ProPublica reported on Tuesday that Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, presiding judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division, had revoked the probation of Grace, a 15-year-old Black girl who she said was a “threat to (the) community,” over her "failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.”
“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said during Grace’s sentencing on May 14. “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.”
An executive order issued in March by Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted that juveniles who violate probation should not be confined, unless they posed a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.”
While the 15-year-old minor did not break the law during her probation, she was still transported to the Oakland County Children’s Village - a juvenile detention facility with strict rules.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Grace’s mother Charisse told ProPublica while in tears. “Every day I go to bed thinking, and wake up thinking, ‘How is this a better situation for her?’”
Grace, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a mood disorder, was previously placed on probation after fighting her mother and stealing.
“Child needs time to adjust to this new normal of being on probation and doing work from home,” Rachel Giroux, Grace’s case worker said in April progress notes obtained by ProPublica.
However, that adjustment period turned out to be short, as Giroux noted five days later that Grace “clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules in the community,” and filed a violation of probation.
It wasn’t until three days later that she emailed Grace’s teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, and asked, “Is there a certain percentage of a class she is supposed to be completing a day/week?”
Tarpeh responded that Grace was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.”
“Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming,” the teacher wrote, noting that Grace “has a strong desire to do well.”
Tarpeh added that she “is trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain and we have a plan for her to get there.”
Unfortunately, Giroux was the only witness available during the May 14 trial, as Tarpeh had to teach class during the time of the case. According to ProPublica, Grace’s case was the only one heard by the Oakland County Family Court that day.
Considering the case worker’s failure to obtain word from the teacher before filing the violation of probation, it appears to many individuals that Grace’s case may be yet another example of the school-to-prison pipeline.
“It is clear that kids of color are disproportionately involved and impacted by the system across the board,” Jason Smith of the nonprofit Michigan Center for Youth Justice told the outlet.
“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.”
Charisse provided the outlet with a letter written by Grace, who remains in the juvenile detention facility, but was recently moved to long-term treatment program at Children’s Village:
“I want to change. I want to be a better person. Here I’ve realized how much you care and love me. I’m sorry I took that for granted. Please continue to send me pictures of me and you or just with anyone. I love you mommy and I miss you.”