August 7, 2014 -- The Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center is expanding its mission with a new program to help at-risk juveniles before they are swept into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
As envisioned by Professor David R. Dow, founder of the Innocence Network, the Juvenile & Capital Advocacy Project will initially mentor economically disadvantaged youths from WALIPP, a public charter school in the Third Ward. A trained group of volunteers drawn from the University, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, the Anthony Graves Foundation, and local professional community will serve as mentors. As the program develops, Dow hopes law students and other volunteers will be able to help provide a variety of essential legal services to juveniles involved with the justice system.
"Study after study shows that dollars spent intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged juveniles save many more dollars later on, in both crime-related and other social costs,” Dow said. “JCAP is a program that not only accords with most peoples' moral intuition that we should take care of our society's youth, but also makes old-fashioned economic sense."
“A mentor will serve as a role model and friend,” said Erin Osborn, director of the mentorship program and a 2013 graduate of the Law Center, “a support person who listens, encourages, and, most importantly, shows up. Mentoring is about relationship building and trust, serving as an extra resource to kids that lack resources, introducing them to new ideas and experiences.”
The project will train mentors and provide suggestions for one-on-one discussions and activities during weekly meetings. Plans also include education and guidance for the parents and guardians of the children, as well as provision of ancillary legal services.
“There are opportunities for the legal system to help troubled juveniles, rather than merely punish them,” said the director of JCAP’s legal program, Katya Glockner Dow, a 1992 Law Center graduate and former child advocate.
JCAP is actively seeking volunteers for the program. Mentors must be 18 or older and agree to abide by JCAP mentoring protocols. Volunteers are asked to make a one-year commitment to weekly meetings with their child and a monthly group activity. Mentors also must submit a brief, online report following each mentoring session.