Civil rights attorneys say that in Georgia, most young people get “assembly-line justice” that can haunt them the rest of their lives, NPR reports. The U.S. Justice Department recently filed a “statement of interest” in a Georgia case that alleges public defense in four southern counties is so underfunded that low-income juveniles are routinely denied the right to legal representation. The lawyers provided to young people in these juvenile courts may meet them just 15 minutes before a proceeding, and sometimes spend much of that time convincing them to admit guilt.
The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights filed the lawsuit last year in Fulton County Superior Court. Center president Stephen Bright says the four Georgia counties cited handled about 600 juvenile cases last year, but that public defenders, already swamped with nearly 1,700 adult cases, provided representation to just a tiny fraction of those children. “The children who come before the court are overwhelmingly African-American,” Bright says. “Many of them come after being arrested for what is typical teenage behavior at school.”