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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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Working for Justice: Beginning with Inspiration


Written by Emily Miron, Policy Intern

In the beginning of the summer, my mother gave me a beautifully framed poem about justice and finding one’s passion by author and artist, Mary Ann Radmacher.  The opening stanzas pose important questions: “What is a voice if it does not raise against injustice?  What is a voice if it does not sing for change?”  I hung the poem on the far wall of my bedroom so that before I go to bed and when I wake up I can read it and be reminded of what I believe in.  The questions Radmacher raises have been reverberating in my mind since I took a college course titled “History of Justice and Equality” my first semester freshman year at the University of Rochester.

     



The course, without exaggeration, has influenced the rest of my education and outlook on the world in general.  Throughout the small seminar-based course we read works by Plato, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frantz Fanon and Martin Luther King Jr., among others, to try and answer broad questions like: What is justice?  What is equality?  How are they intertwined and are they universal?  Throughout the class I became more aware of my own privileges and the ways that society is deliberately organized to favor some groups over others.  Additionally, the course brought into focus how the lack of justice and equality has manifested in the contemporary world through segregation, systematic racism, racial profiling and socioeconomic inequality.  I was taken aback by the severity of these issues and their implications.

My major at the University of Rochester is in public health, and more specifically, “Health, Behavior and Society.”  I chose this major to learn how social determinants of health, like poverty and access to resources, impact one’s health outcomes throughout their lifetime.  I want to combine my passion for public health and advocacy in a proactive and meaningful way, and I feel very fortunate to be able to intern at Empire Justice Center this summer with the policy team to be able to engage in the political process to make important changes for New Yorkers.

During my second week with Empire Justice Center, I was able to see the impact of grassroots activism during the SWEAT lobby day.  SWEAT stands for Securing Wages Earned Against Theft.  The purpose of the proposed SWEAT legislation is to help workers and New York State collect the wages they are rightfully owed from unscrupulous employers.  Wage theft is a problem across all of New York State that predominantly affects low-wage industries, resulting in over one billion dollars in stolen wages per year.  These lost wages impact their housing, food, lifestyle and, ultimately, their health.  The lobby day was a day for all members of the SWEAT coalition to come together, as activists, workers, policy makers and legal representatives alike to advocate for the SWEAT legislation and educate various Senators and Assembly Members on the merits of the proposed bill.  It was quite remarkable to witness activism in action and see what can be accomplished.

   



I continued to work on SWEAT through the end of the legislative session by passing out memos of support to members of the legislature and participating in meetings with the Senate and Assembly legislative staff with the rest of the Empire Justice Center policy team.  We shared high hopes for the passage of the SWEAT bill, and even though neither house ultimately passed it, I could tell that momentum was building in both houses.  The groundwork has been laid for success in the next session.

I have learned so much this summer about the political process, the hard work that goes into legislative advocacy, and most importantly, that all the efforts by Empire Justice Center, the SWEAT coalition, and workers themselves is extremely beneficial.  Even though the SWEAT bill did not pass and become law, important strides were made in spreading awareness about how extensive this problem is in New York State.  Overall, working on the SWEAT bill during the legislative session surrounding has confirmed my passion for social justice and how I can be a voice in the world to fight against injustice and for vital change.

Emily Miron is a senior at the University of Rochester pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Public Health with a minor in History. She hopes to get a Master’s in Public Health with a focus in health equity following graduation. 



Tags: wage justice | intern | justice | sweat





The Crime Victims Legal Network Project: Moving into the Pilot Phase


Last Spring, the Crime Victims Legal Network Project launched a comprehensive needs assessment to better understand the civil legal needs of crime victims in New York State.  To the hundreds of crime victims and service providers who completed surveys or took part in focus groups and in-depth interviews: Thank you!  I am overwhelmed and gratified by your participation and excited to share the results with you. 

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center for Human Services Research at SUNY Albany (CHSR) and Pro Bono Net.  Together with our fourteen-member Advisory Committee, we are working to develop a first- of- its- kind statewide network outside New York City that uses sophisticated technology solutions to make it easier for crime victims to access civil legal aid.

Over a year was spent designing and conducting a multi-phase Needs Assessment, led by our research partner, CHSR.  The Needs Assessment was essential to helping us identify the civil legal problems faced by crime victims, the barriers to seeking help and the role an online resource could play in helping fill the existing gaps in services outside of New York City.  While we had a sense of what these problems and gaps were, we want to create an evidence-based solution that will play a meaningful part in assisting victims of crime and the professionals who work with them.

The response to the surveys was tremendous.  We received 310 responses to the victim of crime survey, and 412 responses to the service provider survey.  Focus groups for both sectors were conducted in nine regions across the State, and civil legal attorney and law school clinical faculty were interviewed.

Here are some highlights of the analysis of the issues, services and challenges in meeting the civil legal needs of victims of crime:

  • Most crime victims faced problems related to money or finances, family and housing as a result of their victimization. 
  • High percentages of victims reported needing help with knowing what services were available and understanding the legal system.
  • Of those who did not seek help to deal with their problems, many indicated that they did not know what services were available or they didn’t think anything could be done.
  • Service providers also indicated that the biggest barrier to meeting the needs of crime victims was victims’ lack of knowledge about the availability of services.
  • Focus group participants and interviewees echoed these responses and highlighted transportation as well as language access and cultural issues as barriers to victims receiving civil legal aid.
  • With regards to the use of technology in helping meet these service needs, most victims indicated that they would, or may, consider using an online tool, and most service providers reported a willingness to refer their clients to an online resource.


The complete report can be found on CHSR’s website.

As the Project Leader, I had the privilege of assisting in four of the focus groups in western New York, and I am humbled by the generosity of all the participants.  The expertise of service providers was astounding, and your recommendations – all of which came from a place of genuine caring – were taken to heart.  And the crime victims?  Your willingness to share some of the most intimate and traumatic experiences of your life to ensure that other crime victims get the help you didn’t is nothing short of incredible.  Thank you, to all the participants.

What’s so exciting is that, now with the analyzed results, we can make sure that the technology solutions developed for the Network Project are truly grounded in the real life needs and preferences of crime victims.  Based on the results, Pro Bono Net, our technology partner, has proposed that the Network’s technology include a website with a suite of features designed to meet the needs of crime victims, and at the same time help civil legal assistance providers in delivering holistic services to their clients.  And that’s what we are starting to develop during this second phase of the Project.

May 1st marked the start of Phase II, the pilot phase of the Network Project.  As we develop the technology, we will be focusing on growing partnerships within the western New York region, specifically in Erie and Genesee counties, the geographic area of the pilot.  Our goal is to work with service providers – both legal and human services providers – whose clients may benefit from the technology solutions being developed, and have them test the online resource and help us improve it before we expand it to the rest of New York State. 

For the pilot stage, we will be focusing on the top concerns identified by both crime victims and service providers in the needs assessment: family, money/finance, employment, housing and immigration.  Your knowledge, along with the continued guidance of the Advisory Committee, will help us make sure the information on the website is useful, practical and can really assist crime victims with their civil legal issues. 

In the next few months, I’ll be reaching out to some of you to be a part of this initiative.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Crime Victims Legal Network Project or in helping out, please contact me.  I can be reached at rparthasarathy[at]empirejustice[dot]org.

This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.



Tags: crime victim | domestic violence | Crime Victims Legal Network Project