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Jailed for Not Doing Homework, Michigan Teen Tells Her Own Story
Grace, a 16-year-old in Michigan who was incarcerated after not doing her online schoolwork is now released and fighting to make her story heard, ProPublica reports.
After serving a 78-day sentence at Children’s Village in Oakland County, Grace was released after the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her release.
After Grace’s story gained attention across the country, some members of Congress called for a civil rights investigation as well as the Michigan Supreme Court ordering a review of the procedures that landed Grace in jail.
Grace, whose last name has been kept private, is now at a new school and has a job with Michigan Liberation , where she’s able to speak to people in her community and advocate for more criminal justice reform.
She recently spoke out about her story at Every Black Girl’s annual conference.
“You deserve better than your mistakes,” Grace said during the conference. “Your past does not define you.”
“Not only was Grace released, but the community has continued to surround and support her in love and affirmation; she had the ‘last word,’ at the Justice for Black Girls means Every Black Girl conference and inspired everyone in attendance,” said a Facebook post by Every Black Girl.
Her hashtag, #FreeGrace exploded over the summer and led to more than 350,000 signatures on a petition for Grace’s release from jail.
Grace’s story gained national attention over the summer when ProPublica Illinois investigated Grace’s case.
She was on probation for charges of assault and theft, and was incarcerated after she didn’t complete online schoolwork. Not completing her schoolwork, even while the pandemic brought major structural changes to the school system, was considered a violation of her probation.
Grace was incarcerated in May, even though education and law officials “urged leniency and a prioritization of children’s health and safety amid the crisis,” said the Propublica Illinois article.
In March, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that lessened the amount of youth in detention centers unless they were considered a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others,” according to ProPublica.
Even though Grace’s probation violation wasn’t violent or dangerous to society, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan still ruled against her, saying that Grace’s charges of theft and assault were a “threat to (the) community,” and that not completing her schoolwork was a clear violation.
“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan told ProPublica. “I told her she was on thin ice and I told her that I was going to hold her to the letter, to the order, of the probation.”
Brennan is up for reelection on Nov. 2. She is running unopposed.
Even Grace’s teacher, when contacted by her case worker, said that Grace wasn’t “out of alignment” more than most of her other students, meaning that Grace’s one misstep that caused her to be sent to jail didn’t even make a difference in her schoolwork.
This reflects a larger problem of disproportionate sentencing and treatment of Black people within America’s criminal justice system, advocates say.
Oakland County’s juvenile cases comprise 42 percent Black youth, even though the Oakland County youth population is only 15 percent Black.
“There are so many other Graces out there who need a voice, and they need to be heard,” Grace said. “They are screaming, they’re yelling, they’re asking for help.”
While Grace wasn’t immediately given a jail sentence, the quickness by which the court sent her to jail after doing something that most youth across the country have done during the pandemic points to issues within the juvenile justice system.
Grace’s story has also called attention to how online learning is even harder for students with learning disabilities. Accommodations through online environments are tricky, and students like Grace who have ADHD or other learning disabilities are more likely to lose focus or get distracted in a completely online environment.
According to Propublica , Grace’s caseworker who filed the violation of her probation, “did not know what type of educational disabilities Grace had and did not answer a question about what accommodations those disabilities might require.”
Had the situation been more focused on how to help Grace with managing the new online environment instead of immediately resorting to punishment, she might have never gone to jail in the first place.
Propublica Illinois said that because juvenile cases have more confidentiality, it is “impossible to determine” whether a case like Grace’s is normal or not in today’s juvenile justice system.
Since her release, Grace has not had any further problems with the law.
Read more: School-to-Prison Pipeline Still Functions During Pandemic, Advocates Warn
Jailing of 15-Year-Old for Missing Online Schoolwork Tied to ‘Systematic Racism’
Emily Riley is a TCR news reporting intern.
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Michigan judge denies release of teenage girl who was jailed after not doing homework
A 15-year-old Black girl who has been incarcerated in Michigan since mid-May after she failed to do her online schoolwork won't be returning home, a judge decided Monday, in a case that has stoked outrage that it is emblematic of systemic racism and the criminalization of Black children.
Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan determined that the girl has been benefiting from a residential treatment program at a juvenile detention center, but is not yet ready to be with her mother. Brennan, the presiding judge of the court's Family Division, scheduled another hearing for September, NBC affiliate WDIV reported.
The girl, who is being identified only by her middle name, Grace, was the subject of a report published last week by ProPublica Illinois , with politicians and community activists expressing outrage over her incarceration.
During a three-hour proceeding, Brennan told Grace that it was in her best interest to stay in the program after all of the progress she had been making.
"Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something," Brennan said, according to the Detroit News . "The right thing is for you and your mom to be separated for right now."
Grace, however, told the judge that she wanted to go home: "I miss my mom. I can control myself. I can be obedient."
After the hearing, an attorney for the family, Jonathan Biernat, confirmed that Grace had been making strides, but the "fight for her release" is ongoing. He was unavailable for further comment later Monday.
This past school year, Grace was a sophomore at Groves High School in the Birmingham Public Schools, which is 79 percent white, according to school district data.
Over the past few days, parents and students in suburban Detroit have protested in support of Grace's release from the Children's Village in Oakland County , the detention center where she's been held in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic .
At Monday's hearing, Brennan stressed that police had responded to incidents between the mother and the daughter three times, and that Grace's detainment came out of violating probation related to charges of assault and theft from last year, ProPublica reported .
"She was not detained because she didn't turn her homework in," Brennan said. "She was detained because I found her to be a threat of harm to her mother based on everything I knew."
Brennan also addressed the scrutiny the case has come under.
"My role is to make decisions that are in this young lady's best interest, period," Brennan said. "I took an oath that I would not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism."
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., is among those who have questioned whether race was a factor in detaining Grace. Black youth in Michigan are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed than white youth, according to 2015 data analyzed by the nonprofit Sentencing Project .
"If it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this," Dingell said Monday on MSNBC. "Putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn't the answer."
On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court said it would review the circumstances surrounding Grace's detainment.
Her case not only touches upon the issue of racial bias within the criminal justice system, but is also entwined with larger concerns over the coronavirus' spread in juvenile detention centers , as well as how children with learning disabilities are being disparately affected during the pandemic as a result of home schooling.
According to ProPublica, Grace has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and receives special education services.
The girl and her mother, identified as Charisse, had bouts of conflict. In 2018, Grace was placed into a court diversion program for "incorrigibility," but was released from it early, Charisse told ProPublica.
In November, an assault charge was filed against Grace after police were called to an incident in which the mother said Grace became violent because she was upset she couldn't go to a friend's house. Weeks later, according to ProPublica, Grace was charged with larceny after she was caught on surveillance video stealing another student's cellphone from a school locker room. The phone was subsequently returned.
A juvenile court hearing was held virtually in April, and a caseworker told the judge that Grace should receive mental health and anger management treatment at a residential facility; the prosecutor agreed. A court-appointed attorney asked for probation for Grace because she had not been in any further trouble since November and because of COVID-19 concerns at detention facilities, ProPublica reported.
"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 said at the time, according to ProPublica.
Brennan sentenced Grace to "intensive probation," with several requirements, including staying home, checking in with a caseworker, no phone use and completing her schoolwork. But the girl was unable to focus properly while learning from home, and she told a new caseworker in April that she felt anxious about the probation and overwhelmed.
After her caseworker learned she had fallen back asleep one day and failed to do her homework, a hearing was held in May and the judge decided she had violated the terms of her probation.
ProPublica noted that Grace's teacher had told the caseworker in an email that Grace 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."
Grace was ordered to juvenile detention because she was deemed a "threat to community as original charge was assault and theft," according to court records.
Grace's supporters say the court's decision to incarcerate her simply underscores the racial disparities in even the juvenile system. According to ProPublica, from January 2016 through June 2020, about 4,800 juvenile cases were referred to the Oakland County Circuit Court. About 42 percent involved Black youth, although the population in the county is about 15 percent.
