LAC’s Mission

The Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.
 

For four decades, LAC has worked to combat the stigma and prejudice that keep these individuals out of the mainstream of society. The Legal Action Center is committed to helping people reclaim their lives, maintain their dignity, and participate fully in society as productive, responsible citizens.

 

Programs

 

■ Alcohol and Drug

LAC works to reduce alcohol and drug addiction and abuse by providing legal assistance to people in recovery or still suffering from addiction. LAC also works with programs that serve them to fight discrimination and violations of privacy, and conducts public policy advocacy and research to expand treatment, prevention and research and promote other sound policies.

■ HIV/AIDS

LAC works to prevent HIV/AIDS by providing legal assistance to people with HIV and programs that serve them, and advocating for expanded prevention, care and other services.

■ Criminal Justice

LAC helps improve the criminal justice system by aiding qualified people with criminal records obtain employment and services needed to re-enter society successfully, assisting programs that work with them, and conducting public policy advocacy and research to reform sentencing laws, expand community corrections, and promote other sound policies.

 

History

The Vera Institute of Justice established the Legal Action Center in 1973 to address the intersecting problems of addiction and crime and assist those most affected. In the mid-1980's, the Legal Action Center added AIDS to our mission because so many people with alcohol and drug problems or criminal records also have or are at risk for HIV/AIDS. To learn more about the different areas of our work, click on the “Full Project Listing” button on the left of the screen. To view LAC's most recent audit reports, visit the financial statements section of this web site.

The Legal Action Center works to reduce addiction, AIDS and crime by advocating for:

  • the civil rights of people in recovery from alcohol and drug dependence, people with HIV/AIDS and individuals with past criminal records by fighting stigma and discriminatory barriers to employment, housing and social services, and protecting confidentiality; and
  • expanded treatment, prevention and research, alternatives to incarceration and community corrections, sentencing reform, and other sound public policies.

LAC pursued a litigation strategy in the 1970's, successfully challenging such employers as the New York City Transit Authority and the U.S. Postal Service who refused to hire people in treatment for alcohol and drug problems—and sometimes people otherwise in recovery—and people with criminal records. LAC has brought cases at every level, including the United States Supreme Court, which set important precedents protecting our clients from discrimination. For example, in the 1980's, LAC sued the Veterans’ Administration for denying extended educational benefits to GI’s in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction on the grounds that addiction was “willful misconduct” rather than a disease. When the Supreme Court overturned our victories in lower courts on the technical ground that Congress had not intended anti-discrimination laws to apply to the VA’s rule, Congress overturned the court decision by repealing that discriminatory rule.

LAC also has won important rulings prohibiting zoning discrimination against treatment programs. Our landmark 1997 case, IHS v. City of White Plains, was the first United States Court of Appeals ruling in the country that held that zoning authorities who cave in to "NIMBY" (Not-In-My-Backyard) opposition to the siting of an alcohol and drug treatment program violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the mid-1980's, the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to have a major impact on our clients, as more and more of them, along with their families, became ill with HIV. LAC was then —and remains today—at the forefront of helping people infected with HIV and suffering from AIDS who face egregious discrimination in employment, housing, and elsewhere, or whose privacy is violated. One of the Legal Action Center's biggest accomplishments came when we successfully sued the Adirondack Girl Scouts Council for discrimination on behalf of an 8 year old girl who had been denied admission to a troop because of her HIV status.

These are just a few of LAC’s many cases, as we provide legal counseling to many hundreds of clients each year. Download "Legal Action Center’s Leading Cases," to get legal citations and brief descriptions of cases brought by LAC.

Beginning in the early 1980’s and continuing to the present day LAC’s work has expanded to include public policy advocacy and research as well as training and technical assistance to service providers, government agencies, policy makers and other interested organizations and individuals.

Established in 1989, LAC’s Washington, D.C. office consults regularly with members of Congress and officials from such federal agencies as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and its Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice. LAC’s New York office works closely with the New York State Legislature and many New York State and City Executive agencies, including the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Health and its AIDS Institute, and the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, as well as the City Council and numerous City agencies. Both of LAC’s offices work closely with advocates, service providers, government officials and policy makers in states all over the country. We advocate for sound policy in the areas of addiction, criminal justice and HIV/AIDS.

LAC launched the Arthur Liman Policy Institute in November 1998 to expand our public policy work in the areas of addiction, AIDS, and criminal justice through a program of research, publication, and education. The Arthur Liman Policy Institute has issued ground-breaking reports that helped shape federal and state policies on the best ways to address the addiction and reentry of people with criminal records in welfare reform, Medicaid funding for addiction treatment, and access to alcohol and drug treatment for women with children.

For more than two decades treatment and prevention service providers, health officials, community corrections agencies, government agencies and many others across the nation have depended on LAC for legal guidance on issues related to discrimination, confidentiality of records, managed care, and a host of other issues. LAC has answered questions on our telephone hotline, conducted training sessions in every state in the Union and most of the territories, and published books and newsletters.