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After 78 Days, Michigan Teen Who Was Jailed For Failing To Complete Her Homework While On Probation Is Released

The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release pending an appeal of a circuit court judge’s decision to jail the teen, known as “Grace,” in mid-May.

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“Grace,” the 15-year-old Black girl who garnered international attention after she was jailed for failing to complete schoolwork while on probation, has been released after spending 78 days in a facility where at least four staffers have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Grace, who has been identified only by her middle name because of her status as a minor, was originally incarcerated in May by Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan. On Friday, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release pending an appeal of Brennan’s initial ruling. Brennan herself refused a motion to send Grace home on July 20.

Criminal justice advocates say they believe the overwhelming attention given to the case—along with pressure brought on by tomorrow’s state primary—played a role in Grace’s release. Brennan and Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, a Democrat, are on Oakland County’s primary ballot. While Brennan is running unopposed, Cooper faces a challenger, Karen McDonald, who has accused Cooper’s office of “failing Oakland County residents—especially poor people and people of color.” Cooper’s office originally supported Grace’s incarceration, but recently reversed that opinion. 

“I think the election played a role—everybody wants to look good around election time,” said Marjon Parham, communications specialist for Michigan Liberation. Parham also cited the community pressure that her organization helped bring to bear, which included an online petition and calls and letters to the judge, the prosecutor’s office, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Neither Cooper’s office nor McDonald’s campaign responded to The Appeal’s request for comment.

Oakland County has disproportionately sentenced Black youth like Grace to juvenile facilities during the COVID-19 crisis. According to a July 14 ProPublica Illinois report that first brought Grace’s ordeal to the public’s attention, from March 16-June 29, at least 24 young people accused of delinquency were incarcerated in juvenile facilities. More than half were Black, even though only about 15 percent of the county’s youth are Black.

Since the ProPublica report, officials including the Oakland County executive, two U.S. Congressional representatives, and two separate local school boards have spoken in opposition to Grace’s incarceration at Children’s Village in Oakland County. A July 16 demonstration attracted more than 300 people, and two separate online petitions attracted more than 380,000 signatures as of today.

“Grace’s release from the juvenile jail is a tremendous victory for her, her family and the community at large,” said Advancement Project Senior Staff Attorney Ashley Carter in an Aug. 3 statement. “This win illustrates the power of organizing, much of it led by young people, and the force of demanding more for those ensnared in the criminal legal system.” The Advancement Project and Color of Change were among the groups that worked with Michigan Liberation to organize for Grace’s freedom.

While Carter called Grace’s release “an important win,” she added that “we cannot forget the countless other young people who are incarcerated every single day and should be home with their families.”