Tylene Henry, who has a teenage son in the local school district and was among several supporters outside of the courthouse Monday, said she doesn't know Grace, but her situation has "opened up my eyes to the school-to-prison pipeline problem."
Henry said she supports Grace's release and a larger overhaul of the juvenile system.
"There's a lot of students like Grace. They're put into the criminal justice system as children instead of getting the help they really need," she said. "Why does mental health and behavioral health treatment have to come at a cost of being held in a detention center?"
Erik Ortiz is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.
Teen sent to juvenile detention for not completing homework speaks on ‘injustice’
“There are thousands of other Graces out there," the teen's mother said.
A Michigan mother and her teen daughter, who spent 78 days in juvenile detention after a judge ruled that she'd violated probation by not completing her homework, are speaking out about their experience, which they say was an injustice in the criminal justice system.
Wishing to be identified only as Grace -- her middle name -- the now-16-year-old, who is Black and has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, had struggled to keep up with the transition to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic last year. She was placed on "intensive probation" in April 2020 after being charged with assault for fighting with her mother and larceny for stealing a schoolmate's cellphone after her mother took hers away.
Grace, who lives in suburbs outside of Detroit, said that she knew there would be consequences for those actions, but she didn't realize they would rise to such a level, and that she thinks they did because she's Black.
"If a white girl were to steal the phone and she has the same history as me, same background, same everything ... they would probably look at her and say, 'Hey, you know, you're not brought up like this,'" Grace told ABC News' Linsey Davis. "But for me, I feel like it was more of an 'OK, this is what we expect from Black people.'"
Charisse, Grace's mother who also asked to use her middle name, called her daughter's incarceration an "injustice" that should "not be forgotten ... that should never occur again."
"My daughter was penalized because of having a learning disability, which is her chronic ADHD," Charisse told ABC News.
Stream ABC News Live Prime weeknights at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET at abcnewslive.com .
Among the terms of her probation was a requirement that Grace complete all of her schoolwork on time. But she said the transition to virtual learning made her feel overwhelmed and anxious. She was matched with a caseworker who Charisse said she thought would help Grace get the support services she needed.
"When we first met, she had shared with us that one of her roles would be to help us through any issues, to keep my daughter on the straight and narrow," Charisse said. Instead "I got a violation," she said.
Within days of hearing Grace might have been behind on her schoolwork, the caseworker referred her to the court, recommending that she be placed in juvenile detention, according to ProPublica , which first reported the case. The Oakland County Family Court Division did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.
On May 14, Grace was subsequently brought before Oakland County family court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, who at one point during the hearing said Grace was "a threat to the community." She ordered Grace to be taken into custody and sent to a county detention center named Children's Village. Her decision came after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus-related order to keep juveniles out of detention unless they posed "a substantial and immediate safety risk to others."
"If we called every person who's taken something or a person who's [gotten into] an argument with their mom ... I'm pretty sure everybody would be ... a threat to the community," Grace said.
Jonathan Biernat, one of Grace's lawyers, said that in the handling of her case, the court never got "any testimony from the school or the teacher -- anybody involved with her education. They got testimony from the probation officer, the prosecutor. And the judge made her decision based on that testimony."
MORE: Judge: Teen jailed over homework released from probation
Reporter Jodi Cohen, who investigated Grace's case for ProPublica, told ABC News that 42% of youth referred to the court in the county where Grace lives are Black despite Black youth making up only 15% of the county's population.
"Cases like Grace's, and others where you see young people of color … disproportionately represented at various contact points, to me, that points out systemic failures long before the court involvement started," said Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. "We wouldn't be talking about disparity rates at the confinement level if there was more support in the community. ... we wouldn't rely on the justice system to address a lot of these issues that shouldn't be criminalized in the first place."
Charisse said she's still haunted by the memories of her daughter being handcuffed and taken into custody.
"I was devastated. It just didn't make any sense and I became very angry. I was furious," she said.
Grace still holds on to all the letters of support that she received during her time in juvenile detention, but she said one still stands out for her: The first one she sent to her mother from inside.
