Feds sue to stop ‘school-to-prison’ scheme in Meridian, Mississippi

The Justice Department is suing the city of Meridian, Mississippi and other state and local agencies to shut down a “school-to-prison pipeline” that “systematically” violated the constitutional rights of African-American and disabled children. 

The DOJ’s lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi after local and state agencies remained uncooperative and negotiations for a settlement broke down.

Federal investigators alleged that Meridian police and schools, Lauderdale County Youth Court (including Judges Frank Coleman and Veldore Young), and Mississippi’s Division of Youth Services routinely violated the due process rights of children by incarcerating them for allegedly misbehaving in school.

Students accused of committing minor infractions – including “talking back” to teachers, “disrupting” the classroom, “wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt”, farting in class, or arriving late to class – were often arrested and jailed for days at a time, according to the complaint.

Furthermore, the incarcerated children were frequently not informed of the Miranda rights, not given “meaningful” legal representations, and denied timely probable cause hearings to determine the severity and evidence of the charges against them. These “due process” rights are all protected under the Constitution’s 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments.

Read more: Feds accuse Mississippi government agencies of operating ‘school-to-prison’ scheme

“The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “ It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights.”

The DOJ’s 8-month investigation also found that black and special needs children in Meridian are disproportionately subjected to the harsh punishments imposed by the schools and juvenile justice system.

In fact, between 2006 and 2010, all of the students arrested by police were black and all of the students expelled were black. (Blacks make up 62% of Meridian’s overall population.) Meridian school district’s expulsion and suspension rates for special needs students were about 7 times higher than the state average. (All students suspended from school were automatically referred to and arrested by Meridian police.)

The lawsuit would seek to prohibit the local and state agencies from continuing to violate constitutional rights of children, require the agencies to draw up and implement policies that address the violations found, expunge (or clear) the juvenile records of children who were wrongfully harmed, establish an alternative juvenile justice process while the existing system is being reformed.

The Justice Department will hold a conference call on Thursday, Oct. 25 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. CDT to provide members of the Meridian community with information about the investigation. The toll-free number is 888-989-9731 (passcode: 7015490).


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