The Justice Department filed a lawsuit this week against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, two judges of the Lauderdale County Youth Court and the Mississippi Department of Human Services alleging multiple violations of juveniles’ due process rights.
The lawsuit specifically states that the defendants participated in a school-to-prison pipeline, violating the rights of children, mainly black children and children with disabilities. Students were allegedly being arrested for “dress code infractions such as wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt, or for having shirts untucked; tardies; flatulence in class; using vulgar language; yelling at teachers; and going to the bathroom or leaving the classroom without permission,” according to the Associated Press.
Essentially, as noted in the American Bar Association Journal, “the police department acted as little more than a ‘taxi service’ between schools and a juvenile detention center.”
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin acknowledged that there are other places in the country that have “school-to-prison pipelines” according to a report in the Associated Press. This is the first time the Civil Rights Division has filed a lawsuit based on these allegations. The DOJ said the defendants violated Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This section “prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of civil rights in the administration of juvenile justice.”
The DOJ began an in-depth investigation in December 2011 and issued findings on Aug. 10, 2012. According to CNN, this lawsuit came more than two months after the Justice Department warned local and state officials in Mississippi that they had 60 days to cooperate or face a lawsuit.
“What we are trying to do is fix the problem and not affix blame. Unfortunately the defendants didn’t feel the same way,” Austin said to the Associated Press on Wednesday.
“It is disappointing that the local and state government agencies involved in the administration of juvenile justice in Lauderdale County have not worked cooperatively with the Justice Department to resolve these violations,” Gregory Davis, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said in a statement. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to making sure that children in the Lauderdale County juvenile justice system are treated in accordance with the Constitution.”