School-to-Jailhouse Pipeline Not Only in Mississippi

This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity

Meridian is not alone under the DOJ magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee, the DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed to inform children of the charges against them and of failing to make sure the children know what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings. There are varying definitions of a school-to-prison pipeline, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice. “How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”

That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.

OP-ED: Shameful Treatment of Children in Meridian, Miss. Is Not the Only Example of School-to-Prison Pipeline

In recent years, juvenile justice advocates, lawyers, policy-makers, and reformers have increasingly sought to raise awareness of the American phenomenon of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The term refers generally to the process in which substandard public schools fail to provide adequate support and resources for at-risk children and their families, resulting in high drop-out rates and ultimately leading to court-involvement, detention and incarceration. More specifically, the term refers to the pattern in which students who have committed school-based wrongdoing — whether by pushing another child in the hallway, taking a pencil from a teacher’s desk, or disrupting class — are summarily arrested, charged with violating a criminal offense, and prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court. After a judge finds them delinquent, youth are then placed on probation and court-ordered to comply with a long series of conditions, typically including that they not be suspended (or not be suspended again) from school. In many jurisdictions when a juvenile on probation is suspended — even for a minor infraction at school — the consequences of the violation may include incarceration in a detention center. Research has shown that youth who are disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline are likely to be those who are already the most vulnerable: low-income students, children of color, English language learners, youth in foster care, students with disabilities (whether physical, psychological, or developmental), and homeless children.

Mississippi Joins 38 Other States, Raises Juvenile Age to Eighteen

An amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system. Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice. “This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, — a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue — told USA Today.