Fifteen-year-old Black Girl Imprisoned After Failing to Complete Online Schoolwork

by Sonali Muthukrishnan

News Editor

At a hearing on Jul. 20, a Michigan Judge refused to release a Black girl, incarcerated since mid-May. A court placed the teenager, identified by her middle name, Grace, in a juvenile detention center after she violated the terms of her probation by failing to complete her online homework. Court records report that Grace’s incarceration was because she was a “threat to the community.”

The judge placed the 15-year-old on probation due to an incident last November where Grace bit her mother’s finger and pulled her hair. As a result, Grace faced assault charges. Weeks later, she stole a cellphone from a fellow student at her high school and was charged with larceny. 

On Jul. 20, a second hearing took place at the insistence of the girl’s lawyers, who filed a motion for Grace’s early release. Saima Khalil, one of the girl’s lawyers, explained that separation has been painful for Grace and her mother. “She wants to go home,” Khalil said. “She wants to be with her mom. She’s overwhelmed and upset.” Khalil stated that her client had deficit hyperactivity disorder and received special education services, which made it difficult for her to shift to online education. Khalil believes that the courts were wrong to incarcerate people who have mental health issues. 

The judge presiding over this case, Mary Ellen Brennan, decided that Grace is not yet ready to be with her mother. The judge told the 15-year-old defendant, “I think you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are blooming [in the juvenile detention center], but there is more work to be done.” She stated that the police had been alerted three different times, regarding arguments between Grace and her mother. “She was not detained because she didn’t turn her homework in,” Judge Brennan said. “She was detained because she was a threat to her mother.”

At the hearing, Grace explained that “I’m getting behind in my actual schooling while here. My mom wanted for me to get help anywhere — get help anywhere else but the judicial system, and I am not doing well emotionally.” The 15-year-old told Judge Brennan she wanted to go home: “I miss my mom. I can control myself. I can be obedient.”

Many argue that this case exemplifies the criminalization of Black children and systemic racism in America. Jason Smith, policy director at the Michigan Youth Justice Center, is among Grace’s supporters. He believes that Judge Brennan’s decision on Monday was wrong and that alternatively, Grace could continue any treatment she was receiving at the detention facility, Oakland County Children’s Village, or at home. “The judge called her a threat to the community because she did not do her schoolwork,” Smith said. “It’s extremely disappointing.”

Michigan’s Court of Appeals ordered Grace’s release on Jul. 31. A three-judge team granted the emergency request to release the 15-year-old. The panel stated, “The juvenile respondent is ordered immediately released from detention to the custody of her mother pending appeal or further order of this Court.” 

(Sources: NY Times, NBC News)

Categories: National, Web Exclusive

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