Criminal Justice

The Town Where Farting Can Land a Kid in Jail

The school-to-prison pipeline in Meridian, Mississippi

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Welcome to Meridian, Mississippi:

Welcome to school.

Cedrico Green can't exactly remember how many times he went back and forth to juvenile. When asked to venture a guess he says, "Maybe 30." He was put on probation by a youth court judge for getting into a fight when he was in eighth grade. Thereafter, any of Green's school-based infractions, from being a few minutes late for class to breaking the school dress code by wearing the wrong color socks, counted as violations of his probation and led to his immediate suspension and incarceration in the local juvenile detention center.

But Green wasn't alone. A bracing Department of Justice lawsuit filed last month against Meridian, Miss., where Green lives and is set to graduate from high school this coming year, argues that the city's juvenile justice system has operated a school to prison pipeline that shoves students out of school and into the criminal justice system, and violates young people's due process rights along the way.

In Meridian, when schools want to discipline children, they do much more than just send them to the principal's office. They call the police, who show up to arrest children who are as young as 10 years old. Arrests, the Department of Justice says, happen automatically, regardless of whether the police officer knows exactly what kind of offense the child has committed or whether that offense is even worthy of an arrest. The police department's policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency.

Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights. They are handcuffed and incarcerated for days without any hearing and subsequently warehoused without understanding their alleged probation violations.

This is what I associate Meridian with. I drove out of my way to visit this museum.

You can read the DOJ's full complaint here. For fans of dry dark comedy, the high point comes after the lawyers quote the county's "probation contract" for young offenders: "Youth counselors themselves are unable to clearly explain what the language in the above paragraph means." Also illuminating: a list of offenses for which kids are "regularly incarcerated," which range from "dress code infractions" to "using vulgar language" to "flatulence in class."

Side note: The Southern Poverty Law Center has been working to bring attention to the situation in Meridian, and it filed a lawsuit of its own against the county a few years ago. I'm usually very critical of the SPLC, a civil rights group that tends to focus its attention on the supposedly subversive threat posed by fringe organizations rather than the much more substantial damage done to minorities by schools, police departments, and other powerful institutions. But I'll give credit where it's due: In this case, and some other cases involving juvenile justice in Mississippi, the SPLC has been on the side of the angels.

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  1. If flatulence was illegal I’d be on death row.

      1. I fart on you and your grammar policing ways.

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ve let things go that were against the Geneva Convention.

      1. You know it’s bad when you can smell it outdoors.

  2. The police department’s policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency.

    Just following policy. Almost as stupid as zero-tolerance.

    1. Since it leads to actual incarceration, I’m gonna have to say it’s even more stupid than zero tolerance.

      1. Exactly. The process requires no functioning brain cells.

        1. Judgment is hard. It’s so much easier to do what the book says.

      2. Zero tolerance often does lead to incarceration.

        1. You’re right! I’m used to associating the phrase “zero tolerance” with kids getting suspended from school, but of course the term is applied in a wider range of situations.

          1. Zero tolerance IN SCHOOLS often leads to incarceration. “Police referral” is a common phrase in all public school discipline books.

            1. Like I said, a wider range of situations. Though I suppose the kids getting arrested are also getting suspended or expelled in the process.

          2. Jesse,

            You can also add “minimum sentencing” to this as well. As DR&S said, one leads to the other.

  3. Morris Dees is a fucking scam-artist. But yeah, I agree with Jesse, give the SPLC its due when its on the side of right.

  4. Then he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God-talk to Him and all-wherever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. Even when he was driving his car. That killed me. I just see the big phoney bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs. The only good part of his speech was right in the middle of it. He was telling us all about what a swell guy he was, what a hotshot and all, then all of a sudden this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He damn near blew the roof off. Hardly anybody laughed out loud, and old Ossenburger made out like he didn’t even hear it, but old Thurmer, the headmaster, was sitting right next to him on the rostrum and all, and you could tell he heard it. Boy, was he sore. He didn’t say anything then, but the next night he made us have compulsory study hall in the academic building and he came up and made a speech. He said that the boy that had created the disturbance in chapel wasn’t fit to go to Pencey. We tried to get old Marsalla to rip off another one, right while old Thurmer was making his speech, but be wasn’t in the right mood.

  5. All they singz abouts is trains. I got hit in the balls by a train cinder block blues.

    1. Got the murder train a comin’ blues?

  6. I bet the EPA is somehow behind this, with all those toxic gases going into the air.

  7. I’ll go out on a wild limb here and guess there’s also a bit of a racial double standard being applied in Mississippi: white kids who fart are victims of digestive disorders; it’s mainly the black fartistes who are dubbed hardened criminals.

    1. And just as likely to happen in Boston or Hartford. Just love when Yankee bigots can’t get the beam out of their own eye when the point out the mote in the eye of a Southerner.

