• Dr. Sydney McKinney

NBWJI Issues Statement on #FreeGrace


(New York, NY) – The National Black Women’s Justice Institute released the following statement on Grace, a 15-year-old girl in Michigan, who was remanded to a youth detention center for failure to complete her homework.

From Dr. Sydney McKinney, Executive Director:

“I am deeply dismayed by the incarceration of Grace, a 15-year-old girl in my home state of Michigan who was remanded to a youth detention center for failure to complete her homework, a violation of the terms of her probation. In the midst of a global pandemic, all of us are struggling to maintain our mental and emotional wellbeing, especially our youth, as our everyday lives have dramatically changed virtually overnight. We must see Grace’s recent challenges with school in this unprecedented era of distance learning for what they were: a young girl struggling to cope with the emotional weight of having her life—and the lives of everyone around her—turned upside down due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Rather than pathologize and criminalize her behavior, we must recognize it for what it is: normal and developmentally appropriate. And in this respect, the prosecutor, judge, and court caseworker assigned to Grace’s case all failed her—because that’s what the system is designed to do. Our juvenile justice system needs to stop pretending that removing children from their homes does anything other than cause immense, long-term, and irreparable harm. And it needs to reckon with the fact that its tendency toward excessive punishment of Black girls is the direct result of institutionalized racism and sexism. The abhorrent injustices in Grace’s case, and the cases of so many other Black girls, are a call to action. We need to invest in community-led, gender-affirming programs and services for Black girls like Grace that support girls and help them thrive, instead of investing in beds in detention centers that only cause further harm and put girls on a path to future incarceration. Rather than punishing our girls, we need healing-centered justice.”

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The National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) is a leading research, training, and technical assistance provider to public agencies, institutions, and foundations on countering the criminalization of Black women and girls. NBWJI works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement and advocating for informed and effective policies. We conduct research, evaluation, and technical assistance from an intersectional lens that centers race/ethnicity and gender as well as gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation/identity for participants, staff, and partner organizations/individuals.