Convicted…and Sentenced to High School

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Breaking the law in Detroit can get an offender sentenced—to a classroom.


Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah A. Thomas has ordered many of those who come before her to finish school or earn a GED. She even papers the wall behind her bench with the documents to encourage the offenders, usually young men ages 19-22, get their lives on a more positive track.


“It motivates them,” Thomas told the Detroit News. “It shows a sense of pride. I have others who come into the courtroom and they say ‘I want mine up there, Judge’ or ‘Judge, you don’t have to worry, I’m going to get mine up there.’ ”


Thomas taught school before becoming a judge and understands the importance of education to those appearing in her court, often for crimes ranging from car theft to drug possession. “No one ever encouraged them or put anything of theirs on the refrigerator,” she said. “(The diploma wall) is a lesson that you can achieve. You have to work at it and in the long run it pays off. ’’


A recent study from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 40% of male prisoners lack a high school diploma, compared to 15% of the general population.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Getting Diploma, GED Part of Wayne Judge’s Sentences (Oralandar Brand-Williams, Detroit News)

Judge Deborah A. Thomas Official Biography

Educational Characteristics of Prisoners: Data from the ACS (by Stephanie Ewert and Tara Wildhagen, U.S. Census Bureau)


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