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Report: Mississippi’s Youth Legal System Must Invest in Its Children, Not Incarcerate Them

For years, Mississippi’s youth legal system has treated young Black people as criminals who need punishment instead of children who need support and care. Such a system has increasingly used incarceration as the default response to youth crime, even though youth arrests have declined significantly over the past 20 years. Incarcerating children not only does incredible harm to them at the most vulnerable time of their life, it also perpetuates more harm later in life.

In our report, Only Young Once: The Case for Mississippi’s Investment in Youth Decarceration, the Southern Poverty Law Center makes the case that the state has a better model for its youth – one that is more humane for children and cost-effective for taxpayers.

Mississippi’s approach to youth justice is built on debunked notions of Black criminality, inadequate funding for community resources, and a school system that suspends a Black student every 15 minutes. This has produced persistent racial disparities, and high recidivism rates that expose the system’s revolving door – all at an expense that dwarfs what it would cost to educate these children in Mississippi schools.

“Even with the long history of harm and legal scrutiny of Mississippi’s youth legal system, the state once invested in a proven model of community-based alternatives to incarceration that was much more beneficial in the lives of children,” said Delvin Davis, SPLC senior policy analyst and the report’s author. “Without a consistent commitment to the success of youth in their communities and schools, Mississippi’s youth legal system can easily devolve to a time where abuse and litigation were commonplace.”

Only Young Once details opportunities for reform in Mississippi that could not only save millions in taxpayer dollars but also have a significant impact on the lives of children.

Read the report here. Click on image to view PDF.


Other state reports

Illustration at top by Julian Adon Alexander