No one should have to navigate the complexities of the legal system alone. That is why Youth Represent focuses on clients who would not otherwise be entitled to or have access to a lawyer, or whose cases would benefit most from the additional time and expertise we can dedicate.
An arrest can lead to eviction from public housing in New York City—even if it never results in a conviction or if the charges are dropped. We represent families at risk of losing their homes because of criminal accusations. We also represent youth facing the threat of being “permanently excluded,” barred from ever returning to their family’s apartment, even just to visit.
It’s against the law in New York City for employers to ask about a criminal history before making a job offer. It’s also against the law to refuse to hire someone—or to refuse to issue an employment license—based solely on a criminal history. We represent young people who have faced unlawful discrimination, as well as those who have had their privacy wrongfully violated by companies conducting criminal background reports.
Students temporarily suspended from school are at heightened risk of permanently dropping out. We represent students at suspension hearings to ensure their rights are protected—and to prevent them from being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. We also help youth pursuing college education by providing guidance on application questions about criminal histories, and by counseling them on financial aid eligibility.
"Davon" was accused by his principal of instigating a fight. The school was trying to suspend him for up to 90 days when Youth Represent stepped in. At the hearing to determine whether Davon would be kicked out for three months, we argued successfully that the school's accusations was based on nothing more than the rumors typical of any high school. The Hearing Officer agreed with us that the school had failed to show that Davon had been the cause of the fight, and the suspension was reversed. Davon allowed to return to school immediately, avoiding the harmful repercussions of being suspended.
Positive relationships with family are crucial to successful reentry. In visitation and custody cases, we represent young people who themselves are parents so that they and their children can maintain a loving presence in each other’s lives. In order to make sure that young parents are able to manage their financial responsibilities, we also represent them in child support proceedings.
Before meeting with our attorneys, nearly 50% of our clients either misreport their criminal histories in interviews or aren’t sure what they should be reporting to potential employers, landlords, or colleges. We order RAP sheets for our clients and counsel them on what they should and should not disclose. We also correct mistakes on RAP sheets caused by administrative oversights that can jeopardize access to housing, jobs, and other opportunities youth need for successful reentry.
Why Rap Sheets?
We obtain RAP sheets for nearly all our clients for four important reasons:
1: Before our intervention, 35% of our clients are mis-reporting their criminal histories in job interviews, either disclosing criminal contact they aren’t legally required to, or withholding information that employers will see when they run a background check. We explain what they should and should not be disclosing to employers, landlords, and colleges.
2: Young people struggle in interviews when they must answer tough questions about their criminal histories. When we go over RAP sheets, we also conduct “mock interviews” with them so they can practice explaining their criminal past and then pivoting towards their bright futures.
3: We find errors on 30% of arrests on RAP sheets: charges that should be dismissed and sealed are appearing on background checks, preventing youth from getting jobs. We travel to courthouses, communicate with the NYPD and District Attorneys, and do whatever it takes to fix these errors.
4: In order to counsel clients on their re-entry needs, we must have a full understanding of their goals as well as their criminal history. Then we can predict what barriers there might be to achieving those goals, and work with the young person to remove them.
While everyone is guaranteed a lawyer in criminal court, certain situations require specialized youth training. Youth struggle to make court dates and follow judges’ orders, as fear, confusion, and young brain development can cloud their judgement. This is especially true when a young person has been given a criminal summons or has missed a court date or community service in the past, and is afraid or unsure of what to do next. Our attorneys use both legal and youth development principles to get the best possible outcomes for our clients.
Jonathan was thrilled: he had just secured a paid internship at a nursing home with the help of Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, a long-time Youth Represent partner. Unfortunately, a week into his internship, his supervisor told him that he could no longer work there unless he cleared up an open case that appeared on this criminal background check.
Jonathan was devastated: the only time he had been arrested was for hopping the turnstile and when he went to court the judge told him that as long as he stayed out of trouble for six months his case would be dismissed and sealed and it would be like it never happened. He met with Maire O’Malley a Youth Represent attorney to see if there was anything he could do to get his job back. Maire ran his RAP sheet and explained to him that until the six months ended this arrest would be revealed on a background check as an “open case.” So, there was only one thing to do to ensure that Jonathan was able to get his job back. Maire went to court, and with a supporter letter from Stanley Isaacs Center, she was able to convince the judge to seal the case immediately, instead of waiting for the end of the six months. Because of Maire’s efforts, Jonathan was able to return to work, and is now able to earn a living and build on his career in the health care industry.