The Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused Lauderdale County, Mississippi of running a 'school-to-prison pipeline' that imprisons children, most of them black, for minor school disciplinary infractions such as defiance and dress code violations.
In a letter from the DOJ's civil rights division, the Lauderdale County Youth Court, Meridian Police Department and Mississippi Division of Youth Services are accused of "violating the constitutional rights of juveniles in Meridian."
"The [DOJ] investigation showed that the agencies have helped to operate a school-to-prison pipeline whereby children arrested at local schools become entangled in a cycle of incarceration without... protections required by the US Constitution," the letter states.
"Children in Lauderdale County have been routinely and repeatedly incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing school disciplinary infractions and are punished disproportionately, without constitutionally required procedural safeguards," it continued.
"Children have also been arrested at school for offenses as minor as defiance. Furthermore, children on probation are routinely arrested and incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing minor school infractions, such as dress code violations, which result in suspensions."
"The department's investigation showed that students most affected by this system are African-American children and children with disabilities."
"The systematic disregard for children's basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust," Assistant US Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a statement.
CNN reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a class-action lawsuit against the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Facility, accusing the youth prison of cramming children into "small, filthy cells" and "tormenting" them with the arbitrary use of Mace in response to the most minor infractions, like "talking too much" or failing to sit in the back of their cells.
Meridian has a long and shameful history of civil rights strife. In 1964, civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered there at the orders of the Ku Klux Klan, crimes which led to the 1967 'Mississippi Burning' trial.