January 28, 2020

Berg & Androphy Establishes Program To Help At-Risk Youth In Houston

by Walter Pavlo
from Forbes

I’m always looking for good stories on criminal justice reform. Reform is such an uphill battle, so when I recently spoke to Joel Androphy on a trip to New York, he told me about how his firm has worked to establish a pro bono program in Houston that truly gives inner-city youth a a second chance.

In October 2012, the law firm Berg & Androphy brought Michelle Alexander to Houston to speak at the Progressive Forum. Her book, The New Jim Crow, is recognized nationwide as having created a bipartisan criminal justice reform movement. Her powerful speech, inspired Joel Androphy, a nationally recognized white collar defense attorney, to search for a location to establish a pro bono program to provide zealous representation in criminal cases for young minorities in Houston.

That vision came to reality when Androphy met Rev. Harvey Clemons of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in 2015 at his Temple’s High Holiday services. Rev. Clemons was brought in to speak about the issues in his community and efforts to improve the lives of its residents. After his inspiring sermon, Androphy and Rev. Clemons formed the law firm’s pro bono program representing young offenders who could take a different path if they were just given a chance.

Androphy’s and Rev. Clemons’ goals are to level the playing field by providing quality defense representation and to eliminate, to the extent possible the well-documented, racially motivated convictions and sentences that made it nearly impossible for these young people to overcome. For many, prison life has taken the place of high school, college, and graduate school.  Androphy intends to change that.

Lawyers, paralegals, and staff at Berg & Androphy provide hundreds of hours each year assisting the Firm’s Fifth Ward pro bono clients. The Center for Urban Transformation (CUT) was created to coordinate and bridge gaps in services with Berg & Androphy’s legal team. CUT is the result of a collaborative of leading Houston community organizations and institutions, including Pleasant Hill Ministries, Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Berg & Androphy, Legacy Community Health, and Houston Habitat for Humanity. Their combined expertise is transforming the quality of life of families in the poorest neighborhoods in Houston. Androphy told me in an interview, “Our hope is that this is a model that can be built in other communities across the nation that face the same problems. Sadly, Houston is just one of many major cities that needs a solution for handling these young offenders.

The work of Androphy and Rev. Clemons has garnered national attention from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.  CUT is partnering with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Harris County Department of Juvenile Probation, local HISD schools, law enforcement, and Fifth Ward community organizations to provide a new juvenile justice diversion program that offers a path to real reform, by offering services embedded and led by the community where the offense took place.  This program is also seeking to establish a Community Court system, something that is more fair, for all juveniles and eventually for all youth and adults in the community.

CUT provides a unique program to divert juvenile offenders away from juvenile detention that goes beyond legal representation.  CUT’s mission will;

1) use restorative justice skills-training and conferences for youth and community members to address issues of conflict and public safety,

2) connect youth to mentorship, services, and guided volunteer work, and

3) further Fifth Ward revitalization in a way that lifts the well-being of all community members.

We can either pay a little now for justice and compassion or we will all pay for incarceration and its ill effects over a lifetime. – Joel Androphy, Berg & Androphy

Not only is CUT offering an excellent program for Houston’s Fifth Ward youth but also seeks to transform the lives of some of Houston’s most vulnerable children led by a community organization in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward neighborhood.  Reforms that reduce incarceration will also improve community development in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Initiatives like CUT are only possible through the progressive thinking of those directly involved in our justice system that see flaws and take actions to make changes. We should all applaud Androphy’s efforts and we certainly wish him continued success.