Michigan Teen Who Didn't Do Her Homework Finally Free After Months In Juvie
A 15-year-old Black teenager identified only as Grace was finally released from juvenile detention on Friday, after having been sent there in May for having violated her probation by not doing her homework. This happened despite the fact that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had, in March, issued an executive order sending kids to juvie for violations of their probation unless they posed "substantial and immediate safety risk to others."
It is probably fair to say "not handing in homework" is not actually a thing that poses a safety risk to anyone, for any reason. In fact, it is hard to even imagine how one could construe it as such. Was there some kind of a ransom situation happening? That someone was in danger of being killed if she did not finish the assigned reading on Moby Dick? Was the only way to diffuse a bomb for this one girl to write an essay on the evolving role of NATO in the modern world?
No, there was not. The judge who sentenced her just really wanted to teach her a lesson. And felt that it was appropriate to teach this particular lesson in the middle of a pandemic.
Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the presiding judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division, declined through a court administrator to comment on Grace's case. In her ruling, she found Grace "guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school" and called Grace a "threat to (the) community," citing the assault and theft charges that led to her probation.
"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."
Oh, how nice for her.
To Detroit News, Judge Brennan suggested that the incarceration would be a chance for the teenager to "follow through and finish something."
Grace, a pseudonym for the juvenile, was on probation on assault and theft charges related to a November assault on her mother, Brennan said at the Monday hearing. At the prior court hearing that led to Grace being jailed, Brennan allegedly called her a "threat" to the community, ProPublica reported.
Before making her decision, Brennan allowed the girl to speak.
"I miss my mom," Grace said. "I can control myself. I can be obedient."
Brennan said the decision to keep the girl jailed was for her own good.
"Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something," Brennan said. "The right thing is for your and your mom to be separated for right now."
The girl's mother, Charisse, said that there had been no real behavioral problems or acting out other than regular "cabin fever" related to the quarantine, and that there had been no contact with police since the initial incident in November, when Grace — upset at not being able to see a friend — had pulled her mother's hair and bitten her finger.
Charisse also told reporters at ProPublica that the reason Grace — who did not previously have attendance problems — was having trouble with remote learning was because she had ADHD and a mood disorder and was not getting the kind of support she was supposed to get:
The initial days of remote school coincided with the start of Grace's probation. Charisse was concerned that her daughter, who was a high school sophomore and had nearly perfect attendance, would have trouble without in-person support from teachers. Grace gets distracted easily and abandons her work, symptoms of her ADHD and a mood disorder, records show. Her Individualized Education Plan, which spelled out the school supports she should receive, required teachers to periodically check in to make sure she was on task and clarify the material, and it allowed her extra time to complete assignments and tests. When remote learning began, she did not get those supports, her mother said.
Huh! It sure seems as though what Judge Brennan was dealing with was not an "out-of-control teen," ala The Maury Povich Show, but rather a family that simply needed help. The kind of help that absolutely doesn't come from putting a kid through something as traumatic as a juvenile detention facility.
Under any circumstances, sending a kid to juvie for not doing their homework would be appalling. But doing it during an actual pandemic? That is actually psychotic, if not a total violation of the 8th amendment. Someone should probably look into some of Judge Brennan's other decisions there, because things like this are never a one-off.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse