Barbed wire photo: Dan Mitler, Creative Commons license 2.0

Hey, what's the difference between convicted felon Paul Manafort and a 15-year-old girl in Michigan who complied with all conditions of her probation except keeping up with her online schoolwork? Easy! The girl is the one who was deemed by a judge to be too dangerous to be allowed out of detention during the coronavirus pandemic. Manafort was released in May because of fears he might get the Rona. Then again, he hadn't been assigned any homework, as far as we know.

As ProPublica reports, in a report co-published by the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine, the girl, who's being identified only by her middle name, Grace, was confined at the Children's Village juvenile detention center in the Detroit suburbs because a judge found Grace had violated the terms of her probation and needed the close supervision she'd get in juvie. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had issued an executive order in March suspending confinement of juveniles for violating probation, unless a judge ordered it, and also said minors should only be placed in detention or residential centers if they present a "substantial and immediate safety risk to others."

That didn't help Grace, though, because the judge in her case, Mary Ellen Brennan of Oakland County Family Court, considered the girl a "threat to (the) community" due to the initial charges against her, for assault and theft late last year.

"She hasn't fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance," Brennan 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."

Why yes, we should probably note that Grace is Black, in a majority-white town. And we should point out that Black kids in both Oakland County and in Michigan end up in the juvenile justice system far more frequently than white kids. That disparity is especially noticeable in the county, where 42 percent of the 4,800 juvenile court cases involved Black youths, even though they make up just 15 percent of the county's youth population.

If Judge Brennan isn't selling kids for cash, like disgraced former judge Mark Ciavarella, then we confess we don't understand it at all.

The article details that Grace and her mom, who's identified as "Charisse," had had a rough patch since Grace turned 13, like a lot of teenaged girls do. They fought, and there were conflicts over the goddamn phone. In 2018 Grace was put in a diversion program after stealing an iPad from school, but she did well enough that she was released from the program early. In November of last year, though,

someone called the police after hearing Charisse crying "Help me!" and honking her car's horn. Grace, upset she couldn't go to a friend's house, had reached inside the car to try to get her mother's phone and had bitten her mother's finger and pulled her hair, according to the police report.

Police released Grace to a family friend to let the two cool down and referred the case to Oakland County court, where an assault charge was filed against her.

And not long after that, Grace was charged with larceny for stealing another kid's phone from a locker. Definitely a kid with some problems, but because of the virus, Brennan at an April 21 hearing sentenced her to "intensive probation." That included

a GPS tether, regular check-ins with a court caseworker, counseling, no phone and the use of the school laptop for educational purposes only. Grace also was required to do her schoolwork.

Grace and Charisse also started family counseling after Grace got in trouble, and she kept her nose clean; no fighting or other trouble. At the time, Grace had been out of school since mid-March, and the schools only started up online classes about the same time as her probation began. Grace has ADHD, and her Individualized Educational Plan specified that her teachers should regularly check in and monitor her progress. Unfortunately, like a lot of schools rushing to get online education going, that didn't happen, and Grace had trouble focusing and rapidly fell behind.

Her probation caseworker, Rachel Giroux, appears not to have even known that Grace has a learning disability. During Grace's third week of probation, Giroux learned Grace had just gone back to bed after a morning check-in, and recommended Grace be sent to juvie, because she "clearly doesn't want to abide by the rules in the community," as her case notes put it.

Oh, and Grace had asked for help from the school because she knew she wasn't getting stuff done, and finally started getting one-on-one tutoring the day after the probation violation was reported. Oops, timing again, and it's just maddening how none of this had to happen.

Giroux filed the violation of probation before confirming whether Grace was meeting her academic requirements. She emailed Grace's teacher three days later, asking, "Is there a certain percentage of a class she is supposed to be completing a day/week?"

Grace's teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, responded in an email to Giroux that the teenager 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. Grace, she wrote, "has a strong desire to do well." She "is trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain and we have a plan for her to get there."

Too late! Even though the family court was supposed to be closed for all but "essential emergency matters," Grace's missed schoolwork — which had no specific assignment dates and would be assessed only on a pass/fail basis because of the crisis — was enough of a crisis to merit an in-person hearing on May 14, at which Giroux was the only prosecution witness.

In response to questions from Grace's attorney, she acknowledged she did not know what type of educational disabilities Grace had and did not answer a question about what accommodations those disabilities might require.

The teacher, Ms. Tarpeh, had planned to testify but "had to leave the hearing to teach a class, according to the prosecutor." Grace and Charisse said Grace was actually doing much better, and again, had permission to work at her own pace. But Brennan had had it with the little scofflaw, who was otherwise meeting the terms of her probation, and told Grace the probation was "zero tolerance, for lack of a better term." Off to lockup she went, even though Children's Village had released 97 kids in March and April to reduce the risk of infection. The facility, with bed space for 216, is now down to 80 residents, presumably the worst of the worst young offenders plus an unknown number of homework non-doers. Fortunately, no kids in detention have been diagnosed with the virus; four adults working there contracted COVID-19 from contacts outside the center, a court administrator said.

Needless to say, virtually everyone in the youth services and special ed advocacy community in Michigan thinks this is insane. Terri Gilbert, a member of a state panel on juvenile justice, told ProPublica,

This is too harsh of a sentence for a kid who didn't do their homework. … There is so much research that points to the fact that this is not the right response for this crime. [...] Teenage girls act out. They get mouthy. They get into fights with her mothers. They don't want to get up until noon. This is normal stuff.

Part of the rationale for Grace's confinement is supposed to be that she'll benefit from therapy and supervised education at the detention center, but that isn't happening, either:

The local school district provided packets of material but no classes. She said that she has not yet worked with a teacher in person or online, and that she meets less regularly with a therapist at Children's Village than she did at home.

Eventually, Grace was moved to a "long-term treatment program at Children's Village, where she has a bit more freedom," but she won't get another hearing until September 8, a week after the schools are supposed to reopen.

Go read the whole story, as we say; it's infuriating. Of all the things being shut down by the virus, why is the school-to-prison pipeline still operating?

We sure hope Paul Manafort is able to keep up with his reading, at least. Let Grace's experience be a lesson to him.

[ProPublica / Photo: Dan Mitler, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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