"Dear mommy, I miss you a lot, and being here is hard. I haven't really wrote you because I had to ask God to give me strength to do so. I couldn't write without crying or feeling bad for the rest of the day. ... Please continue to send me pictures of me and you or just with anyone. I love you, mommy, and I miss you," the letter reads in part.
MORE: 6 former youth detention center employees arrested on sexual assault charges
Cohen said that she received a call from Charisse in May 2020. After Charisse told her about Grace's situation, "it didn't sound right," Cohen said.
"Most lawyers who looked at the case didn't think it was possible to get her out of the detention center," Biernat said. "It would be too difficult to convince the judge to change your mind."
Salma Khalil, another of Grace's lawyers, added that "these cases are long, they're drawn out, they're complicated [and] they require a lot of resources."
ProPublica published Grace's story in mid-July 2020 and it quickly sparked widespread outcry -- far more attention than Charisse had expected, she said.
"We immediately started to receive phone calls from all over the country. We got calls from senators, we got calls from legislators in [Washington], D.C. It was amazing," Biernat said.
Cohen said she didn't expect her article to trigger a social media movement calling to free Grace. High school students slept outside, near the facility in protest of Grace's incarceration. A petition for her release garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. And a grassroots organization led a 100-car caravan from Grace's school to the detention center.
Less than a week after the ProPublica article, as pressure to revisit Grace's case mounted, Brennan agreed to a hearing on a motion to release her from detention. During the hearing, Brennan recounted Grace's history of encounters with law enforcement, which go back to when she was a preteen, Cohen said, adding that Brennan used the hearing to make her point of view on the case public.
Meanwhile, Grace pleaded with the judge for her release, saying, "Each day, I try to be a better person than I was the last, and I've been doing that even before I was in this situation. I'm getting behind in my actual school while here [at the detention center]. The schooling here is beneath my level of education."
Brennan ultimately decided that Grace belonged in juvenile detention and denied her release. Khalil said that, at the hearing, Grace and Charisse hugged in what she described as a "heartbreaking moment."
"I think people need to remember that Grace and her mom have a very close bond," Khalil said. "Charisse raised Grace with her own hands. She's an involved mom, so the trauma that they are both experiencing and being separated from one another … it just breaks your heart that our system did that to them."
Biernat, however, said they "weren't going to sleep" until she'd been let go, and filed a petition with the Michigan Court of Appeals. It worked. Eleven days after the hearing, the appeals court ordered Grace to be released immediately.
Now, nearly a year after her experience, Grace is an honors student who enjoys taking pictures during her free time. She's also started to speak out about her experience, which has begun to catalyze change in the state. In June, Whitmer signed an executive order to create a task force on juvenile justice reform.
MORE: More than 30,000 children under age 10 have been arrested in the US since 2013: FBI
One of the goals of Whitmer's task force is to collect statewide data on the juvenile justice system's influence on youth who enter it, including how many youth within the justice system -- regardless of their race -- are there due to school discipline or academic issues. Smith said these numbers are currently "unknown."
"There are thousands of other Graces out there and we need to pay attention to those children," Charisse said. "Our Black girls are being criminalized. My child was criminalized because of her behavior and her ADHD, but Black girls are being criminalized just because of who they are."
Attorney Allison Folmar, a longtime family friend who is now representing them, told ABC News they are now planning to file a due process complaint against the school district where Children's Village is located, alleging that Grace was denied her right to adjust to remote learning as a student with ADHD.
"The Individuals with Disabilities [in Education] Act exists because you have to prohibit the very injustice that occurred in this case," Folmar said. "This federal act empowers students who are differently abled to learn in accordance with his or her individual ability and progress. Students cannot be forced into mainstream academic practice that leaves them at an educational disadvantage."
She went on, "So, this is about making sure that the educational system does not leave another child behind and … say we're speaking of this case, to criminalize the inability to learn in this type of situation."
While she noted that Grace is "still trying to recover academically" after her time in juvenile detention, Folmar also said that Grace "excels" when given "all of the necessary tools to thrive" and pointed to her becoming an honors student.
"We are simply trying to make her whole," Folmar said.
