Department of Justice Sues over ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’ in Meridian, Miss.

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The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the Mississippi county, city and judges who they say systematically ignore youthful defendants’ rights, resulting in a well-beaten path from school to incarceration.

“The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, in a written statement on Oct. 24.

The suit is being brought against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two judges of the county Youth Court and the state of Mississippi.“It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights,” he wrote.

The DOJ published preliminary accusations against the now-defendants some 10 weeks ago, threatening a lawsuit if the Mississippians did not cooperate.

Meridian and Lauderdale’s attorneys countered that the DOJ investigation was cursory, and that the DOJ had asked for confidential records that the Mississippi judges could not legally provide.

“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,” said Gregory Davis, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, in the same Oct. 24 written statement.

The department is holding a conference call about the suit on Oct. 25 to give more details about the investigation and complaint.

A similar set of complaints has been brought by the DOJ against the youth court in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee. In that case, the courts have agreed to make changes and are negotiating with the federal government on better practices, thereby evading a lawsuit.

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