Judge Mary Ellen Brennen, sentenced 15 year old black female teenager known as Grace in May due to her allegedly being in violation of her parole. She was sentenced to Oakland County’s Children’s Village juvenile detention center. The reason was because she unable to complete online schoolwork when the Birmingham school district decided to switch remote classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grace was initially sentenced to intensive probation by the Judge on April 21. According to the Oakland County, Michigan Juvenile court services website.
Intensive probation is designed to maintain high risk delinquents in their community in lieu of residential care, while safeguarding the community as much as possible. Youth placed on intensive probation either have the offense history or the risk factor to a point where they would have been placed out of the home had it not been for this program. Often, consent probation or standard probation failures will be tried on intensive probation.
Grace was sentenced to intensive probation due physical fights with her mom and allegedly for stealing a student’s phone.
According to ProPublica, Grace has been diagnosed with mood disorder and ADHD. She is also on an Individualized Education Program(IEP) where she receives additional adaptive education services to help her perform as a student. At the hearing, Grace’s special education teacher or school counselor were not present to provide necessary supporting evidence on Grace’s IEP and the requirements needed to help her succeed in a remote learning environment. The social worker that was assigned to Grace did not contact the school facility until after she reported to the court that Grace had violated probation. Since no one was present to discuss Grace’s IEP with Judge Brennen, she sentenced Grace to the juvenile detention facility.
Mary King, Executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice provided the following statement to The Appeal;
Here is another instance of where a youth on probation was put in a confined setting for a behavior that is not a crime.” We only know about Grace because the mother reached out to a reporter. Because there is no system for reporting such situations on the youth justice system, we have no idea how many other ‘Graces’ there are.
Brennan said during her hearing on 07/20/20 that she would not
be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of public criticism.
Grace is scheduled to stay at the juvenile facility until at least September. While the Judge says Grace is doing well at the facility. Grace says that she is not doing well at the facility and has even fell further behind due to the coursework not providing the challenge she needs.
U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence who represents Michigan’s 14th district is in contact with Oakland County officials. She released the following statement on July 15th, from her website.
The recent decision to sentence a child to a detention center is more than disturbing, and I would like to ensure this case is not a glaring reminder of the disproportionate realities faced by minorities in the criminal justice system. COVID-19 has peeled away the veneer of fairness and exposed the lack of equality in mental health care and the equitable application of justice in the legal system. Children of color, in particular, are the victims of heavy-handed, unbalanced incarceration sentences. All those in power, including members of Congress, have the responsibility to act equitably and compassionately.
As more news spread of Grace being unjustly incarcerated for not completing online schoolwork. On July 16th, more than 300 individuals attended #FreeGrace demonstration outside the Oakland County Courthouse demanding Grace’s release.
Representatives will continue working with officials to help get Grace released.