Since her learning plan had been disrupted by her incarceration, Folmar said they're now seeking compensation in the civil case to pay for the new school she's attending as well as the services she needs to succeed academically.
MORE: Hundreds claim decades of abuse by 150 youth center staffers
Grace said that her future plans include going to college and starting a computer information or cybersecurity business. She also said she wants to continue to advocate for others.
When asked if there was anything she would say to Brennan, Grace said she would tell her, "I'm not just what was on the papers. I'm not just what you saw from those reports or what you saw in those files. I have so many different attributes and I'm so different than just that, and I hope that she doesn't judge everyone based on just that."
ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim contributed to this report.
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Girl, 15, sentenced to juvenile lockup for not doing schoolwork
Credit: Social media photo
A 15-year-old Black girl in Michigan has been locked up in juvenile detention for more than two months after a judge ruled she violated probation by not completing her online schoolwork, according to an exclusive report by ProPublica .
The girl, who is named Grace in ProPublica’s report , has been jailed since May 15 and was ordered in early June to remain in the Children’s Village juvenile detention center in suburban Detroit pending a hearing to review the case Sept. 8.
The girl had initially gotten into trouble in April for a fight with her mother, Charisse, and for stealing.
Grace was subsequently charged with assault and theft. After an April 21 hearing, she was placed on probation.
For the homework infraction, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan called Grace a threat to the community and sentenced her on May 15 to the Children’s Village juvenile detention center, although the teen had not committed another crime.
The girl has been locked up since.
In Brennan’s ruling, she found Grace “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school” and called Grace a “threat to (the) community,” citing the assault and theft charges that led to her probation.
“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan reportedly said as she sentenced Grace. “I told her she was on thin ice, and I told her that I was going to hold her to the letter, to the order, of the probation.”
The sentence was handed down as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged the state’s juvenile judges to send children home due to the pandemic.
In March, Whitmer issued an executive order that temporarily suspended the confinement of juveniles who violate probation unless directed by a court order. The order also recommended eliminating any form of detention or residential placement unless a young person posed a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others,” ProPublica reported . The order was extended until late May.
The Michigan Supreme Court also ordered juvenile judges to determine which young offenders could be returned home.
During the sentencing in the Oakland County Family Court Division, caseworkers also recommended mental health and anger management treatment. The prosecutor agreed, and Grace’s court-appointed attorney asked for probation because she had committed no new offenses and because of the risk of coronavirus.
Instead, Grace was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative news outlet in New York City, used middle names for the teenager and her mother in the report to protect their identities.
Brennan declined to comment.
By mid-June, Grace had been in the lockup for more than a month when her mother visited.
At the time, Charisse said she wasn’t allowed in to see Grace, and officials sent the mother away with a shopping bag full of clothes and toiletries she delivered to her teen daughter days earlier. The items had been rejected because they violated facility rules, according to ProPublica.
On the drive home, Charisse said after she left the facility, she pulled into a nearby parking lot and cried.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” she told ProPublica. “Every day I go to bed thinking, and wake up thinking, ‘How is this a better situation for her?’”
ProPublica was unable to determine how many other children might be in a similar situation as Grace because of the confidentiality that shrouds juvenile cases.
Attorneys and civil rights advocates told ProPublica the judge’s ruling disregarded their calls for leniency and failed to prioritize the health and safety of children amid an ongoing national health crisis.
They were also unaware of any other recent case nationally in which a child had been detained for failing to meet academic standards.
There has also been a steep decline in juvenile detentions nationwide in recent months due to the outbreak, according to the report.
“In many places, juvenile courts have attempted to keep children out of detention except in the most serious cases, and they have worked to release those who were already there,” ProPublica reported, citing experts.
ProPublica cited several other school districts in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Chicago that have documented tens of thousands of students who failed to log in or complete coursework, but without the consequence of juvenile detention.
Legal experts are now pointing to the case as a quintessential example of systemic racism.
Grace’s school, in the city’s predominantly white Beverly Hills community, moved to remote learning on April 15 as schools across the nation locked down for the remainder of the academic year because of the pandemic.
