Michigan Teen Incarcerated for Not Doing Homework Freed

Michigan Teen Incarcerated for Not Doing Homework Freed. black. grace.
A protest in support of Grace at Groves High School in Illinois. (@mnisakhan / Twitter)

Grace, the Black Michigan teen whose story went viral several weeks ago after she was incarcerated for failing to complete homework assignments, has been freed.

On Friday, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her release from Children’s Village, where she’d been detained since May. She was released into her mother’s custody.

Grace’s case first began to receive online attention following the publication of an investigation by ProPublica Illinois, which came about after her mother reached out to journalists. Locals took to the streets in solidarity, and 300,000 people signed a petition calling for her to be freed.

Grace’s story also drew a lot of attention on Twitter, with many celebrities, political figures and activist organizations expressing support and calling for her release.

Following Judge Mary Ellen Brennan’s denial of her release, a group of Congress members including U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Iill.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—as well as several other representatives from Illinois—addressed a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, calling on them to intervene.

In the letter, they specifically highlighted the troubles that the U.S. education system creates for Black girls, and how their educations are “often disrupted as a result of discriminatory and overly punitive discipline policies that criminalize and push them out of school.”

Grace was incarcerated following a violation of her parole: failure to turn in online classwork. Grace, who has ADHD, had previously received accommodations—including extra time for schoolwork—that were not honored when her school switched to online instruction.

“There is absolutely no doubt that public pressure turned the tide for Grace and her mother,” said Congressman Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who represents the Oakland County district where Grace lives, in a press release.

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The systems that incarcerated Grace are still intact, but the power of the media and of high-profile figures using their platforms to highlight her story, helped free her. Grace’s case has also raised public awareness about the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline, and the ways in which Black children are disenfranchised by systems that are supposed to be supporting them.

In a moment when protests against racial injustice are taking center stage, Grace’s story has brought further attention to the overwhelming incarceration rates of Black youth across the U.S.—and to the long-term effects of these carceral systems.

On Twitter, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) called the ruling “Great News!” She went on, “But we can’t forget Grace is just one case in our broken criminal justice system. Let this case shine a light and raise awareness of the work we still need to do.”

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Oliver Haug is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine and a recent graduate of Smith college. Their writing has previously appeared in Autostraddle and the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit." You can read more of their work at oliverhaug.contently.com, and follow them on twitter here.