The Community Assistance Project, funded by a grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, provides community redevelopment assistance to legal aid attorneys and communities in Texas. Activities include training legal aid attorneys and communities, providing case support, coordinating information, and developing high-impact legal tools and analysis.
INCLUDE is an initiative to advance the rights of persons with disabilities and the involvement of law students in the disability rights movement. The project includes supported decision making (SDM) pro bono clinics for students with disabilities in transition to adulthood. Additional work includes a study of the implementation of SDM in Texas, which was enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2015 and is the first statute of its kind in the United States. INCLUDE is supported, in part, with generous funding from the Texas Center for Disability Studies at The University of Texas in Austin.
The Educational Equity Project addresses educational barriers for low-income and minority students. It includes the Texas Law Youth Court at Webb Middle School and Paredes Middle School; the Mithoff Pro Bono Program’s Expunction Project, a clinic model that engages volunteer law students and lawyers to help individuals expunge their criminal records; and representation of individual students in school disciplinary, misdemeanor ticketing and truancy hearings.
The Justice Center is a co-founder of the UT Opportunity Forum, an interdisciplinary collaboration of University of Texas at Austin faculty working to foster the expansion of equitable opportunities for low-income Texans. Its mission is to foster relationships and strategies to promote more vibrant and equitable cities in Texas, with a focus on affordable housing, community planning, economic development, education, and transportation.
Youth Court is an alternative discipline program designed to challenge the school-to-prison-pipeline, a national trend whereby children are funneled out of schools and into the juvenile justice system. Law students involved in Youth Court work in local middle schools to train and supervise students to hold peer-run trials and also serve as mentors to at-risk students, engaging them in a positive disciplinary program.
In May 2016, the Justice Center convened stakeholder conversations on Class C fines and fees, bringing together municipal and justice of the peace judges, state officials, and advocates. The first convening discussed existing practices for the assessment and collection of court fines and fees in Class C proceedings and considered potential statutory and regulatory changes that could promote access to justice and fair outcomes for all Class C defendants regardless of their income. In the second convening, speakers shared their insights on current court practices around the state that serve as potential models for reform.
An innovative two-year title-clearing project designed to provide low-income disaster survivors with the chance to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods, funded with a grant from the Texas General Land Office to assist survivors of Hurricanes Dolly and Ike. The project was part of a larger coordinated hurricane recovery program that included the participation of communities affected by the disasters, advocates for low-income survivors, and local, state, and federal agencies.
A study on how criminal records are maintained, disseminated, and utilized in background checks in Texas. The Justice Center has continued its work in this area, creating community expunction and non-disclosure pro bono legal clinics staffed by law students and attorneys, and providing significant research support to the Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable.
The Justice Center, together with the UT Center for Disability Studies, worked with the Texas state housing finance and Medicaid agencies to develop innovative ways to support persons with disabilities in integrated housing opportunities through a new federal rental subsidy program. The initiative focused on persons with disabilities residing in Texas institutions who have extremely low incomes.
The Justice Center and the LBJ School of Public Affairs completed a major study for the Texas Legislature on the use of contracts for deed in Texas colonias. The study estimated the number of outstanding contracts for deed and examined title irregularities associated with informal land sales and intestate inheritance. Faculty and students conducted more than 1300 in-person interviews with colonias residents in seven border counties and three counties in Central Texas.