JCAP (Juvenile & Capital Advocacy Project)

David DowProf. Dow, Founder, Juvenile & Capital Advocacy Project

JCAP’s mission is to reduce juvenile crime and delinquency and improve the long-term educational success rates and life outcomes for socially and economically disadvantaged juveniles.

In a 2012 TEDx talk that has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, Professor Dow observed that more than 80 percent of the inmates on death row had contact with the juvenile justice system years before. Dow therefore proposed early intervention in the lives of at-risk juveniles as part of a strategy to improve the lives of socially and economically disadvantaged youth and thereby decrease adult crime.  JCAP is being developed to help implement that strategy.

JCAP provides law students with valuable opportunities to engage with the community through its mentorship program and Juvenile Record Sealing Course. More information about both programs is found below.

Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project Mentorship Program

The JCAP-First UU mentorship program is a partnership between the Juvenile Capital Advocacy Project (JCAP) and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston (First UU) that provides mentorship to the eighth grade class at the Lawson Academy, a charter school in the nearby Third Ward. The program pairs professionals or college and graduate students with individual eighth graders to provide the students with the benefit of another positive adult influence in their lives, one who can expand the range of what they believe is possible to achieve. Many of the children attending the Lawson Academy are considered "at risk" or are enduring economic disadvantages. During the program's first two years, we learned that the mentees improved their behavior, their grades, and their general outlook on life after spending time with our mentors.

The goal of the JCAP-First UU mentorship program is to reduce the number of kids who enter the juvenile and criminal justice systems, increase the number of kids who finish high school and go on to attend college, and show the mentees they can achieve success in a variety of professions if they work hard. As a mentor, your role is to listen, support, and advise your mentee—in short, to be a role model and a friend.

The benefits from mentoring are substantial, but the cost to a mentor is very low. We ask that our mentors commit to meeting with their mentee at the Lawson Academy once a week for thirty minutes during the students' lunch hour, for the duration of the school year. We also ask that you be available to participate in one or two class-wide programs each year. 

If you are interested in serving as a mentor please contact mentoring@jcaptexas.org so we can begin your application process. Thank you.

Juvenile Record Sealing Course

Current law students at the University of Houston Law Center have the opportunity to assist attorneys Katya Dow and Ingrida Norbergs in the record sealing process by taking the Juvenile Record Sealing course taught by Professor Katya Dow. The Juvenile Record Sealing course is offered during the fall, spring and summer semesters at UHLC. The course provides the opportunity for law students to act as volunteer lawyers in the intake of clients, creation of the application and order for the request of a juvenile record sealing, and serving the appropriate agencies the client's application and order. Law students will also attend hearings at the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center. The course is taken pass/fail and provides law students with real world experience in the Texas juvenile justice system.

Records Sealing

Aren't Juvenile Records Always sealed?

No. Up until recently, juvenile records of delinquent conduct in Texas were not automatically sealed, but instead remained a discoverable part of an individual's criminal record unless an application to seal the records was filed by an attorney and granted by the court. Per recent statutory changes, all juvenile cases that become eligible for sealing after September 1, 2015 are supposed to now be automatically sealed. However, older cases still need to follow the prior procedure of applying with the court, and newly eligible cases are experiencing a backlog and implementation delays, so there is currently no guarantee that automatic sealing is happening. In addition, not all juvenile offenses are eligible for sealing—certain serious felonies cannot be sealed.

Sealing v. Expunction

Juvenile delinquency law is different from adult criminal law in a number of ways, including its terminology; for example, juveniles are "detained" rather than arrested and are found to have engaged in "delinquent," as opposed to "criminal," conduct. "Expunction" refers to the elimination of an adult criminal offense from an individual's record, while "sealing" refers to a similar procedure for eliminating juvenile delinquency records. The statutory provisions for juvenile records sealing can be found under Texas Family Code § 58.003.

Why Is Sealing Important?

Unless a juvenile record is formally sealed, it can be accessed by any person, agency, or institution having a "legitimate interest" in the matter. Having a juvenile record can create major barriers in applying to college or enlisting in the military and obtaining financial aid, housing, public benefits, educational and licensing opportunities, or employment. An unsealed juvenile record can make it difficult for young people to get past youthful mistakes and improve their lives.

Eligibility for Records Sealing

Records of delinquent conduct become eligible for sealing depending on the degree of the offense (felony or misdemeanor), how much time has passed since the case was resolved (e.g., when the case was non-suited or community supervision was completed), and the individual's current age. If the criteria are met, certain cases must be sealed (mandatory) and others may be sealed (discretionary). Certain felonies are ineligible for sealing.

What Can I Do?

Whether you are trying to seal your juvenile record, or helping a young person seal her own record, JCAP is available to help. Please contact info@jcaptexas.org to inquire about eligibility for sealing. If your record is eligible for sealing, JCAP provides free legal services to get your record sealed. 

For more information about our legal programs, contact info@jcaptexas.org or visithttp://www.jcaptexas.org