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Black teenager incarcerated for not doing her homework

Grace was sent to a juvenile detention in Michigan, which has seen record-high COVID-19 cases among inmates.

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A Black high school sophomore was sent to a Michigan juvenile detention for failing to complete her online homework. According to a report by ProPublica, 15-year-old Grace, which the publication notes is the teen’s middle name, was incarcerated after a judge found her failure to complete schoolwork to be a violation of her probation. Grace was sent to the detention center in May, despite the ongoing pandemic that continues to impact prisons and jails.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Grace’s mother told the outlet. “Every day I go to bed thinking and wake up thinking, ‘How is this a better situation for her?’”

Grace was charged with assault after her mother and her got into an argument on Nov. 6, ProPublica reports. Weeks later, she was charged with larceny after stealing another student’s cellphone from a school locker room.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan ordered that Grace be put on “intensive probation,” which included homework requirements, counseling, a GPS tether, regular check-ins with her court caseworker and no access to a cellphone.

However, like students around the country, Grace’s schooling became virtual this past spring due to COVID-19. Her mother told ProPublica that Grace suffers from ADHD and was struggling to stay focused on the online courses, but was working with a special education teacher to create a designated tutoring plan.

“Who can even be a good student right now?” National Juvenile Justice Network Executive Director Ricky Watson Jr. told the outlet. “Unless there is an urgent need, I don’t understand why you would be sending a kid to any facility right now and taking them away from their families with all that we are dealing with right now.”

Grace’s caseworker reportedly filed a violation of probation against her for not keeping up with her homework before even checking with Grace’s teacher to verify her school performance. In her decision to incarcerate Grace in juvenile detention, Judge Brennan wrote that the teen was a “threat to [the] community.”

“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” she said. “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.”

Back in March, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order to block juveniles from being incarcerated due to probation violations unless they posed “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.”

Michigan reportedly has one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases among inmates in the country. The Michigan Department of Corrections has worked to decrease case numbers by releasing thousands of inmates, speeding up parole hearings and re-incarcerating fewer people for technical violations.

Yet, ProPublica reports that at least 24 adolescents have been placed in detention centers in Grace’s county since March and over half of them have also been Black teenagers. Last month, a study by the National Juvenile Defender Center showed that a disproportionate number of African American adolescents are incarcerated in the state overall.

“It is clear that kids of color are disproportionately involved and impacted by the system across the board,” Michigan Center for Youth Justice’s Jason Smith said. “They are more likely to be arrested, less likely to be offered any kind of diversion, more likely to be removed out of the home and placed in some sort of confinement situation.”

Grace is currently at Children’s Village — a “secure detention” that provides “residential treatment and shelter care services,” the facility’s website notes. A hearing to review her case is set for Sept. 8.

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