Mississippi’s Policy of Matriculation Through Incarceration

PrisonCell220px-ClassroomI have previously written about the trend in our schools to use arrests as substitutes for school discipline for students. A new report highlights this trend and leaves a particularly shocking account of the situation in the Mississippi school system which remains 50th on teacher salaries but leads the nation in putting its students in jail.


The Mississippi school system has always been a national disgrace due to the lack of funding and focus by state politicians on education. It is one of the most basic tasks of government but Mississippi politicians have left their state languishing at the bottom of virtually every survey of schools. Where they have achieved distinction is in the incarceration rather than the matriculation of students. The Justice Department has sued Meridan, Mississippi for routinely arresting students without probable cause.

Now a report shows this is not unique to Meridan. The report found that in one Mississippi school district, 33 of every 1,000 children have been arrested or referred to juvenile detention centers. The vast majority of arrests were for disciplinary problems. This includes cases like a child was taken into custody for wearing shoes that were not in compliance with school rules. Mississippi imposes suspensions 150% more than the national average with some districts showing a rate 900% above the national average.

The school and state officials seem intent on erasing the separation between the jailhouse and the schoolhouse. Ironically, with the rise of the prison industry, our schools now appear to be feeders for raw material in Mississippi. I fail to understand how Mississippians can tolerate such a school system. They clearly love their children and yet do not insist on a major reform of their schools. This ongoing record of subpar performance by the schools continues to limit the economy and development of the state. I understand that Mississippi remains one of the least affluent states but the policies are not the product of limited resources but a breakdown of leadership in the state.

Source: NY Times

22 thoughts on “Mississippi’s Policy of Matriculation Through Incarceration

  1. Interesting Article! A few years ago, 2 judges in the state of PA were arrested because they were receiving ‘kickbacks’ for sending people to jail (the kickbacks came from the people in charge of the prison system). I wonder if the same thing is occurring in MS.

  2. It was a DOJ report wasn’t it? I think I got it from the DOJ email list. Even though I criticize DOJ constantly, I thought it was great that they did this.

    Years ago I remember seeing a poor white kid who was a friend of my son’s dive into a ditch when a police car drove by. He was like 7 years old. At the time I wondered what his parents had told him.

  3. Perhaps the kids will see the analogy and the 1933 parallels between school and jail. Ich mochter ein double zimmer fur ein nacht.

  4. not everyone wants a high school diploma. maybe it is time for public education to quit forcing students who dont want to be in school to go to school.

    My wifes grandfather only went to school through the 7th grade and ended up being a successful farmer.

    If they would legalize pot in Mississippi, these kids could become farmers and make a few hundred thousand selling “home grown herbel blend” with lables like “Hempone”, “Hemphock”, “Blackeyed Weed” out of respect for their southern roots. It would give a new meaning to that old favorite the “hush puppy”.

  5. There has always been reluctance in the South towards public education. Even during Reconstruction many Southern states refused to support public schools rather than have former slaves obtain an education.

  6. Most of those in the school to jail pipeline are Black. Is anyone surprised? Has anyone looked at the Mississippi education experience based on race or economic status? I’ll bet there are some in MS that are getting a good education.

  7. Nal,

    Did you catch the states proposal, Texas that is to continue to defund public education while increasing grants for private charter schools….

  8. AY:

    they are? There is also an advertisement asking for New Yorkers to relocate to Texas.

    Lot of freedom breaking out in Texas, I think I might move there when I retire.

    I do love cowboy boots, bass fishing, football, big haired women and pick-up trucks.

    One thing about Texans that I learned from my oil field days, they all think their derriks are bigger than everyone elses and can drill deeper. I guess its a Texas thing.

  9. “I fail to understand how Mississippians can tolerate such a school system. They clearly love their children and yet do not insist on a major reform of their schools. This ongoing record of subpar performance by the schools continues to limit the economy and development of the state. I understand that Mississippi remains one of the least affluent states but the policies are not the product of limited resources but a breakdown of leadership in the state.”

    I think JT is being overly kind in this instance. This is clearly about racism and the tangential benefits to some of having in effect slave labor, via the chain gang. Mississippi never really surrendered emotionally to the result of the Civil War and the mentality exists 147 years after.

  10. “,,,a child was taken into custody for wearing shoes that were not in compliance with school rules.”
    ~ Wrong Shoes Luke

    “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

  11. Mike S. said it right. This is about racism that is still in play in the State of Mississippi. How many of the referred children were white?

  12. This is exactly what can happen when the state defines a group of citizens, in this case minors, as having lower or restricted status and are subjects of the government. (in loco parentis)

    This will be the case for adults as well if the conditions are such. If the gov’t gets the same power over adults as they have over children in schools you will see the same abuses levied against anybody.

    I have never agreed with some of the restrictions placed on minors such as due process violations, not being permitted the right to a jury trial etc. I also find it reprehensible that persons 18 years in age can be arrested for drinking a beer or possessing a revolver but can be drafted into our military where they can be required to kill people or be killed at the order of politicians.

