Last year, a 15 year old was jailed for something that you might not expect. Can you guess what? No, the answer is not because of fighting with her mother or stealing. The girl was jailed because she did not do her homework. If you are interested in this story, you can check out the complete one below.
In Michigan, A 15 year old known only by her middle name, Grace, was incarcerated after not doing her online schoolwork. The good news is that she has been released after serving a 78 day sentence at Children’s Village in Oakland County. The girl was released after the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her release.
The story of this black girl earned so much attention across the United States. When it first broke out, a few members of Congress called for a civil rights investigation as well as the Michigan Supreme Court ordering a review of the procedures that sent the little one to prison.
Grace is currently studying at a new school and has a job with Michigan Liberation, the place where she has a chance to talk to those that are included in her community and she also often shares her experience and advocates about criminal justice reform.
At the annual conference of an event called Every Black Girl, she gathered the courage and broke out the silence and shared her own story. During the event, she said that everyone deserves better than their mistakes and that the past does not define one. As shared by Every Black Girl on Facebook, not only was Grace released, but the community has continued to surround and support her in love and affirmation.
During summer 2020, the hashtag related to her, #FreeGrace, was everywhere and there was also a petition with more than 350,000 signatures, demanding her to be released from jail. The popularity of her story increased when ProPublica Illinois investigated her case.
What does not make sense is that Grace was on probation for charges of assault and theft while her action was that she did not complete online schoolwork. According to the courts, not completing her homework, even when in the middle of the pandemic, was considered a violation of her probation.
The little girl named Grace was sent to the jail in May and it did not change even though the education and law officials asked for leniency and a prioritization of children’s health and safety amid the pandemic.
In March, the Michigan Governor named Gretchen Whitmer released an executive order that reduced the amount of youth in detention centers with the exception for those who are considered as threats who can risk the safety of the other ones.
While the probation violation of Grace was not violent or dangerous to the society, the judge named Mary Ellen Brennan still ruled against her. She said that her charges of theft and assault were considered as a threat to the community. To support her view, she also added that not completing her homework was clearly a violation. To ProPublica, Brennan said that Grace has not fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance. The judge told her that she was on thin ice. Not only that, she told her that she was going to hold her to the letter and to the order of the probation.
When being contacted by her case worker, the teacher of Grace said that Grace was not out of alignment compared to her other students. The statement means that one misstep of that little one that caused her to be jail did not even make a difference in her schoolwork.
A lot of advocates believe that it is such a racial action and it reflects a bigger issue of disproportionate sentencing and treatment of Black one within the criminal justice system of America. In Oakland County, 42% of the juvenile cases are related to Black youth. While it might seem normal, it is not knowing the youth population of this county is only 15% Black. As Grace said, there are so many other Graces out there who need a voice and their voices need to be heard. All of them are screaming, yelling, and asking for help.
While it is fortunate that Grace was not immediately given a jail sentence, the quick action done by the court when sending her to jail after doing something that does not deserve to be jailed screams that there are some issues within the juvenile justice system.
Not only that, from Grace’s story, everyone can tell that online learning is way harder for those with learning disabilities. The process of teaching and learning through online is not easy, especially for those like Grace who have ADHD or other learning disabilities. For them, it is hard to be focused and they tend to get distracted easily.
Propublica reported that the caseworker of Grace who filed the violation of her probation was not aware of what kind of education disabilities that Grace had and that person also did not answer a question about what accommodations those disabilities might need.
If only they focus more on finding the way to help Grace with her online study instead of following their anger and immediately thinking of punishment, the little girl might have never tasted the cold floor of the jail and not spent her precious time in jail in the first place.
Due to the fact that the juvenile cases have more confidentiality, Propublica Illinois stated that it is unlikely to determine whether a case like Grace’s is considered as normal or not in today’s juvenile justice system.
While it might seem traumatic, it seems like Grace also has learned a lot from her case. Since getting her freedom, she has not had any further issues with the law. From her case, everyone can learn that thinking of the solution is always better than thinking about the punishment. Let’s just hope that there will be no more cases like her.