DOJ Investigation Finds Mississippi County Court, Police Department and Youth Services Operating School-to-Prison Pipeline

Last Updated: August 28, 2012

This article appeared in the August 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused three Mississippi agencies of operating a school-to-prison pipeline and warned them to begin “meaningful negotiations” with DOJ within 60 days or face a federal lawsuit.

An investigation that began in December found that Meridian, Mississippi students were being arrested without adequate assessment of probable cause, were denied due process in youth court and probation actions, and were exposed to other violations of their constitutional rights. In a letter to 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 DOJ outlines its findings and states that a pattern of serious deprivation of constitutional rights and irreparable harm to children exists in Meridian.

According to DOJ documents, Meridian Police Department personnel follow a policy of automatically arresting all students referred to them by the Meridian Public School district. The Youth Court then places the students on probation without following constitutionally-required due process procedures.

Many students were subsequently incarcerated for “probation violation” at the next minor school disciplinary offense, including such minor offenses as dress code violations, defiance, and flatulence. Under the terms of the probation, all school suspensions had to be served in the juvenile detention center.

The DOJ investigation found that African-American children and children with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the violations. The letter notes that students in the Meridian school district are expelled and suspended for longer than ten days at a rate almost seven times the rate for Mississippi schools generally.

During the investigation, DOJ held a number of meetings with community members as well as affected families and other stakeholders, but it was denied access to Youth Court staff and records. DOJ noted that the refusal of the Youth Court to cooperate contributed to their intention to access the court system to resolve the problems in the event a collaborative approach does not work in the next 60 days.

The eastern Mississippi community has been the target of a number of reform efforts on behalf of students, including a previous DOJ investigation that led to the closure of the youth treatment center, which was shut down earlier this year.

Read more:

Read the Department of Justice Press Release with a link to the Letter of Findings here:

Op-ed advocating that positive discipline be considered in teacher and principal evaluations:

Read more from the August 2012 Rural Policy Matters.