Governor’s Funding for Juvenile Defense Applauded as Step toward Fairness for Children

19th January, 2016
Southern Center for Human Rights

The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) applauds Governor Deal’s historic recognition of the rights of Georgia’s children.  In his FY 2017 budget, the Governor has recommended funding the Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC) for 20 juvenile public defenders to represent poor children in juvenile court.  

 

To date, Georgia has not funded the defense of children.  Instead, the State has relied on counties to fulfill children’s constitutional right to a lawyer, with mixed results.  For example, in one county a child may get a dedicated, county-funded juvenile defender; in another part of the state a child may get a public defender who juggles cases in adult and juvenile court; and in still another, a child may not have a lawyer at all.  

 

“Governor Deal’s funding recommendation, when adopted, will move Georgia one step closer to bringing equal justice to all of Georgia’s children, regardless of what court they appear in, and regardless of their family’s income,” said Sara Totonchi, Executive Director of SCHR.

 

Governor Deal’s recommendation comes on the heels of a call from the U.S. Department of Justice for Georgia to provide dedicated attorneys to children.  According to the DOJ, attorneys representing children must: 

•Recognize the differences between children and adults;

•Have specialized training and experience with adolescent development;

•Understand Georgia’s juvenile code;

•Understand the rehabilitative options available in juvenile court including counseling, mediation, and alternatives to detention; and

•Possess the necessary time and resources to provide representation at all stages of a case.

 

This funding recommendation will move Georgia in the right direction to fulfilling the constitutional rights of Georgia’s children.  SCHR urges the legislature to adopt Governor Deal’s budget for GPDC, and commit to fully funding public defense in the near future so that every child appearing in juvenile court receives zealous representation.