Mississippi is a rough place to grow up. The state has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States, to start. Maybe that's because so many mothers are teens who had unplanned pregnancies? If you manage to make it to kindergarten alive — congrats, gold star for you! — this is what you have to look forward to: JAIL.
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.
Green was also penalized for talking back to a teacher, wearing long socks and coming to school without wearing a belt. Penalized as in behind bars in juvenile detention, not sitting in the corner for a time out.
Um, what the fuck? This must be an anomaly right? Nope.
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.
The SPLC's inquiry into Meridian began back in 2008, after attorneys heard about the "horrific abuse" of youth housed in juvenile detention centers and learned that 67 percent of youth in detention centers were straight from the Meridian school system. Students had no agency; "The administrators were the judge, jury and executioner," said Jody Owens, managing attorney of the SPLC's juvenile justice initiative in Mississippi. She also said that only black students are sent to juvie for minor infractions, a trend that's not only found in the state; a 2010 study found that black middle schoolers were three times as likely to be suspended as white boys and that black girls were four times as likely to be suspended as white girls.
Gloria Green, Cedrico's mother, said the DOJ lawsuit is the answer to her prayers. "It was degrading to me because I was like, ‘My son is not a criminal. Why is he behind bars?'" An excellent question, and hopefully one the Meridian will have to answer.
Image via Risto Viita/Shutterstock.