The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the city of Meridian, Miss.; Lauderdale County, Miss.; judges of the Lauderdale County Youth Court; and the state of Mississippi alleging that the defendants systematically violate the due process rights of juveniles.
The litigation seeks remedies for violations of the Fourth, Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The complaint alleges that the defendants help to operate a school-to-prison pipeline in which the rights of children in Meridian are repeatedly and routinely violated. As a result, children in Meridian have been systematically incarcerated for allegedly committing minor offenses, including school disciplinary infractions, and are punished disproportionately without due process of law. The students most affected by this system are African-American children and children with disabilities. The practices that regularly violate the rights of children in Meridian include:
•Children are handcuffed and arrested in school and incarcerated for days at a time without a probable cause hearing, regardless of the severity – or lack thereof – of the alleged offense or probation violation.
•Children who are incarcerated prior to adjudication in the Lauderdale County system regularly wait more than 48 hours for a probable cause hearing, in violation of federal constitutional requirements.
•Children make admissions to formal charges without being advised of their Miranda rights and without making an informed waiver of those rights.
•Lauderdale County does not consistently afford children meaningful representation by an attorney during the juvenile justice process, including in preparation for and during detention, adjudication and disposition hearings.
“ The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “ It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights.”
The department issued findings on Aug. 10, 2012 after a comprehensive investigation that began in December 2011. The department found reasonable cause that the defendants were violating Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of civil rights in the administration of juvenile justice . In its findings letter, the department stated its willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations to remedy the identified violations, but defendants did not timely engage in such negotiations.