Grace also has an educational disability, ADHD, and without the structure of the classroom she struggled to stay motivated and found herself often distracted, ProPublica reported.
“I just needed time to adjust to the schedule that my mom had prepared for me,” she said on the day she was sentenced to detention.
“Who can even be a good student right now?” said Ricky Watson Jr., executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network, according to ProPublica. “Unless there is an urgent need, I don’t understand why you would be sending a kid to any facility right now and taking them away from their families with all that we are dealing with right now.”
ProPublica found that a disproportionate percentage of Black youth who live in the same county as Grace are also caught in the juvenile justice system.
Grace’s mother has made at least three other recent visits to the facility, ProPublica reported.
In early June, she saw her daughter on screen as she walked into a court hearing handcuffed and with her ankles shackled.
“For us and our culture, that for me was the knife stuck in my stomach and turning,” Charisse told ProPublica. “That is our history, being shackled. And she didn’t deserve that.”
During the proceeding, Grace and her mother pleaded with the judge to return her home. “I will be respectful and obedient to my mom and all other people with authority,” Grace said. “I beg for your mercy to return me home to my mom and my responsibilities.”
The judge, however, ruled that Grace should stay at the Children’s Village not as punishment but to get treatment and services.
About the Author
ArLuther Lee is a visual editor and occasionally covers national and world news for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Florida and has been a journalist for more than 25 years.
Oakland Co. girl jailed for not doing homework released from probation
Pontiac — An Oakland County judge released a 15-year-old girl from probation Tuesday, ending a case that drew national attention and criticism after the court ordered the teen incarcerated for not doing her homework.
During a half-hour court hearing broadcast on Zoom Tuesday, Oakland Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan adopted a caseworker's recommendation that the case be terminated and that the girl, dubbed "Grace" to protect her identity, continue getting treatment at home.
Brennan said a Michigan Court of Appeals July 31 decision ordering the girl to be released from Children's Village, a juvenile detention facility, effectively tied the lower court's hands.
"This court’s goal to place her (in Children's Village) was to address delinquent behavior and improve life at home for her and her mother," the judge said, adding that the teen seemed to be benefiting from the treatment she received in the facility.
"The Court of Appeals order interrupted that treatment plan, and damage to that plan cannot be repaired by this court," Brennan said. "This court cannot increase the level of care if it thought that was appropriate, and this court cannot issue consequences for (bad) conduct."
Grace was on probation for domestic violence and larceny in a building, the judge said. There were multiple instances of the girl assaulting her mother, Brennan said.
In May, Brennan ordered the girl to Children's Village after she failed to finish class assignments from Groves High School in Beverly Hills, following the school's switch to remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency.
The decision sparked a national outcry, with six members of Congress calling on Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to intervene in the case. Former Secretary of State and two-time Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also criticized Brennan's order.
On July 20, Grace's attorneys Jonathan Biernat and Saima Khalil filed a motion for early release, but Brennan denied it, saying the girl was still a threat to her mother, and that she should continue being treated in the detention facility.
The appellate court reversed Brennan's ruling.
At the start of Tuesday's hearing, Khalil filed a motion asking Brennan to recuse herself from the case.
"This court has been prejudicial and has engaged in callous conduct in this case," Khalil said. "You have deprived my client access to mental health treatment that was available through her school ... and this court publicly lambasted the child during a court hearing."
Brennan denied the motion, adding: "You could have filed an emergency motion if you thought this was important, but you’re raising it for the first time on the record at the beginning of this hearing? That's not an appropriate way to bring this matter before the court."
The judge then agreed to adopt the four-page report by Oakland Juvenile Probation caseworker Eddie Herron, who said during the hearing he thought the girl and her mother were ready to begin working to repair their relationship.
"Mom has worked diligently with the resources I've provided her," Herron said. "I'm fully confident they'll use those tools. They both realize the importance of making positive decisions.
"I tried to appeal to them to enhance their relationship, so we don't have to be involved moving forward," Herron said.
