The Justice Department announced last week that officials in the city of Meridian, Mississippi, are operating a “school-to-prison pipeline” that incarcerates students for minor infractions like dress code violations. The policy affects mostly Black and disabled children.
Meridian police automatically arrest public school students when called by school officials, often without determining if there is probable cause. Students are then put on probation, sometimes without proper legal representation, and are required to serve any subsequent suspensions from school in the juvenile detention center.
The system has led to students being incarcerated in the detention center for dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.
“The students most severely affected by these practices are Black children and children with disabilities in Meridian,” the Justice Department said in a letter to Mississippi’s governor, attorney general and various officials in Meridian and Lauderdale County.
“These entities, working in conjunction, help to operate a school-to-prison pipeline that routinely and repeatedly incarcerates children for school disciplinary infractions,” the letter alleged.
If the matter isn’t corrected soon, the Department has said it will sue the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services, a division of the state Department of Human Services.
“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”