Paulina (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of incarcerated people in Georgia who were sentenced to life in prison as children through direct representation in parole proceedings, education, and policy reform.
In Georgia, more than 600 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as children—some as young as 13 years old. 78% of these individuals are Black. Each is supposed to receive a meaningful opportunity for parole, but they do not. Parole applicants in Georgia have no legal right to appear before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. They have no right to counsel, present evidence, call expert witnesses, or even access their parole files.
Having a parole lawyer in Georgia is critical. A lawyer is able to submit a written advocacy packet to the Board, which tells the story of who that child has become in the past decades. Without this advocacy, people serving life sentences since childhood will have little to no opportunity to obtain release, as the Board will continue to make decisions based primarily on the Department of Corrections paperwork, which is often incomplete and deficient. Such paperwork certainly does not show who these children were, who they have become, and the community support they would have if paroled.
During the Fellowship, Paulina will provide parole representation for people serving life sentences for crimes that occurred when they were children and assist those clients who are granted parole with their reentry into society. She will also train other lawyers and student lawyers on parole representation in Georgia and create a Georgia Juvenile Parole Handbook. Finally, with the help of the Southern Center for Human Right’s policy experts, she will draft model legislation to reform parole proceedings for individuals serving life sentences since childhood in Georgia.
Because I refuse to live in a society that gives up on children, I will fight to ensure that people serving life sentences since childhood have a meaningful opportunity to obtain release. Having a real shot at parole is especially important in the Deep South, where the legal system is plagued by systemic racism and overcriminalization.
Paulina Lucio Maymon /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Emmy works to enforce and improve Georgia’s occupational licensure laws, expand access to licensed employment, and reduce the collateral impacts of mass incarceration by representing clients with criminal records, advocating for licensing policy change, and educating licensed workers about their rights.
By virtue of having a criminal record, more than one-third of Georgia residents face serious barriers to government-licensed professions, despite a recent state law requiring otherwise. In Georgia, roughly 40% of common low-income professions are licensed, and 14% of workers overall need a license to work. Access to stable employment is key to economic empowerment, successful reentry, and reducing the collateral consequences of a criminal record. The barriers of a criminal record to gainful employment are most harshly felt by over-policed Black and brown communities in Georgia, as well as low-income Georgians.
As a Southerner, Emmy feels strongly about opposing injustice in her home region, especially the consequences of the racially oppressive and unjust criminal legal system. She is thankful to Georgia Justice Project for sharing these values and is thrilled to work with Georgians with criminal records to expand access to employment and economic stability for all Georgians.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Emmy has:
- Providing full representation to 20 clients, including representing more than 10 individuals on their licensing matters
- Provided legal advice and referrals to over 110 individuals on their occupational licensing and/or criminal records matters
- Through presentations and dissemination of flyers, educated directly impacted people with criminal records on their rights in the licensing process and common barriers to licensed professions
- Researched occupational licensing policy reforms; surveyed client experiences to identify barriers in the application, revocation, and appeal processes; and developed a list of needed reforms in Georgia licensing law
- Collaborating with six groups to increase the reach and impact of the project
In the next year, Emmy plans to:
- Continue representing clients seeking occupational licenses
- Advance specific policy goals to increase access to occupational licensing for people with criminal records
- Deepen connections with licensing boards to gather data and understand internal policies about criminal records
- Engage sponsors on pro bono participation to expand project impact
As I serve clients at Georgia Justice Project who face irrational, unjust barriers to employment, stability, and reentry, I hope to amplify their voices and stories as examples of those fighting for change and justice in Georgia and across the South.
Emmy Williams /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Clayton empowered parents of children with special needs to access quality education for their children. Through advocacy, legal representation, and training, Clayton prepared families to negotiate with school districts and trained parents to help other students and their families.
Many parents in Georgia lack the tools they need to ensure that public schools are responsive to the needs of their children. This deficiency disproportionately affects some of the most underserved communities in Atlanta. For instance, African-American students are almost four times more likely than other students to be identified as having a learning disability or behavioral disorder in Atlanta’s schools. As a result, every year Atlanta area schools place some 1,500 African-American and Latino students in special needs settings without ensuring that their disabilities are properly identified or that placement will help students overcome their disabilities. With training and legal support, parents can improve these figures by advocating for their children’s specific needs in Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
During his Fellowship, Clayton:
- Trained 586 parents on their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”)
- Conducted 19 training events for parents on IEP advocacy
- Conducted six IEP training events for foster care and child welfare agencies and other partner organizations
- Provided advice and legal consultations to 111 clients
- Represented 21 clients in IEP meetings and administrative law proceedings
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Clayton will continue working to make the education system equitable regardless of race, national origin, age, gender, or disability as a General Attorney at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. He will investigate claims of discrimination claims based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.