A Michigan judge declined on Monday to release a Black teenage girl from juvenile detention for failing to complete her schoolwork after classes transitioned online because of the pandemic.
The judge deemed that the 15-year-old, referred to with her middle name Grace, was benefitting from the detention and should not be allowed to return home. Grace had previously been put on probation after getting into physical arguments with her mother and stealing a classmate’s phone.
After she was charged for assault and larceny in March, the judge placed her in probation instead of detention, citing the coronavirus pandemic, ProPublica reported. The terms included regular check-ins with a caseworker and keeping up on schoolwork.
As schools nationwide transitioned to online learning amid the pandemic, Grace no longer had access to the support systems at school that previously helped her deal with her ADHD and mood disorder. Despite her teacher saying that Grace was trying hard, Grace was put on probation after her caseworker found out she went back to sleep after their morning check-in one day.
The judge says that she was detained not for missing homework but because she was a threat to her mother. By being in detention, however, Grace did not have as much access to education, therapy, and other support systems that previously improved her mental health.
“This situation is an emotional challenge, but is also a window into the brokenness that demands and deserves attention and repair as to prevent other children and families from being negatively impacted by a system that is supposed to offer protection and support,” Grace’s mother said in a statement.
After the ProPublica report prompted national attention, local residents showed up outside of the courthouse Monday to protest her continued detention. Grace’s case has also renewed the focus on the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects young Black people in the United States.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) suspected race was a factor in Grace’s detention.
“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.”
Grace’s case is a symptom of the larger system that puts Black children in the legal system through school, according to Rai LaNier, Wayne County director at Michigan Liberation.
“A lot of Black children get their introduction to the criminal legal system through school, through detention, through the police getting involved because they have no other place to go,” LaNier said.
Sources: ProPublica 07/14/20; The New York Times 07/21/20; NBC 07/20/20