One Action, Two Punishments: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Action in Mississippi

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from double jeopardy: you cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Unfortunately, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not protect students who are being punished by both their schools and the courts for the same action.

There is an alarming trend in Mississippi. First, students get in trouble at school. Then, they get suspended or expelled from school for that conduct. That should be the end of the road. However, many of these students also get referred to youth court and face criminal charges for the exact same conduct for which they got suspended or expelled. These students are therefore being punished twice for the same behavior.

Schools have the ability to refer students to youth court for the most severe conduct, such as acts committed with a deadly weapon or acts that, if committed by an adult, could be punished by life imprisonment or death; however, schools should not be referring students to youth court for behaviors that are commonplace. Students are getting referred to youth court and charged with crimes for behaviors like fighting and being disrespectful to teachers. We do not condone such behaviors, but they are behaviors that should be handled at school, not by our youth courts.

In addition to the fact that the vast majority of actions that lead to youth court referrals do not rise to the level that necessitates youth court involvement, school youth court referrals show the school-to-prison pipeline in action. In fact, this may be one of the most obvious examples of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon: schools are telling students they cannot come to school but instead face prosecution and possible jail time for an act that occurred in the classroom. This trend is even more worrying given that the majority of the clients that the Mississippi Center for Justice has served who are facing this dual punishment are students with disabilities. Thus, it appears that schools are attempting to shirk their responsibilities to students with disabilities under federal special education law by pushing them out of school and into court.

The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause might not protect students from getting punished by both the school and the court for the same action, but the Mississippi Center for Justice is here to help.

If you have a child or know a child who is facing a simultaneous school suspension or expulsion and youth court referral for the same alleged conduct, please contact us at (228) 435-7284.

Amelia Huckins is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Mississippi Center for Justice.