights of individuals with criminal records, visit the Free Publications Library.
RAP Sheets and Legal Help
Q. How can you get a copy of your RAP sheet and fix any errors on it?
A. You can order a copy of your RAP sheet from the state directly or you can call us to make an appointment for our RAP sheet workshop on Wednesdays .Ask for the first available RAP Sheet Workshop appointment to have your fingerprints taken. There might be a wait of several weeks.
For follow-up questions about RAP sheets you got through the Center, you can call any day of the week and ask for a paralegal. (For more information, see our self-help guide to RAP sheets.)
Q. Who can answer my questions about a New York State rap sheet?
A. Start by reading our self-help guide to New York State RAP sheets. If you still have questions after reading the guide, you may call the Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313 and ask to speak with a paralegal. Because the Center gets far more criminal record-related calls than its staff can handle, the Center only takes these calls a few days a month. If you call, you will be told on which date to call back. If you have HIV or an alcohol or drug problem and tell the receptionist, you may get help more quickly. The Center has special funding to deal with those calls.
LAC WILL NOT RESPOND TO REQUESTS FOR HELP SENT BY E-MAIL AND CANNOT SERVE "WALK-IN" CLIENTS.
Q: Who can help me if I live outside of New York State or have a question about a criminal record in a different state?
A: We are sorry we cannot provide these services to individuals outside of New York. LAC’s National HIRE Network provides information about state-specific governmental agencies and community-based organizations to assist people with criminal records. These agencies and organizations may be of assistance in providing job-related services, answering questions related to problems arising from having a criminal record, or offering referrals to other useful organizations. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide individual legal services to people outside of New York.
Q: Can my agency staff get a training on RAP sheet issues?
A: Agencies interested in trainings should call (212) 243-1313, Monday through Friday, and request to speak with the training coordinator.
Free Publications Available
The Center has written a number of user-friendly publications for individuals and service providers, which explain anti-discrimination laws and privacy laws that protect individuals with criminal records, alcohol/drug histories, and/or HIV/AIDS. To download these and other Legal Action Center publications, visit the Free Publications section of this website.
The Center also has produced a free webinars series called Know Your Rights: Anti-Discrimination Laws Protecting People with Alcohol and Drug Problems and Criminal Records. To watch any of the webinars at any time, visit the Webinar Archive.
For information on the publications, videos, DVDs and online courseware that the Center sells, visit the Online Store.
- Won two lawsuits in 2007 challenging decisions by the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to deny employment to individuals whose convictions were decades old and who had demonstrated remarkable evidence of rehabilitation; Obtained public housing or federally subsidized Section 8 housing for many individuals and families who had been denied housing due to a criminal record even though the individual with the conviction had demonstrated ample rehabilitation.
- Won numerous landmark victories in class action suits in the 1970’s and 1980’s overturning and rewriting policies of the New York City Transit Authority, the United States Postal Service, and other employers that denied jobs to qualified people with arrest and conviction histories. These lawsuits opened up thousands of jobs for people who are rehabilitated.
- Won case for foster parents who were trying to adopt their foster child despite passage of Adoption and Safe Families Act, which disqualified individuals from being foster or adoptive parents if they had particular convictions, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. Our clients’ young foster child had lived with our clients since infancy, and yet, the State sought to remove him because of the new rigid legislation. While the suit was pending, the law was amended (in large part, due to our efforts) to allow the foster parents to show evidence of rehabilitation. The court found that our client was completely rehabilitated and provided a loving and stable home.