  13. Darren,
    I agree with you about the in loco parentis. I have never understood the idea that minors have less rights than adults. I can understand discretion being used to deal with very low level issues with minors, but they should have the same rights as adults, imo.

  14. Bolstered by a recent report from a coalition of civil rights organizations, Mississippi continues to excel in attracting those re-locators balancing the need for quality public schools with the desire to live near an unofficially segregated Waffle House. One of only 19 states that permits paddling in schools, Mississippi has long been a haven for parents looking to outsource the beating of their children to skilled public educators, and with the nation’s highest rate of students beaten by school staff, parents are assured the draconian laws so instrumental to their children’s success are and will continue to be applied liberally and lovingly.

    The report highlights some of the unique methods utilized by Mississippi schools in recent years to rehabilitate students who engage in inappropriate behavior:

    In 2000, what began with a few students playfully throwing peanuts at one another on a school bus ended in five Black male high school students being arrested for felony assault, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. When one of the peanuts accidentally hit the white female bus driver, the bus driver immediately pulled over to call the police, who diverted the bus to the courthouse where the students were questioned.
    The Sheriff commented to one newspaper, “[T]his time it was peanuts, but if we don’t get a handle on it, the next time it could be bodies.”
    More recently, in 2009 in Southaven, DeSoto County, armed police officers responded to an argument between three students on a school bus by reportedly arresting a half dozen Black students, choking and tackling one Black female student, and threatening to shoot the other students on the bus between their eyes.

    In 2010, in Jackson Public School District, until a lawsuit was filed, staff at one school regularly handcuffed students to metal railings in the school gymnasium and left them there for hours if they were caught not wearing a belt, among other minor infractions. For example, one 14-year-old boy was reportedly handcuffed to the railing when he wore a stocking cap to class, threw his papers on the ground, and refused to do his school work.
    Parents supportive of proposed measures to increase armed security in schools should consider the benefits of cutting out the middleman. Any private guard or police officer will require a salary, whereas the increased school arrests coupled with punishments typically reserved for prisoners seems to put more weapons directly into the hands of students – a formula that results in safer schools and BIG savings for Mississippi tax payers. According to testimony given by a juvenile judge from Georgia, a state that uses police intervention for minor school infractions in a similar manner:
    The number of serious weapons brought to campus increased during this period of police arrests including guns, knives, box cutter knives, and straight edge razors.
    Compare that to some crackpot Montessori school, where the only threat-deterrent regularly carried by students on campus is a book that’s maybe a little heavier than other books.
    Innovative punishment structures aren’t the only attractive features of Mississippi’s Public School system. Those who demand that traditional racial disparity play a prominent role in classroom discipline should be comforted by the fact that students of color receive out-of-school suspensions at three times the rate as their white peers. With an extensively proven record, Mississippi has shown itself capable of providing a nurturing educational environment where black students are disproportionately removed from classrooms for minor offenses and school safety is maximized by an ever increasing presence of lethal weapons on school campuses.

    Read more at http://wonkette.com/497526/mississippi-schools-best-in-nation-at-sending-kids-to-jail#OOcQ7ACvg2aFvT1e.99

  15. The fact is that in the South, slavery did not end until world war II. There was a short period after the civil war, called Reconstruction, in which Negroes made economic and political progress, but this ended when the federal government withdrew its protection from the Southern Negroes allowing white Southerners to reestablish slavery by passing criminal laws against vagrancy for which the penalty was being rented out as low paid contract labor. This Alternet article explains it in detail.

    Southerners may no longer be able to force blacks into slavery, but they can keep them under control and exclude them from privileges to which they are not entitled by convicting them of felonies and imprisoning them. The laws against drugs provide the main means to do this as it is easy to enforce them in a discriminatory way.

    However there is still a need to start the criminalization process as early as possible and accustoming Blacks them to imprisonment for school discipline infractions provides a head start on turning them into felons as adults.

  16. “The fact is that in the South, slavery did not end until world war II. There was a short period after the civil war, called Reconstruction, in which Negroes made economic and political progress, but this ended when the federal government withdrew its protection from the Southern Negroes allowing white Southerners to reestablish slavery by passing criminal laws against vagrancy for which the penalty was being rented out as low paid contract labor. This Alternet article explains it in detail.”

    Carlyle,

    As usual your comment was right on the money and I agree with your delineation of this reality.

  17. A saying among Texas educators for years has been, “Thank God for Mississippi.” This however doesn’t say much for our state government which cut state funding for public education and public schools by 5.4 billion in the last session two years ago and doesn’t seem inclined to restore the cuts despite the state having enough money to do so. We have 11.8 billion in our Economic Stabilization Fund / usually called our Rainy Day Fund however the legislature and governor don’t want to invest in public education. We are gaining 85,000 new students next year and the first draft of the budget will give us less spending per student.

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