“Our hope and aim with ‘Know Your Rights Weeks’ is to bolster public awareness and connect eligible New Yorkers with free legal assistance and, ultimately, relief,” Borough President Katz said.
By Forum Staff
Borough President Melinda Katz’s latest “Know Your Rights Week” event featured a series of public legal workshops Aug. 6-10 in various Queens communities, including Long Island City, Queens Village, Kew Gardens, Far Rockaway, and Jackson Heights.
“Know Your Rights Week: Closing Cases, Opening Doors” participants accessed free, confidential advice from lawyers on ways to alleviate unnecessary barriers to employment and economic opportunity, including applications to seal their non-violent criminal conviction records, cleaning up rap sheets, and obtaining Certificates of Relief and Good Conduct, according to Katz and event partner, The Legal Aid Society.
“If you’ve proven that you’ve turned your life around and are making good, the burden of a past non-violent mistake should not ruin or impede your future opportunities for the rest of your life,” Katz said. “Second chances and social justice reform are an integral part of New York values. This is about eliminating barriers to employment and economic opportunity, reducing recidivism rates and breaking the cycle. Our hope and aim with ‘Know Your Rights Weeks’ is to bolster public awareness and connect eligible New Yorkers with free legal assistance and, ultimately, relief. The tireless efforts on the part of our community partners – and especially the Legal Aid Society – to equip and empower New Yorkers of their rights have a direct impact on building a better future for the growing families of Queens.”
The borough president noted that any criminal conviction can significantly hinder a person’s ability to secure employment, housing, financial aid, professional licenses and other rights and benefits. New York’s conviction sealing law, which applies only to specific predominantly non-violent crimes, is based on the belief that non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around for the better should no longer have to bear the stigma of a conviction or face unnecessary barriers to opportunity and employment.
The new law went into effect on Oct. 7, 2017. According to published reports, court officials believe that as many as 600,000 people in New York could be eligible to seal their convictions, but as of May 2018, only 346 people statewide had their convictions sealed.
“Everyone deserves a second chance, and that includes a genuine opportunity to seal dated convictions that jeopardize housing, employment and other livelihoods,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.
In June, Katz and her Immigration Task Force organized “Know Your Rights Week for Immigrants,” a series of free informational workshops and confidential legal clinics for immigrants.