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New SPLC Report Exposes Punitive Juvenile Justice System In Mississippi

Report debunks rhetoric on school violence and calls for humane reforms 

JACKSON, Miss. — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a troubling report on the state of Mississippi’s youth legal system, which leads the nation in pushing students out of the classroom and into prisons.

The report, Only Young Once: The Case for Mississippi’s Investment in Youth Decarceration, exposes how the state’s system, which disproportionately affects Black youth, prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation and causes incalculable harm to young people at great expense to taxpayers.

“Young people across Mississippi are being needlessly pushed out of the education system and into the criminal legal system where they are too often subjected to harm from solitary confinement and physical and sexual abuse,” said Delvin Davis, senior policy analyst with the SPLC. “Instead of continuing to focus on policies predicated on debunked political rhetoric, there is real opportunity for reforms that involve an intentional investment and commitment to approaches that are safer and more humane for children, and more cost-productive for taxpayers.”

Counter to the rhetoric often used to create support for Mississippi’s “get tough” approach to school discipline, the state is experiencing its lowest youth arrest rate in decades. Between 2000 and 2020, youth arrest rates have declined 82% in the state. Despite that decline, Mississippi has produced the second-highest school suspension rate and third-highest school expulsion rate in the country – disproportionately affecting Black youth.

Black youth are also overrepresented in the youth justice system and are more likely to be referred to youth court, incarcerated and charged as adults – and less likely to have their cases diverted – than their white peers. They are also 3.9 times more likely to be incarcerated.

To rectify these horrific disparities, the SPLC recommends that Mississippi should:

  • Raise the minimum age of youth incarceration and prosecution in the state.
  • Make nonviolent offenses, especially technical violations, status offenses and nonviolent drug offenses, non-jailable for juveniles.   
  • Invest in community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and school-based policies and programs that prioritize rehabilitation.
  • Completely ban the practice of incarcerating youth in adult facilities.
  • Expand parole eligibility for people convicted as teenagers.

The report is the second in a series focusing on the troubling pattern of youth legal systems in the Deep South prioritizing incarceration over rehabilitation – with disparate impacts on Black youth. In July, the SPLC released Only Young Once: The Urgent Need for Reform of Louisiana’s Youth Justice System, focused on the state of Louisiana.

The full report can be found HERE: