At one point or another during our time as school children, each of us has been in detention or at least knew what detention was. It’s usually a classroom where we sit and do homework or be bored while recess is underway. Not so for students in Meridian, Mississippi.
Students in Meridian, especially African-American and disabled children, face the prospect of prison time for even the silliest infraction. As it turns out, the Department of Justice has been investigating the school system in the city for allegedly having students arrested and placed in juvenile detention. School principals and teachers punish students for infractions such as passing gas, dressing in an unacceptable manner, general disrespect, and swearing.
These reasons seem to justify a normal detention, but are laughable reasons to arrest and imprison kids. I recall my own school experiences and remember friends and other schoolmates being punished for these exact things. Sometimes they were merely warned, sometimes detention was handed out, and sometimes parents were called, but no one ever went to prison for it. Police were certainly never involved in the punishing of a student. But in Meridian, Mississippi, schools deal out their own brand of harsh punishment.
According to ABC, a Department of Justice letter details the constitutional and moral violations committed by the school district, the police department, the youth court, and the juvenile detention center of the city of Meridian.
“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. By policy and practice, [the Meridian Police Department] MPD automatically arrests all students referred to MPD by the District. The children arrested by MPD are then sent to the County juvenile justice system, where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate. The Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and DYS require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center.”
So if a student is suspended by the school, students don’t get to serve their suspension by staying home and being further punished by their parents, or serving their suspension in school. The school is basically forcing students to serve their suspensions in prison with individuals who are there for real reasons such as assault, murder, theft and other crimes.
And if that’s not bad enough, the schools are dealing out these punishments by what seem to be along racial lines.
ABC reports that “about 62 percent of Meridian’s population is African American, and the Justice Department alleges that mostly African American children and children with disabilities are impacted by the unconstitutional policies. The Justice Department alleged in its findings letter that two Youth Court Judges have consistently denied civil rights investigators access to information about the policies and practices of the Youth Court.”
The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is attempting to negotiate with the city to solve this case, but if the city refuses to cooperate, the federal government will sue the city for violating the fourth and fourteenth amendment rights of the students being arrested and imprisoned.
Clearly, something must be done about this injustice. Can you imagine arresting a child and imprisoning them for something as minor as a dress code violation or for a natural bodily function? Surely, the courts and police of Meridian have something better to do like stopping real crimes. Instead, they’d rather frighten children who should by all rights be able to feel safe at school. School administrators and teachers should also be ashamed of themselves. They are targeting minority and disabled students who should be treated with dignity. No child deserves to be arrested or imprisoned for something as ridiculous as swearing, passing gas, dressing a certain way, and disrespect, all of which are things adults do on a daily basis in the real world. Any teacher, principal, judge, or police officer who is involved with this illegal scheme should be introduced to the real world themselves, in the form of prisons for adults. Only then will they understand the hell they’ve been putting these innocent kids through.