In Neshoba County, Mississippi, children are being charged as adults in record numbers, Ko Bragg reported for Reveal in November 2019. “Nearly 5,000 Mississippi children have been charged as adults in the last 25 years,” Bragg wrote, and “three out of every four are black.”
As Bragg reported, the state of Mississippi has a terrible history of racial discrimination—including its legacy as the state with the most known lynchings—that has been compounded by laws dating back to 1946, during the Jim Crow era, that permit children as young as 13 to be prosecuted as adults.
When chattel slavery was abolished, Bragg explained, the state of Mississippi began leasing convicts, making “its black prison population to work on plantations and build railroads.” In the late 1800s, state laws “made no distinction between punishing children and adults.”
“Prosecutors and judges today have continued that legacy, exercising their wide discretion in a way that ultimately ends the childhood of black kids far more often—and with far greater severity,” Bragg wrote.
Bragg’s report profiles the case of Isaiah, who ended up serving nine months in solitary confinement in a county jail for adults after he was found guilty of using a BB gun to rob a classmate’s iPhone in 2017, when he was just 13 years old.
Under federal law, minors cannot be housed with adults in prison. So Isaiah was placed in solitary confinement. A district attorney told Reveal, “Nobody wants a 14-year-old in the jail… But we’re bound by the statute.”
However, Reveal’s investigation determined that differences in race affect this judgment: As Bragg reported, when district attorneys in Mississippi do choose to release young offenders from the adult system, “they give white children the opportunity 26% more often than black children.”
Though fewer minors are being charged as adult now compared to 25 years ago, “the racial discrepancies haven’t gone away.” Over the past five years, Bragg reported, black children made up 88 percent of the children in the state’s adult prison system.
Source: Ko Bragg, “Bound by Statute: In Mississippi, Jim Crow Era Laws Result in a High Rate of Black Kids Charged as Adults,” Reveal (Center for Investigative Reporting), November 14, 2019, https://www.revealnews.org/article/bound-by-statute-juvenile-justice-courts-charged-crimes-mississippi/.
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