A Michigan judge has denied a 15-year-old Black girl’s release after she has been incarcerated since mid-May for failing to do her online schoolwork.
According to NBC News, Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan decided that the girl has been benefiting from a residential treatment program at a juvenile detention center, but she’s not yet ready to be with her mom. Another hearing is scheduled for September.
The 15-year-old is being identified only by her middle name, Grace. According to ProPublica, Grace has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and receives special education services. Grace has had incidents with law enforcement before. In November, she was hit with an assault charge after cops were called for a situation in which the mother said Grace became violent because she was upset she couldn’t go to a friend’s house. Weeks later, Grace was also charged with larceny after she was recorded on surveillance footage stealing another student’s cellphone from a school locker room. The phone was eventually returned.
In April, a juvenile court hearing was held virtually, and a caseworker told the judge that Grace should receive anger management and mental health treatment at a residential facility, to which the prosecutor agreed. A court-appointed attorney also requested probation for Grace because she hadn’t had any further incidents since November and because of COVID-19 concerns at detention facilities.
“My mom and I are working each day to better ourselves and our relationship, and I think that the removal from my home would be an intrusion on our progress,” Grace explained at the time, according to ProPublica.
Brennan sentenced Grace to “intensive probation,” with various requirements, including staying home, no phone use, checking in with a caseworker, and completing her schoolwork. However, Grace wasn’t able to focus well while learning from home, and she explained to a new caseworker in April that she felt anxious about the probation and overwhelmed.
After her caseworker found out that Grace had fallen back asleep one day and failed to complete her homework, a hearing was held in May and the judge determined that she violated her probation terms.
ProPublica pointed out that Grace’s teacher had told the caseworker in an email that she was “not out of alignment with most of my other students,” and how she was coping was “no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming.”
Still, Grace was sent to the Children’s Village detention center in Oakland County because she was considered a “threat to community as original charge was assault and theft,” according to court records.
The fact that Grace has been incarcerated since May has sparked outrage from community activists and politicians. Many point out that the court’s decision to incarcerate highlights the racial disparities in the juvenile system.
According to ProPublica, from January 2016 through June 2020, around 4,800 juvenile cases were referred to the Oakland County Circuit Court. About 42 percent of these cases involved Black youth, although the population in the county is only 15 percent Black. Grace was a sophomore at Groves High School this past school year in the Birmingham Public Schools, which is 79 percent white, according to school district data.
In defending her decision to keep Grace incarcerated Judge Brennan said, “Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something. The right thing is for you and your mom to be separated for right now.”
However, Grace explained to the judge that she wants to return home. “I miss my mom,” she said. “I can control myself. I can be obedient.”
“If it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this,” Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan told MSNBC. “Putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”
“There’s a lot of students like Grace,” one parent, Tylene Henry, explained. “They’re put into the criminal justice system as children instead of getting the help they really need. Why does mental health and behavioral health treatment have to come at a cost of being held in a detention center?”
The Michigan Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it would review the circumstances surrounding Grace’s detainment.