      1. Ain’t no beams in Jennifer’s eyes, Chris.

      2. “Just love when Yankee bigots can’t get the beam out of their own eye when the point out the mote in the eye of a Southerner.”

        Being raised in Virginia and living there now makes me a “Yankee?” Okay, but even so, I’d still bet good money that the majority of students convicted of farting in Meridian are black.

        1. The city is about 55% Black so you are likely correct. The Judges, Juvie guards, teachers, police, principals, probation officers etc are thoroughly integrated.

          1. Curse the threaded comments again; this got posted in the wrong spot. But: your statistic is slightly off. The .pdf says the town is 62 percent black, the school student body 86 percent black, and from 2006 through the first semester of 2010, one hundred percent of all students either referred to law enforcement or expelled were black. Not a single white kid, nor even Latino, in the bunch.

            So, yes, Occam’s razor suggests a racial bias is more likely than the proposition “no white kid in Meridian has ever farted or worn the wrong color socks in school.” Why is that such a touchy proposition here? “Authority figures turn out to be bigoted assholes” is hardly unusual. Even in Mississippi.

            1. Why is that such a touchy proposition here?

              For me it’s more the instinctive reaction of “A minority kid was affected while a white kid wasn’t? RACISM!!!” Almost all government policies affect one group more than another, but can’t we just attack this for being a downright stupid and abominable scenario and not have to look for a racial element in EVERY. DAMN. SITUATION?

              I would conjecture that while racial prejudices exist, it is far more likely that people in power have an authority boner more than their inner bigot coming out. Cast a wide net and get as many people as possible; as stated above it just means that sometimes certain groups are affected more unfairly than others.

              1. Please. This is Jennifer you’re talking about. For her, every day and every place is Selma, 1964. It’s kind of like her own personal Groundhog’s Day, destined to be repeated over and over until hell freezes over or the rest of us die of boredom.

      3. What I love even more is hypersensitive southerners who leap at any opportunity to take offense at what a supposed “Yankee” (even though they usually don’t even know what the word means) says. Apparently it is a grave sin to generalize about the south, but a-OK to do the same to “Yankees”.

  8. “Well, I’m not about to revamp the entire judicial process just because you find yourself in the unique position of defending clients who say they didn’t do it.”

  9. Mississippi is a backwards distopian humid shit hole.

    1. I love the place, excepting Laurel and Lucedale.

  10. All yutes need to be locked up.

  11. “What we’ve got here…is failure…to communicate.”
    “FFFFFPPPPPPRRRRRRRRRRRRRT!”

  12. Looks like the kid needs to get out of Meridian and go spend a few weeks next door with his Aunt Stephanie.

    1. Who’s Aunt Stephanie. Is she hot?

  13. Wonder if it will turn out that someone was profiting from the pipeline, like those two judges who were convicted for sending lots of minors to the lockup in PA.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal

    1. Is it worse to be evil or stupid?

      1. I am going to say evil. That indicates to me you have a choice.

        1. Well is it better to have a choice or to not have a choice because you’re too stupid?

      2. Considering to often the evil to be stupid is a comfort only to ourselves, and not their victims.

  14. Back in the day, kids used to fight in school and just get detention. At worst, they might be suspended for a day. Now they fucking arrest them? Our society has really fucked itself up.

  15. So what’s the deal here: are schools outsourcing their potential PR meltdowns to the court system? Is bringing in the supposedly impartial outside authorities a way to satisfy parents and watchdog groups that their conduct enforcement is properly vetted? Or are kids really so much scarier and unrulier than a few decades back?

  16. Fifty-five percent black? Close: the .pdf says the town is 62 percent black, the school student body 86 percent black, and from 2006 through the first semester of 2010, one hundred percent of all students either referred to law enforcement or expelled were black. Not a single white kid, nor even Latino, in the bunch.

    So, yes, Occam’s razor suggests a racial bias is more likely than the proposition “no white kid in Meridian has ever farted or worn the wrong color socks in school.” Why is that such a touchy proposition here?

  17. I know Meridian from a little known, but I think important Civil War campaign. After Vicksburg, Sherman’s Corps did not head to Chattanooga with the rest of the Army of the Tennessee, but went down the Mississippi a bit and moved inland to Meridian.

    The tactics and logics of that campaign were precursors to Sherman’s March.

    Also, the scattered southern resistance may have informed Grant’s later give them no rest strategy.

  18. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been working to bring attention to the situation in Meridian

    You can’t be wrong all the time, either.

  19. In the 2000 Census, the racial makeup of the city was 54.4% African American, 44.0% White, 0.6% Asian, 0.2% Native American,

    1. Truncated my comment. My point was that the city is poor and racially divided, so the strict laws are likely a reflection of this.

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