Before Brennan terminated the girl's probation, she asked Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Justin Chmielewski whether he agreed with Herron's recommendation. He said the office would not take a position on the matter.
Brennan then asked Biernat whether he agreed with Herron's report.
“We agree that probation should be terminated and the file should be closed," Biernat said.
- Main content
'For her own good': A Michigan judge said she won't release a 15-year-old Black girl who was jailed for not completing her online homework
- A 15-year-old Black girl was incarcerated after not doing her coursework during the pandemic, ProPublica reported last week.
- The girl, identified as Grace, found it difficult to complete her work due to her ADHD. However, completing her school work was a part of the requirements of her probation, which followed larceny and assault charges.
- On Monday, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan denied Grace's release, according to The Detroit News , and said that keeping Grace incarcerated is "for her own good."
- "She was not detained because she didn't turn her homework in," Brennan said. "She was detained because she was a threat to her mother."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories .
A 15-year-old Black girl in Michigan was sent to juvenile detention in May after failing to complete her virtual coursework, according to ProPublica .
The teen — who is only identified by her middle name, Grace, for her protection — was jailed during the pandemic for allegedly violating her probation when she failed to meet the requirement to complete her school work, the report said.
Grace's online classes began in mid-April and due to her ADHD, she found the shift from a live classroom setting to remote learning to be difficult, ProPublica reported.
Judge Mary Ellen Brennan of the Oakland County's Family Court Divison ruled that Grace was "guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school" and called Grace a "threat to (the) community," because of her previous charges, according to the report.
Prior to her current detention, Grace was charged with assault and larceny and placed on "intensive probation," Pro Publica reported.
Grace was charged with assault for a violent incident against her mother that occurred last November, ProPublica reported. She pulled her mother's hair and bit her finger because she couldn't go to her friend's house.
Weeks after that incident, Grace received a larceny charge for stealing a student's phone, ProPublica reported.
"She hasn't fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance," Brennan said as she sentenced Grace, according to ProPublica. "I told her she was on thin ice and I told her that I was going to hold her to the letter, to the order, of the probation."
At a hearing Monday, Brennan denied a motion for Grace's release and scheduled another hearing for September, local news reported . A previous request for the teen's immediate release was also denied last week, according to the report.
Brennan at the hearing said that keeping Grace incarcerated is "for her own good," Detroit News reported.
According to the outlet, Grace at Monday's hearing said, "I miss my mom," and told the judge, "I can control myself. I can be obedient," before hearing Brennan's decision.
"Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something," Brennan told Grace, according to the report. "The right thing is for you and your mom to be separated for right now."
Police were alerted three times for encounters between Grace and her mother, Detroit News reported.
During the physical confrontation with her mother, the girl allegedly bit her mother's hand and pulled her hair, the report said. Police have been called out three times for confrontations between the two, Brennan said from the bench.
"She was not detained because she didn't turn her homework in," Brennan said, Detroit News reported. "She was detained because she was a threat to her mother."
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Advocates call for release of Michigan girl, 15, incarcerated for not doing her homework
Teen placed in juvenile detention for violating a condition of her probation, propublica reports.
Read Story Transcript
A Michigan judge's refusal to release a 15-year-old Black girl who was detained for not doing her homework proves that racism in the criminal justice system is "everyday business," says a woman advocating for the teen.
The girl, identified by the pseudonym "Grace" to protect her identity, was placed in juvenile detention at the Oakland County Children's Village in May for violating her probation by not completing her schoolwork.
She has ADHD and struggled to keep up with school after classes switched to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, her family and lawyer have said.
Her story was first reported by ProPublica Illinois and co-published in the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine.
"It's sad, but Grace's story, this is not an outlier. This is something that happens all the time, every day to our youth, Black and brown, in these communities," Rai LaNier of the non-profit Michigan Liberation told As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue.
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"The difference is that we've had a summer of uprising that has allowed people to see what we mean when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline in real time."
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Michigan Liberation is a non-profit that helps incarcerated people. The group has been supporting Grace and her mother and organizing rallies on their behalf. They also operate a super PAC endorsing candidates at all levels of U.S. government that support criminal justice reform.
