US: Arrests in East Miss. Violate Students’ Rights

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Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general, said Wednesday that other areas around the country have "school-to-prison pipelines," but this is the first time the civil rights division has filed a lawsuit based on these allegations. He said Shelby County, Tenn., is another example of a problematic area, but he said officials there are working with the Justice Department to fix the problems.

Mississippi officials have not been cooperative, he said.

"What we are trying to do is fix the problem and not affix blame. Unfortunately the defendants didn't feel the same way," Austin said.

The Justice Department said Lauderdale County Youth Court Judges Frank Coleman and Veldore "Vel" Young denied the agency access to court hearings and information and directed the city of Meridian to withhold files concerning children. The Justice Department's investigation began in December 2011.

The school district has about 6,000 students, with 86 percent being black and 12 percent being white. From 2006 to the first semester of the 2009-2010 school year, all the students referred to law enforcement or expelled were black and 96 percent of those suspended were black, the lawsuit said.

In a letter to Mississippi officials in August, the Justice Department threatened to sue if the problems continued. The lawsuit said officials denied the problems existed or failed to properly address them.

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