Grace, a Black 15-year-old special needs student from Oakland County, Michigan, was sentenced to juvenile detention during the pandemic by Judge Mary Ellen Brennan because she didn’t complete her online schoolwork. Grace’s horrific story and her pleas to go home were spotlighted yesterday in an article in ProPublica. Grace, like countless other Black and Brown children, is the latest casualty of a racial justice crisis known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Grace’s case sheds light on the ongoing criminalization of youth of color through a combination of punitive school discipline policies, charging decisions of local prosecutors, and judges like Mary Ellen Brennan who abuse their power and discretion to destroy children’s lives.
Judge Mary Ellen Brennan made the heartbreaking and unjust decision to order Grace into a juvenile detention facility for failing to do her online schoolwork despite Grace’s efforts and known educational disability. She also facilitated Grace, a teenager, being placed on probation which kept her trapped in the criminal legal system and set her up to being unconscionably punished with incarceration for not completing her schoolwork.
- #FREEGRACE Release Grace from Children’s Village into her mother’s custody
- Judge Mary Ellen Brennan (elected) should IMMEDIATELY resign from the bench of the Oakland County Family Court.
- Jessica Cooper (elected prosecutor) must drop all charges against Grace immediately and the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office must end the oppressive and racist practice of arresting and prosecuting children
A 15-year-old Black girl who has been incarcerated in Michigan since mid-May after she failed to do her online schoolwork won't be returning home, a judge decided Monday, in a case that has stoked outrage that it is emblematic of systemic racism and the criminalization of Black children.
Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan determined that the girl has been benefiting from a residential treatment program at a juvenile detention center, but is not yet ready to be with her mother. Brennan, the presiding judge of the court's Family Division, scheduled another hearing for September, NBC affiliate WDIV reported.
The girl, who is being identified only by her middle name, Grace, was the subject of a report published last week by ProPublica Illinois, with politicians and community activists expressing outrage over her incarceration.
During a three-hour proceeding, Brennan told Grace that it was in her best interest to stay in the program after all of the progress she had been making.
"Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something," Brennan said, according to the Detroit News. "The right thing is for you and your mom to be separated for right now."
Grace, however, told the judge that she wanted to go home: "I miss my mom. I can control myself. I can be obedient."
After the hearing, an attorney for the family, Jonathan Biernat, confirmed that Grace had been making strides, but the "fight for her release" is ongoing. He was unavailable for further comment later Monday.