Children's Defense Fund founder and director Marian Wright Edelman, along with other Jackson-area youth advocates, unveiled a set of recommendations to end zero-tolerance school-discipline policies that feed what CDF and others have termed a "cradle-to-prison pipeline."
Photo by Trip Burns.
The United States is facing a national security crisis—but not from a foreign enemy.
"Our biggest threat does not come from an enemy without. It comes from a lack of an educated child population, which is going to govern the country tomorrow. (They will) be the ones we'll have to recruit for our military, (and) be the ones who'll have to be our diplomatic force," Children's Defense Fund founder and director Marian Wright Edelman told the Jackson Free Press this morning.
Edelman, along with other Jackson-area youth advocates, unveiled a set of recommendations to end zero-tolerance school-discipline policies that feed what CDF and others have termed a "cradle-to-prison pipeline."
An examination of data from 59 school districts across Mississippi revealed that African Americans in those school systems were twice as likely to be punished for disciplinary infractions than their white counterparts. Thirty-two districts did not respond to CDF's request for information.
Edelman believes harsh discipline policies are pushing kids out of school and depressing Mississippi's high-school graduation rate. At 73.7 percent, that rate is one of the nation's lowest.
"We're undermining our future workforce by imprisoning our children rather than educating our children," Edelman said.
Mississippi, which has the nation's second-highest incarceration rate, has proven to be especially effective when it comes to shooing kids from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.
On Aug. 10, 2012, the U.S. Justice Department released a new investigative report that found violations of the constitutional rights of children in Mississippi, this time in Meridian. The offending agencies are Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services.
In a 12-page letter of findings addressed to various state and local officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood, the DOJ found that the agencies engage in a pattern of constitutional violations. Specifically, the Meridian Police Department fails to adequately assess "probable cause that an unlawful offense has been committed prior to arresting children at local schools," and the Lauderdale County Youth Court fails to provide children with due-process rights.
In addition, the court and the state Division of Youth Services fail to provide children due process in the probations process. Finally, the report indicates that all three agencies fail to allow for due process by incarcerating children for school disciplinary offenses without putting procedural safeguards in place.
The department's investigation showed that African American children and children with disabilities are most affected. Meridian is 62 percent black.
"The (DOJ) investigation showed that the agencies have helped to operate a school-to-prison pipeline whereby children arrested in local schools become entangled in a cycle of incarceration without substantive and procedural protections required by the U.S. Constitution," a Justice Department news release states.
The CDF recommends overhauling the state's alternative school system and urges school districts to come up with other solutions besides suspensions and expulsion when students commit nonviolent offenses to avoid repeats of the Meridian situation.
"Meridian is what happens when we don't get a handle on what's going on in the schools," Oleta Fitzgerald, CDF's Southern Regional Office director, said this morning.