The title of this post is the title of an excellent article by Maggie Lee at Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, which follows up on the stunning Department of Justice report issued last month on the Mississippi school district.
This is how it opens:
Lionel Townsend will turn 14 in September and a few months after that he will be able to return to school, ending a year of exile.
Lionel admits he got into fights multiple times at Magnolia Middle School. When he was charged with vandalizing a school bus security camera, he was booted from school. He fought again in a community day program. The county Youth Court eventually put him on probation and an order to stay at home with an ankle monitor.
But the federal Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is alleging the juvenile justice system is so faulty it amounts to a “school-to-prison pipeline” in the Townsends’ home of Meridian.
“If you do wrong, you got to pay,” insisted Lionel’s mother, Ella Townsend, speaking in the living room of the home she shares with her mother, Lionel and four of the boy’s siblings. Lionel listens quietly, a skinny boy, who grins when attention is turned to him, or he’s teased about the sparkly blue earring studded in his ear. “But “that was harsh punishment,” she said, “I feel like they were sort of out of order.”
Townsend says her son’s ankle monitor was so sensitive it went off if he went in the back yard. The young man is rid of it now, but not before he gouged off the speaker, causing what Townsend said the court assessed as $1,500 in damage.
She worries if Lionel makes another mistake, he will end up in prison with adults, where he will learn the criminal trade.
The Justice Department says it has probable cause to believe the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County routinely and repeatedly incarcerate children for school disciplinary infractions, as outlined in an Aug. 10 open letter, at the end of an eight-month investigation. Their letter is addressed to the city and county, the county’s two Youth Court judges, as well as the state Division of Youth Services, but not the Meridian school system.
You may read the rest of this important article here.