#FreeGrace Explained

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Michigan judge ruled last week that 15-year old "Grace"* will remain incarcerated after failing to turn in homework.  The teen was put into a juvenile detention center in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic for violating probation for earlier assault and theft charges. "Grace" has ADHD, receives special education services, and struggled to keep up with the new online format of classes. After nation-wide protests and political pressure, an appeals court ordered that "Grace" be released back to her mother on Friday, but "Grace" is one of many young Black children incarcerated across the US.

I want to start this off by pointing out that plenty of people have brought to my attention, written about, and talked about the factors around "Grace" that have led to her getting locked up: she was on probation for a previous assault charge, she stole a cell phone at school, she is dangerous, etc (I don't have time or word count today to get into labeling kids as dangerous but if you do it - stop). To be honest, none of this matters. What matters is why we are locking up kids (60,000 on any given day across the US) which we know further traumatizes and has long-term negative physical and mental health outcomes, instead of providing mental health resources and family/community based interventions (again, we're talking about CHILDREN).

There are two components of systemic racism that play a big part "Grace"'s experience and that of thousands of young Black children across the country:

1: The Adultification of Black Girls
A 2017 Georgetown Law & Poverty Center study found that "adults believe young Black girls need less nurturing, protection, support, and comfort than white girls of the same age, and that black girls are more independent, know more about adult topics, and know more about sex than white girls". We see this at play in all kinds of stats:

  • 20% of female pre-schoolers are Black, but Black girls make up 54% of female preschoolers with one or more suspensions
  • Black girls are suspended five times more than white girls
  • black girls are 2.7 times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than their peers
Adultification of Black girls leads to believing Black girls need less protection and less support than their peers and leads to more incidents in police use-of-force against Black girls, less mentorship and leadership opportunities offered to Black girls than their peers and less empathy and compassion towards Black girls compared to their peers. Additionally, Black girls are sexualized and more likely to be penalized at school for wearing the same thing as their peers.

2. The School to Prison Pipeline
You may be familiar with this concept from the #30DayEducationChallenge The school to prison pipeline is a national trend in which students are funneled out of public schools into the criminal justice system. This looks like school resource officers (SROs)- even when controlling for poverty, kids attending schools with SROs have FIVE times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct. Zero tolerance policies play a big part here as well - once students are suspended they are three times more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system within one year. Things like this lead to students disciplined in the juvenile justice system for issues that would normally be handled at school. 

What can we do?
While "Grace" has been freed, there are thousands of others in her situation. When we hear about these things, here are a few actions to take (as shared by the IG community)
  • Contact the judges involved
  • Email/call mayors, governors, county execs demanding release
  • Donate to ACLU
  • Sign petitions (change.org, etc)
  • Find gofundme pages to support legal fees and families
Things we should be supporting long-term to eliminate this problem:
  • More support in schools (i.e. social workers instead of police)
  • Training for teachers and school staff 
  • VOTE
  • More accountability in social services
  • Support initiatives that value Black and brown childhoods
  • Invest in education (what are your local politicians committed to? use your vote)
  • Mental health resource and support in schools and communities

Shareable resources:
📖 "Girl Interrupted" (report, 20 minute read)
📺 End Adultification Bias (Youtube video, 4 minute watch)

See yall out there.

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