The U.S. Department of Justice sued several government agencies in Mississippi last week, saying they systematically violated the due process rights of juveniles and are thus operating a "school-to-prison" pipeline in the area.
The Justice Department said children in Meridian, Miss., are routinely jailed for minor offenses, including school discipline incidents, and are punished disproportionately without due process. Black students and students with disabilities are especially affected.
The suit charges that the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, judges in Lauderdale County Youth Court, and the state of Mississippi are all involved.
The Justice Department says that children are arrested in school and incarcerated for days without a probable cause hearing, regardless of the severity of their alleged offense; regularly wait more than 48 hours for a probable cause hearing in violation of federal constitutional rights; and make admissions to formal charges without being advised of their right to remain silent.
Earlier this year, the federal government advised Mississippi and Meridian officials of their concerns.
The county is also charged with inconsistently providing meaningful representation by a lawyer during the juvenile-justice process.
The day after the Justice Department filed its suit, the Meridian-Lauderdale County NAACP filed ethics complaints against more than 60 local leaders related to the same issue, news networks in Mississippi reported.
The local NAACP filed 64 complaints with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, which has 30 days to respond, the local reports said. The NAACP contends there's a pattern of the constitutional rights of children being violated in Lauderdale County, and its complaints against elected officials, law enforcement, and some school leaders are the culmination of a seven-year investigation.
"We as a civil rights advocate, community-based-wise, the people we elected and the people appointed should have been the watchdogs for our children," Randle Jennings, education chair for the Meridian-Lauderdale County NAACP, told WTOK-TV. "Everybody had to see the red flags when their caseloads increased by thousands of percentage ... points over a period of time."