DOJ investigates 'school to prison pipeline' in Meridian

Published: Aug. 11, 2012 at 3:35 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2012 at 10:37 PM CDT
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MERIDIAN, MS (WLOX) - The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division says an investigation has revealed that children in Meridian have had their rights repeatedly violated by the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the city police, and the state division of youth services.

That report from the Justice Department calls it a "school to prison pipeline" where students are incarcerated for disciplinary issues as minor as "dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect."

The report says the Meridian Police would automatically arrest any students referred to them by the schools, then the court would place the students on probation and order any school suspensions be served at a juvenile detention center.

Also in the findings letter, the Civil Rights Division noted, "Lauderdale County and the Youth Court Judges Violate the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments by Failing to Provide Children Procedural Due Process in the Youth Court Process. Lauderdale County, the Youth Court Judges, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services Violate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by Failing to Provide Children Procedural Due Process Rights in the Probationary Process."

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect against abuse of government authority in legal proceedings and fairness of due process rights respectively.

Justice Department alleges that mostly African American children and children with disabilities are impacted by the unconstitutional polices taking place in Meridian.

"The systematic disregard for children's basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

The investigation into the alleged wrongdoings goes back to December. Officials with the court and the Meridian Police Department have not commented.

An attorney with the City of Meridian says the police department is cooperating with the investigation.

"We have provided voluminous documents and allowed DOJ attorneys to interview Meridian Police Department personnel without any reservations," City Attorney Ronnie Walton said. "The City of Meridian is committed to assisting the Meridian Public School District in providing a safe learning environment for our children and we believe we have done so without violating anyone's constitutional rights."

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