On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Mississippi over the state’s alleged “school-to-prison-pipeline” that violates the rights of children, disabled and minorities like African-Americans. The lawsuit alleges that police officers in Meridian, Mississippi have created a culture of routinely arresting students suspended from school, even in cases without any reason to suspect the commission of a crime.
Roy Austin, a senior civil rights official of the Department of Justice said, “We found that children have been incarcerated for being suspended from school for things like dress code violations or talking back to teachers.” The lawsuit alleges that the police department in Meridian acted as a “taxi service” between schools and a juvenile detention center, where students did not have access to lawyers or counselors.
Lawyers for Meridian and the Lauderdale County denied the allegations in August when the Justice Department raised the issues publicly and warned of a lawsuit. In an Aug 23. letter sent to the Meridian Star newspaper, lawyers of the city observed about the DOJ’s allegations, “You should provide detailed facts and any records or documents you have to support allegations.”
This is the first time that the DOJ has used a 1994 law that bans a pattern or practice of depriving people their rights, in the defense of juveniles. The department had initiated its investigation in December after receiving numerous complaints from locals.
Austin said, “What we are trying to do is fix the problem and not fix the blame.” In a similar situation in Tennessee, the justice department did not sue after it found local officials cooperated to improve the system.
The lawsuit against Meridian, Mississippi alleges that there are instances where the police arrested children even for things like flatulence in class while on probation. Arrested children are locked up for days without a hearing or forced to admit wrongdoing without any reading of Miranda rights.
The lawsuit mentions, “Even one court appearance during high school increases a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school, and court appearances are especially detrimental to children with no or minimal previous history of delinquency.”