2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Peter McGraw

Peter McGraw

Name of Host Organization: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
City, State: Corpus Christi, Texas
Issue area: Criminal Law
Sponsors: Greenberg Traurig, LLP; Texas Access to Justice Foundation

The Project

Peter assisted individuals with psychiatric disabilities to remedy the civil collateral consequences of their involvement in the criminal justice system.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
The mental health system in Texas is severely under-resourced. People with serious mental illness are almost eight times more likely to end up in state jails than in state psychiatric hospitals. As a result, people with serious mental illness are drastically overrepresented in Texas’s criminal justice system. The consequences of criminal justice involvement go far beyond the criminal case. An arrest can lead to eviction, loss of employment, and termination of public benefits. These civil collateral consequences are especially traumatic for people who receive community-based services and supports. People with mental health conditions deserve civil representation in addition to traditional criminal defense services to remedy the impact of these collateral consequences, avoid homelessness and hospitalization, and prevent recidivism.
Fellowship Highlights: 
During his Fellowship, Peter has:
• Represented 94 people in a variety of civil practice areas including family law, special education, guardianship, housing, employment, immigration, and juvenile proceedings
• Trained caseworkers and advocates throughout South Texas on alternatives to guardianship, special education law, and tips for advocating for people with mental illness before the Social Security Administration
• Developed a direct legal referral service for caseworkers at local mental health authorities in the Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley regions of South Texas
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Peter plans to continue representing people with mental illness and other disabilities facing civil collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement as a Staff Attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

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