Fri, Mar 22, 2013 2:17 PM EDT

It's a big day for the small city of Meridian, Mississippi, home to one of the nation's most notorious school-to-prison pipeline systems. This morning the Department of Justice filed a consent decree with the Meridian Public School District to address its school discipline practices which not only were ushering kids into jail for the lightest of infractions--including wearing the [wrong color socks]( or showing up to school without a belt on--but also singling out black students for the harshest treatment. "Today, together with the school district and private plaintiffs in the case we are filing a proposed consent decree that addresses claims of racial discrimination in student discipline in Meridian County schools," said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. "As part of efforts to enforce a longstanding desegregation decree we investigated complaints that the district implemented a harsh and punitive discipline policy that resulted in the disproportionate suspension, expulsion and school-based arrest of black students in Meridian public schools." And even when controlling for other factors, racial disparities persisted, "even when students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories," Samuels said. It had the effect of shoving youth out of school and into youth jails, and marking kids indelibly. The decree, pending approval by the court, will address exactly this pattern of practices that the DOJ documented in a multi-year investigation of the school district and the local school.