Remember the case of the teenager who was jailed for not doing her homework? After ProPublica publicized the case leading to calls for her release, the judge still refused to do so. But now an appeals court has overruled the judge and ordered her immediate release after spending 78 days in custody.
A Michigan teenager who has been detained since mid-May after not doing her online schoolwork was set free on Friday, after the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release from a juvenile facility in suburban Detroit.
Grace, a high school sophomore, spent 78 days at the Children’s Village after an Oakland County family court judge found she had violated her probation on earlier charges of assault and theft. Friday’s decision comes a week after that judge denied her lawyer’s request to set her free. The lawyer then asked the appellate court to release her.
Within two hours of the court order, shortly after 5 p.m., Grace left the facility after her mother arrived to get her. She “had her bags ready to go, they jumped in the car and they were gone,” said one of Grace’s attorneys, Saima Khalil. “They were definitely emotional and happy.”
The case involving Grace, who is Black, was detailed in a ProPublica Illinois investigation this month and has drawn national scrutiny over concerns about the juvenile justice system, systemic racism and holding a teenager accountable for schoolwork during the pandemic.
But that is not the only case of egregiously harsh punishments. Consider the case of Fair Wayne Bryant who is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment for trying to steal a pair of hedge clippers. In his case, the Michigan state supreme court refused to overturn the sentence imposed in 1997, meaning that he has already served over 23 years.
A black man in Louisiana will continue to serve a life sentence in prison for trying to steal hedge clippers after the state supreme court denied a request to review his sentence.
Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted in 1997 of attempted simple burglary.
The five justices who rejected his appeal – all white men – did not explain the reasoning for their decision, which was first reported by the Lens, a non-profit news site in New Orleans.
The supreme court’s lone dissent came from the only black or female member of the court, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. She wrote the sentencing was a “modern manifestation” of the extreme punishments meted out to newly emancipated black men in the post-civil war era.
In Johnson’s dissent, the justice wrote that all of Bryant’s crimes were for stealing something. “It is cruel and unusual to impose a sentence of life in prison at hard labor for the criminal behavior which is most often caused by poverty or addiction,” she wrote.
The 23 years Bryant has served in prison since the 1997 has cost Louisiana taxpayers more than $518,000, Johnson noted. “If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she wrote.
And then we have the case of Black Lives Matter protestors being threatened with life in prison for breaking windows and splashing red paint during a protest.
The felony criminal mischief charges are more serious because they carry a gang enhancement. Prosecutors said on Wednesday that was justified because the protesters worked together to cause thousands of dollars in damage, but watchdogs called the use of the 1990s-era law troubling, especially in the context of criminal justice reform and minority communities.
But for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, invoking a law aimed at street gangs in troubling, especially against demonstrators of color. “You are calling participants in a protest gang members,” said attorney Jason Groth.
And there are other side-effects to criminal charges, he said. McNeil tweeted on Thursday that she was asked resign from her job in the non-profit sector and all the defendants have to post $50,000 bail to get out of jail.
“This is the highest-degree felony. This is usually reserved for murders and rapists,” said attorney Brent Huff, who represents co-defendant Madison Alleman.
These absurdly severe penalties have their roots in slavery and Reconstruction eras when black people were harshly punished to prevent them demanding their rights. There are symbols of the systemic racism that infests the US legal system.