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Michigan Judge Ends Probation For Black Teen Who Was Jailed For Not Completing Her Homework

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan jailed the 15-year-old, known as Grace, for violating her probation by not completing schoolwork. Last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered Grace’s immediate release, which Brennan said left her without the means to ‘issue consequences.’

Hands at a keyboard
Photo illustration by Kat Wawrykow.

Grace, the Michigan teen who was incarcerated in May for failing to complete homework while on probation during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, was released from the terms of that probation today. 

In making her decision, Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan said a July 31 ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals releasing Grace from incarceration at Oakland County’s Children’s Village had left her without the means to “issue consequences” to Grace.

Before handing down her order, Brennan took one last opportunity to defend her decision to incarcerate Grace—a 15-year-old Black girl who has been identified only by her middle name because of her status as a minor—in a facility where four staffers had tested positive for COVID-19.

Brennan first sentenced Grace to “intensive probation” on April 21, following fights with her mother that had turned physical and Grace’s alleged theft of a fellow student’s phone. The terms of that probation included school attendance and completion of all schoolwork, something Grace was unable to do without her usual academic support because of the rushed switch to online learning in her Birmingham school district.

Brennan’s decision to incarcerate Grace for violating those terms—citing what she said was her “extensive” history of violence and theft—was condemned by officials including representatives of two local school boards, two of Michigan’s congressional representatives, and the Oakland County executive.

During today’s hearing, Brennan said the Court of Appeals’ decision to release Grace interrupted the “treatment plan” she had in place for her, and “damage to that plan cannot be repaired by this court,” according to this morning’s account of the hearing in the Detroit News.

At the beginning of the hearing, attorney Saima Khalil called on Brennan to recuse herself from Grace’s case, saying the judge “has engaged in callous conduct in this case,” including the decision to incarcerate Grace during the pandemic. Brennan dismissed the motion, saying its timing was “not an appropriate way to bring this matter before the court.”

Khalil wasn’t alone in condemning Brennan’s conduct.

“In the short period of time that Grace has been home, we have become keenly aware of how damaging the juvenile system is as she recants loss of well-being, quality education, effective therapies and faith in a system that was supposed to protect and preserve the family,” Grace’s family said a statement released shortly after the hearing. “No child should walk away feeling less than because a system is degenerative and designed to break the spirit.”