August 5, 2019

Berg & Androphy Along with Other Organizations Starts Program to Aid Juveniles

by Sarah Smith
from the Houston Chronicle

Four years ago, a Jewish lawyer heard a Baptist preacher speak at his synagogue over the High Holidays.

The result? A juvenile justice diversion program based in Fifth Ward with $200,000 in backing from the Harris County District Attorney.

The newly created Center for Urban Transformation, a community-based organization in the Fifth Ward, announced the juvenile justice diversion program Monday as its first major initiative. The diversion program will offer mentorship, volunteer work and community-based support services for 12- to 16- year-olds who commit crimes, except for cases involving gun violence or sexual assaults.

“Everybody gets in trouble, but the key is to stop it earlier in time when they’re juveniles,” said Joel Androphy, the lawyer who heard Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr. of Pleasant Hill Ministries speak at his synagogue. “We hope this will take care of the issues so they don’t grow into adults that have more severe problems.”

About 100 juveniles have been arrested in Fifth Ward each year from 2012 to 2017, according to statistics from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The program will serve at least 30 youths in its first year, focusing first on non-violent offenders.

The Center for Urban Transformation is a collaboration of several organizations, including the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Pleasant Hill Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Berg & Androphy law firm and Legacy Community Health. The center joined with the Harris County District District Attorney’s Office to create the diversion program.

The four years since Androphy and Clemons met at the synagogue have been filled with years of meetings with the district attorney’s office, law enforcement and the school district to come up with a package program customized to the community — and to raise money to get it off the ground.

The group finally raised money from the Houston and Texas bar associations and a commitment from the district attorney’s office to give $200,000 of civil asset forfeiture
money for the program’s first year.

Kathy Payton, president of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, said the program isn’t about being soft on crime but about getting to the root of community issues.

“If a kid is stealing, is there no food in the household?” she said. “And if there’s not food in the household, why? And how do we help the family overcome those barriers?”

Mayor Sylvester Turner and District Attorney Kim Ogg spoke at Monday’s press conference announcing the initiative. Both praised the program.

“Instead of helpful intervention, we have punitive intervention,” Ogg said of the current system. “We have delayed intervention. We do not get them help.”

The group hopes with the program’s success, it will spread beyond Fifth Ward and perhaps beyond Houston. Androphy said he’s already heard from a legislator in South Texas who wants to do something similar.

“It’s not about being easy on kids who commit crime,” he said. “It’s about treating kids in Fifth Ward who get into altercations the same as you treat kids in River Oaks.”