Two years ago the city of South Fulton, Georgia got to do something unusual: Build a government and a justice system from scratch.
The brand new city of 100,000 residents — 90% of whom are black — broke off from greater Fulton County. One of the first things they did was build a justice system founded on the progressive, rehabilitative principles reflected in the community, and one that looks like the community, too. In the end — and almost by accident — they started a branch of government entirely run by eight black women.
The eight women run everything from sentencing to probation.
In Judge Tiffany Sellers’ courtroom there is a deliberate culture of verbal respect and patience for defendants and their families. Judge Sellers calls everyone “sir” or “miss.” She patiently explains and repeats the meaning of every legal term, and proactively tries to work around the financial circumstances of the people in her courtroom.
The public defender, Viveca Powell, is always physically available to defendants who may need her in court, and, unlike many cities, South Fulton doesn’t hit defendants with part of the bill for her representation later.
The solicitor, LaDawn Jones, is not your stereotypical, conviction-focused prosecutor. Jones runs a diversion program that is designed to reduce or eliminate some offenders’ charges in exchange for community service, voter registration, written assignments, or attendance at city council meetings.
At a time when minority and women candidates are upending political norms across the country, when Georgia’s own Stacey Abrams will potentially become the first black female governor in the nation, South Fulton stands as a potential example: will having progressive, black women in charge create meaningful difference in the outcomes of justice?