Saving “Grace”: Stop Criminalizing Black Youths.

Categories: Advocacy, Blog

Since mid-May, a 15 year old girl identified by her middle name, Grace, has been held at a juvenile detention center in Michigan. Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan recently decided she is not yet ready to return home. Her offense? Failing to complete her online homework. This violated the terms of her probation, which she was on because she had previously stolen a classmate’s phone and had an altercation with her mother where she bit her finger.

According to NBC Fort Wayne, “A juvenile court hearing was held virtually in April, and a caseworker told the judge that Grace should receive mental health and anger management treatment at a residential facility; the prosecutor agreed.” So why is she being held at The Children’s Village in Oakland County, a youth detention center— where according to a Jezebel article, she is “shackled before virtual court hearings, meets less regularly with a therapist than she did while living with her mother, and has yet to meet with a teacher either in-person or online?” While she may have access to support services through the detention center, why not send her to a more appropriate facility to give her the help she needs?  According to court records, Grace was sent to the juvenile detention center after being deemed a “threat to the community” due to her initial charges of assault and theft.

Grace needs rehabilitation, but instead her actions have been so criminalized, she is considered “dangerous.” 

One explanation for the misinterpretation of her actions, is age compression. “Age compression has devastating consequences for Black girls. It subjects them to harsher treatment, it denies them the opportunity to make mistakes and come back from it, and Black girls are blamed when they are harmed–not unlike other girls, but because she is perceived as “older” she is also held to be more “responsible” for her wrongful acts. Perhaps the most harmful–it causes her to internalize these misperceptions, and this leads her to believe that something is wrong with her, rather than with the historical and sociologically oppressive conditions under which she is forced to function.” — Caroline Clarke at the 2019 YWCA Princeton Stand Against Racism:Thought Provoking Talks.

Grace and her mother, Charisse, have a history of conflicts. She was previously placed in a court diversion program at the age of 13 for “incorrigibility,” but was released from it early. The police have also been sent to their home on several occasions in response to their frequent disputes. While the two must continue to work through the issues within their relationship, one thing is clear: treating a child like a criminal is not likely to help.

Further reading

Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, a report by The Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law

Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration report by The Sentencing Project