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A report released last Thursday says that the state of Mississippi has been disproportionately pushing its students from classrooms into courtrooms. The study refers to the so-called “school to prison pipeline,” a phenomenon in many districts where student discipline issues are handled by police rather than principals, ultimately pushing students into the justice system. In those instances, getting in trouble at school could lead directly to jail time. Mississippi contains some of the worst rates of discipline, with suspension rates in some districts as high as 17 times the national average.
The report was authored by a coalition of advocacy groups, including the ACLU and NAACP. The groups criticize the state’s overzealous tendency of arresting its students and referring them to juvenile detention centers. According to the New York Times, in one Mississippi district students were arrested for minor offenses such as not wearing belts at school. Other students were handcuffed for not wearing school-appropriate shoes. In another school district in the state, “33 of every 1,000 children were arrested or referred to juvenile detention centers.”
The report arrives at a particularly sticky point in school systems across the nation. In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, some people are calling for more law enforcement on campuses, not less. Yet the authors of the report suggest that an influx of law enforcement in schools may have something to do with the high rates of student arrests and referrals. According to a letter released by the state justice department, the Meridian school district “routinely arrested children at schools without probable cause.” In those cases, the arrest was based on referrals by school personnel.
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