The Department of Justice on Friday uncovered a so-called “School-to-Prison pipeline” in Mississippi, where teachers and principals are shipping off children into the criminal justice system for infractions as small as a dress code violation.
Schools in the city of Meridian, MS, have an established practice of sending students, particularly black and disabled students, to prison for minor disciplinary problems — in clear violation of the Constitution. As ABC reports, that DOJ is claiming that the schools, which protect against “abuse of government authority in legal proceedings and fairness of due process rights,” are violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
After months of investigation into claims of such a pipeline, the Justice Department released Friday a definitive letter revealing that the Meridian Police Department “automatically arrests all students referred to MPD by the District. The children arrested by MPD are then sent to the County juvenile justice system”:
“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.[…]
“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. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”
The school-to-prison pipeline isn’t a new occurrence; the American Civil Liberties Union has pursued other cases of students being funneled into the prison system. In one particular case in Atlanta, the ACLU filed a class action suit against a schoolsystem that subjected its students to unreasonable searches.
Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries of education, and the threat of being sent to prison for a minor infraction likely discourages attendance for some at-risk youth.