October 24th, 2012

Feds Sue Meridian, Mississippi, Officials for Unlawful Incarceration of Youth

On October 24, 2012, the United States Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Meridian, Mississippi, the Meridian Police Department, the State of Mississippi, and city and state officials. The suit alleged that the city’s practice of incarcerating children for non-criminal violations of school rules constituted a severe violation of the youths’ legal and constitutional rights. Such practices have been shown to increase the likelihood of students’ later incarceration for criminal offenses and are described by some as a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Meridian schools frequently referred students to the Meridian Police Department, which automatically arrested all referred students even without probable cause. Meridian schools often referred students for arrest for minor violations of school rules, including farting in class and violating the school dress code by wearing the wrong color socks. Students arrested in school typically were provided no meaningful legal representation, questioned without being advised of their Miranda rights, and incarcerated for days without a hearing.

The federal investigation that preceded filing of the civil suit concluded that Meridian’s school-to-prison pipeline had a severe and disparate impact on students of color and disabled students. Between 2006 and 2009, all students arrested in Meridian schools were black and disabled students were seven times more likely to be expelled than non-disabled students.

In March 2013, the Justice Department settled a related school desegregation lawsuit against the Meridian Public School District with a consent decree that limits the use of law enforcement in school discipline. The 2012 case remains pending.