Claims of discrimination against black students have led to an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the Lauderdale County Juvenile Justice system.

" /> U.S. Justice Department Investigating Meridian Juvenile Justice System | News | Mississippi Public Broadcasting
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U.S. Justice Department Investigating Meridian Juvenile Justice System

By Daniel Cherry | Published 20 Dec 2011 12:06pm | comments

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating possible racial discrimination against black students in Meridian. MPB’s Daniel Cherry reports how some students and parents say the juvenile justice system is handing out harsh penalties for minor offenses.

The Justice Department launched its formal investigation to find whether the justice system in Lauderdale County is going too far with its punishments. At the Meridian Public School Board meeting last night, the investigation didn't come up in the open session, but local education advocate, Cynthia Griffin says she's heard the stories from students and parents.

"A kindergartner didn't have a belt on, and they sent that child to in-school suspension. And I think that's horrible. I think that's harsh for a kindergartner. You've isolated him, and he doesn't get himself dressed. He's not accountable for his own clothes."

The school district itself isn't under investigation, but the Meridian Police Department and the Lauderdale County Juvenile Court are. However, John Compton, Meridian School Board Attorney, says the district is taking action to solve any problems that might exist.

"When we've had fights in the past, we've called the Meridian Police Department to arrest the students who are involved with the fights. Those procedures and practices have been changed. If it's a fight where the students are out of control or there are significant injuries then the police might be called in that instance."

The City of Meridian declined comment due to the pending investigation. Shakti Belway is an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. She hopes this investigation will send a message across the state.

"I hope that this serves as a wake-up call to district and law enforcement officials throughout Mississippi that criminalizing schoolchildren for normal behavior, childhood behavior is a violation of their civil rights that will no longer be tolerated by the federal government."

The Justice Department says they have not yet reached any conclusions in the investigation.

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