Ever thought you'd see the day that passing gas in class could land a child in jail?
Well it’s here — at least it is in Meridian, Mississippi, claims the Department of Justice. A DOJ report issued last week explicitly calls Meridian’s rampant incarceration of school children a school-to-prison pipeline and demands the municipality stop the practice or face a lawsuit.
The findings implicate the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department (MPD) and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services (DYS) for perpetuating the systematic arrests. According to the DOJ, these entities have violated the constitutional due process rights of juveniles with their policy of arresting all suspended students, without regard to the type of offense. Students have been routinely placed in a juvenile prison for minor infractions such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity and disrespect.
“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “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.”
Looking at the demographics of Meridian, it becomes clear who this policy affects most. Sixty-two percent of the overall population is Black and 82 percent of school district’s children are Black.
The MPD's policy is to automatically arrests all students referred by the school district without any further inquiry. This broad oversight allows officers to skirt the procedure of obtaining prior youth court custody orders or make assessments of probable cause.
The DOJ has offered to negotiate with the parties, but if an agreement is not reached, Meridian will be forced to defend its policies in court.
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(Photo: Commercial Appeal /Landov)