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Justice Department Resolves 'School-to-Prison Pipeline' Case in Mississippi

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Officials with the state of Mississippi and the city of Meridian, Miss., have signed onto an agreement that will "prevent and address unconstitutional youth arrests and probation practices," the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.

If the agreement wins court approval, it will  resolve a case student civil rights advocates had flagged as an example of the "school-to-prison pipeline." The federal agency sued the city of Meridian, the state of Mississippi, Lauderdale County, Miss.,Youth Court and the Youth Court Judges in 2012, alleging "systematic violations of youths' due process rights."

"The agreement with the city of Meridian addresses the Meridian Police Department's prior practice of arresting students referred by the school district without assessing whether there was sufficient probable cause to justify the arrest," the Justice Department said in a news release. "The settlement agreement prohibits the city police department from arresting youth for behavior that is appropriately addressed as a school discipline issue, and requires documented probable cause determinations for any youth arrested for criminal offenses."

The agreement also requires city police to issue Miranda warnings "as soon as a youth reasonably believes he or she is not free to leave and prohibiting officers from interviewing detained youth unless a guardian or attorney is present."

An agreement with the state also addresses youth probation practices. It requires a clear explanation of youths' rights and prohibiting officers from "recommending incarcerating youths for violations of their probation contracts that would not otherwise amount to detainable offenses, unless and until all other reasonable alternatives to incarceration have been exhausted."

The 6,100-student Meridian School District made a similar agreement with the Justice Department in 2013 to address discriminatory discipline practices that federal officials said led to higher rates of discipline for black students than for their white peers.

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