"Grace's family is arguing, and the community is arguing, that failure to do homework should never be a condition of incarceration," LaNier said. "It should never be a condition of probation."
Assault, theft charges
Grace's current legal woes began in November, when she was charged with assaulting her mother.
The girl's mom, identified as Charisse, told ProPublica that someone called police after Grace pulled her hair and bit her finger while trying to snatch her phone outside their Pontiac, Mich., home in the suburbs of Detroit.
They were fighting because Grace wasn't allowed to go to her friend's house.
It was not the first time Grace had gotten into trouble for attacking her mom. She'd been having behavioural issues since she was about 13, her mother said. Charisse herself had called police in the past.
But the pair have since gone to counselling to work on their relationship, she said, and Grace has not been violent with her since.
"Grace was a student that had special needs. Her mother is a single mother and required additional resources," LaNier said.
"It results in situations where you have no one else to call but the police. And I think that's what's at the core issue here... How can families and parents get the support that their children need without it ending up in a criminal background history for their children?"
A few months after the assault, Grace was also charged with theft for stealing another student's cellphone at school. She later returned the device and apologized.
Judge 'will not be swayed'
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, who ordered Grace's detention, denied a motion to release the girl on Monday.
She defended her decision, saying her job is "to make decisions that are in this young lady's best interest, period" and that she "not be swayed by public clamour or fear of criticism."
She also claimed the story has been mischaracterized, and Grace "was not detained because she didn't turn her homework in," but rather "because she was a threat to her mother."
Jessica Cooper, the Oakland County prosecutor, told the New York Times : "We recommended that she be released, but the judge disagreed."
The Michigan Supreme Court is reviewing the decision.
"I think that the people in the state of Michigan, particularly in Oakland County, have a decision to make ... as to whether or not, you know, we want to make it a regular practice of incarcerating children for close to a year for not doing their homework, or do we want to try something different?" LaNier said.
During the hearing, Brennan told Grace she was "blooming" at Children's Village, a facility that describes itself online as "a safe, structured environment for youth that includes secure detention, residential treatment and shelter care services."
LaNier says that language is misleading.
"They know it's incarceration. We know it's incarceration. But in order to save face, you know, it's been called a residential facility," she said.
Students and teachers join protest
Grace's story has generated widespread interest, resonating at a time when people across the U.S. are protesting against police violence and anti-Black racism.
According to data obtained by ProPublica from the Oakland County Circuit Court, 42 per cent of juvenile cases referred to the Oakland court between January 2016 and June 2020 involved Black youth, despite the fact that only 15 per cent of the county's youth are Black.
Grace's mother told the publication that it gutted her to see her child on video during court hearings cuffed at the wrists and ankles.
"For us and our culture, that for me was the knife stuck in my stomach and turning," she said. "That is our history, being shackled. And she didn't deserve that."
Many of Grace's classmates and teachers at Black Groves High School are standing by her. Students and educators from all over the county have showed up at rallies to protest her detention.
"A lot of people were behind on their work this semester; no one had motivation to do anything because the teachers weren't teaching and we were all online. I know so many people that didn't do their homework," Prudence Canter, an 18-year-old student, told Reuters.
Birmingham Public Schools said last week that it had no role in the case, but that no student should be punished for missed online work during the coronavirus pandemic. It also asked the Circuit Court to review the case.
Grace's own teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, wrote in an email to the girl's case worker that her behaviour was "not out of alignment with most of my other students."
"Let me be clear that this is no one's fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming," she wrote, according to ProPublica.
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Grace and her mother have not been doing interviews since the ProPublica story was published, but LaNier said they appreciate how the community has rallied around them.
"They have reason to take heart. They've been extremely overwhelmed with gratitude, with community support," LaNier said.
As for Judge Brennan, LaNier says she's been "put on notice." She is currently up for re-election in the state.
"A lot of these other powerful actors within the criminal legal system have also been put on notice because the community is no longer asleep," she said.
"We know who they are. We know when their terms are up. And we are checking their records from here on out."
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Rai LaNier produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.
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