I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that there are still some states where the age of juvenile jurisdiction is less than 18, but I was surprised to learn that one of them is Massachusetts.
Putting aside the the serious health and safety risk to young offenders when you lock them up in an adult prison (which is reason enough to keep them out of them), ruining the employment and educational prospects of a 17-year-old who commits a nonviolent drug or property crime is pretty shortsighted public policy.
According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Justice Department has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County, Mississippi, charging that local officials operate what has become known as a “school-to-prison pipeline”—sort of the evil twin to school-to-career programs, I guess—in which public school students accused of disciplinary violations are subject to arrest and incarceration—in this case, 80 miles away, and without the need to worry over any of those pesky rules concerning probable cause or legal representation.
According to the Post, students can be incarcerated for “dress code infractions such as wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt, or for having shirts untucked; tardies; flatulence in class; using vulgar language; yelling at teachers; and going to the bathroom or leaving the classroom without permission.”
Left unstated is the key characteristic that nearly all of these violators have in common: 86% of the district’s 6,000 students are black, and from 2006 through the first half of the 2009-2010 school year, all the students referred to law enforcement or expelled were black and 96% of those suspended were black.
You can read more about this issue here.