DOJ Challenges “School-to-Prison Pipeline” in Mississippi

The US Department of Justice is accusing officials in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, of operating what was in effect a “school-to-prison pipeline” in which students — a disproportionate number of whom were African-American and/or had disabilities — were arrested and incarcerated for alleged infractions of school discipline that, in some cases, were as “minor as defiance.” The students indeed became “entangled in a cycle of incarceration without substantive and procedural protections required by the US Constitution.”

A letter sent by the DOJ’s civil rights division on Friday charges the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department and the Missisippi Division of Youth Services (DYS) with violating the constitutional rights of children in Lauderdale County and the City of Meridian. The DOJ is seeking “meaningful negotiations” in 60 days to end the violations or, as CNN notes, it will file a lawsuit against state, county and local officials in Meridian.

Meridian, as Raw Story reminds us, is the very place where civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, were murdered in 1964. 62 percent of Meridian’s population is African-American.

This is not the first time that Lauderdale County’s agencies have been the target of a lawsuit on similar charges. In 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Facility in Meridian. Both children and teens were subjected to “shockingly inhumane” treatment that included packing them ”into small, filthy cells and tormented with the arbitrary use of Mace as a punishment for even the most minor infractions — such as ‘talking too much’ or failing to sit in the ‘back of their cells,’” according to a statement from the SPLC.

In 2010, the SPLC said that it had reached an agreement with Lauderdale County officials about alternatives to sending children and teens to the detention center and to reform the corrections system. But on Friday, the DOJ accused the Meridian police and school and county officials of acting in a “pattern of unconstitutional conduct.” Students with certain disciplinary violations were referred by school officials to the police who “automatically” arrested them, after which they were sent to Lauderdale County’s juvenile justice system “where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate” says the DOJ’s letter.

Indeed, as the DOJ’s letter also notes, “the Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and DYS require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center.” Even after leaving the detention center, children on probation were still subject to being “routinely arrested and incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing minor school infractions, such as dress code violations, which result in suspensions.”

Lauderdale County had made some attempts to change a corrupt system operating in violation of the constitutional rights of minors. Raw Story says that, before the DOJ’s investigation began last December, the county began the process of shutting down its youth detention enter and sending youthful offenders to facilities in other counties but “that action was considered inadequate.”‘

Lauderdale County’s schools, youth services agencies and police have been operating — seemingly in concert — to funnel children with disciplinary violations straight into Mississippi’s criminal justice system. It is almost as if the schools have been “educating” children for a life of punishment, in lawcourts and behind bars.

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Photo by my_southborouth


Ruth R.
Ruth R.3 years ago

Signed petition!

Ruth R.
Ruth R.3 years ago

So glad to find this article with the links -- that something is being done -- somewhere to stop this system -- that seems to be making normal good citizens out to be criminals -- all across the usa.
Thank you so very much for the article, the work. May you be blessed in continueing this kind of good work.

Misty Lemons
Past Member 3 years ago

Seems like my child's school district is headed that way too. Students there deal with a very, very strict environment. Stiff punishments for little things like spending 3 minutes on a bathroom break instead of one minute. I'm a grown woman and I can't go that fast and wash my hands. It's outrageous and frustrating. At my child's school they've just put a policy in place to double punish students. If a child goes to the time out room and other punishments 3 or more times in a semester they will be excluded from any social activities at the school. They were already punished, why punish them more and ostracize them? Parents were not even asked for their input on the policy. It was snuck under the radar and put on a recent newsletter more of as an afterthought rather than a proper announcement. I for one am not standing for this and have put together a petition that I plan on bringing to the school board at their next meeting. I need as many signatures I can get. Please, support the children. It is appreciated.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle4 years ago

A horrific story, and I'm sure not unique to Mississippi. The saddest part is throwing away our youth without trying to help them learn productive lives. All the ruined lives, but also a ruined society, less productivity in our nation. And incarceration is more costly -- just stupidity again, in fast short-term solutions for really long-term problems that could be bettered.

Wendy Schroeder
Wendy Schroeder4 years ago

Mississippi, the third world state.

JT Smith4 years ago

Steve R, your cranial rectal inversion is showing again. The DOJ is busy because it needs to be. Especially in incidents like this.

JT Smith4 years ago

Steve R, your cranial rectal inversion is showing again. The DOJ is busy because it needs to be. Especially in incidents like this.

Marie W.
Marie W.4 years ago

For profit prisons are a disgrace.

pam w.
pam w.4 years ago

" arrested and incarcerated for alleged infractions of school discipline that, in some cases, were as “minor as defiance.”

++++++++++++++++ WHAT? Right there in the heart of Republican, Christian MISSISSIPPI?

June Lacy
June Lacy4 years ago