The story of a quaint Mississippi town accused of systematically imprisoning students for minor offenses — such as wearing the wrong color socks — and punishing them without due process of law may sound like the plot of a cooked-up horror story, but in Meridian, Miss., it's a sad and unthinkable reality.
The Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit against the city, Lauderdale County, judges of the Lauderdale County Youth Court, and the state of Mississippi for operating what it called a "school-to-prison pipeline in which the rights of children in Meridian are repeatedly and routinely violated."
Unfortunately, the injustices in Meridian are not isolated events. A new report shows similar events have happened across Mississippi, including in Jackson, where public-school staff admitted to handcuffing students to metal railings for hours. In Louisiana, more than 300,000 students are suspended and expelled each year, many of them for minor behavior issues or what could be explained as simple childhood mistakes.
Out-of-school suspensions not only have dire consequences for those suspended, but for entire communities. Students who are suspended from the classroom are more likely to drop out, which in turn increases the likelihood they will be incarcerated later in life. Harsh punishments undermine the positive work of educators. In our state education systems, it can also increase resentment and distrust of law-enforcement officials, which makes their efforts less effective and in turn can also decrease overall public health and safety.