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Letter: Cuts to Funding Would be Criminal (Albany Times Union)

To the Editor:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposes to eliminate all funding for Prisoner Legal Services of New York, the only organization that provides direct legal services to protect the basic human rights of incarcerated people statewide.

Prisoner Legal Services, which has been funded by the state for nearly 40 years, is essential to ensuring fairness and access to justice for the more than 57,000 New Yorkers in state prisons. It is crucial that the Legislature restore the funding.

Recent reports on a spike in suicide rates in New York prisons demonstrate that access to counsel is often a matter of survival for the incarcerated. Only Prisoner Legal Services has the mandate, expertise and capacity to assist inmates who have been assaulted, deprived of necessary medical or mental health care or denied other fundamental constitutional or human rights.

At a time when Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has criticized New York for having “the dubious distinction of being one of only seven states that do not provide stable funding for civil legal services,” eliminating public funding for Prisoner Legal Services would be a tragic mistake.

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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