By Terry Frieden, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Federal civil rights lawyers filed suit Wednesday against Meridian, Mississippi, and other defendants for operating what the government calls a school-to-prison pipeline in which students are denied basic constitutional rights, sent to court and incarcerated for minor school infractions.

The lawsuit says children who talk back to teachers, violate dress codes and commit other minor infractions are handcuffed and sent to a youth court where they are denied their rights.

It’s the first time a jurisdiction has been charged under a law designed to protect the due process rights of juveniles in such circumstances.

Also among the defendants were Lauderdale County, judges of the county’s Youth Court and the State of Mississippi Division of Youth Services.

About 6,000 mostly African-American students attend grades kindergarten through 12 in a dozen schools in the Lauderdale County School District.

About 86% of the district’s students are African-American, but all of those referred to the court for violations were minorities, the government suit said.

The federal action came more than two months after the Justice Department warned local and state officials that they had 60 days to cooperate or face a federal lawsuit.

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