PONTIAC, Mich. — During his incarceration, Oxford High School shooting defendant Ethan Crumbley is allowed visitors and provided health care and services available to all other inmates, according to jail officials.
But the 15-year-old has spent the majority of time in his one-man cell.
Crumbley was arrested Nov. 30 after allegedly killing four classmates and wounding six others and a teacher. He has pleaded not guilty to 24 felony offenses, including terrorism and first-degree murder.
After one day at the Children’s Village detention facility for youth, Crumbley was transferred to the Oakland County Jail on a judge’s order.
He remains there without bond pending a Wednesday placement status conference and Friday hearing before Oakland Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe. Crumbley’s attorneys have sought to have him transferred to Children’s Village, which they said is a more appropriate facility for their client. A district judge agreed with prosecutors that he should be held in jail.
Crumbley’s typical day at the Oakland County Jail begins around 5 a.m. when he is offered a breakfast tray to eat in his cell, said Oakland County Undersheriff Curtis D. Childs. A lunch tray is delivered between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m., he said.
Jail officials said last week that Crumbley remains under direct around-the-clock observation by an Oakland County Sheriff’s deputy. The only time when he is permitted outside of his cell is for taking daily showers, making a phone call or having virtual visits, primarily by Zoom.
“He’s housed in a single cell and isolated from other inmates,” Childs said. “He’s not on suicide watch. He’s on a constant watch.”
Because he is a minor, information is limited regarding his visitors. Crumbley has had none except for those from his attorneys and “daily consults” with mental health professionals via Zoom, jail officials said. Zoom sessions with attorneys and guardian are by approved appointment.
He also meets regularly with a caseworker assigned to him and by Zoom with his attorney and guardian ad-litem Deborah McKelvy. All have declined comment on Crumbley.
Crumbley ordinarily would be offered recreation within the jail recreation schedule, but it has temporarily been paused due to COVID-19 protocols.
He is provided professional care by staff, like any other inmate, and is allowed to use the inmate tablet system, which has movies, games and books. It also has an educational site, the Khan Academy, an American nonprofit organization created in 2008 with online tools to help educate students with videos and practice exercises. He also has access to a television.
While his activities are not monitored, he has been instructed he should have no expectations of privacy.
“Plans to provide him with continuing education is in process,” said Childs, who added that while Crumbley can email others and receive emails, he has no access to internet searches.
At Children’s Village, he would receive academic services through the Waterford School District. A K-12 school program provides a broad range of educational services instructed by Waterford teachers and employees.
All courses are fully accredited through the North Central colleges and universities and are transferable to home school districts. Students receive instruction in core subjects, aligned with the Michigan Merit Curriculum. Elective courses include music, physical education, art, business and daily living skills. Students also have access to online credit recovery during the school day and/or after school.
Like other youth, Crumbley would be supervised at Children’s Village by youth specialists who are direct-care workers who receive extensive training, according to the county website.
In Crumbley’s case, parental visits in jail are not an option. Both parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are also incarcerated in the Oakland County Jail in lieu of bond, each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Oxford deaths for purchasing a handgun for their son as a Christmas gift, allegedly failing to properly secure the weapon or alert officials to the danger he presented.
A meeting with concerned school officials on Nov. 30 — the morning of the shooting — concerned the teen’s drawings of a gun with a body on the ground and the caption “I can’t stop the thoughts. Help me.” His behavior, including looking for ammunition online in class, was discussed with his parents, who rejected the school’s advice to remove him from school that day and get him counseling. Instead, the teenager was permitted to return to class before the shooting.
Juvenile experts weigh in
It’s unclear if Ethan Crumbley would have fewer restrictions at Children’s Village, where juvenile suspects are normally housed. But some experts familiar with the juvenile system in and outside Michigan say the main difference would be interaction with peers, counseling and the possibility of educational opportunities.
“At Children’s Village, he would theoretically mix more with others his age — rather than be by himself,” said attorney Steven Lynch, who spent 13 years with the Prosecutor’s Office, including two years as head of the juvenile division.
“You have competing interests here,” Lynch said about Crumbley’s incarceration. “This is a young person who is charged with very serious crimes and concerns about the safety involving others at Children’s Village and also himself. It’s a different facility than the jail — more open — and has different needs. I’m not certain they have sufficient staff to handle matters as well as at the jail.
“Of course, there is a general opportunity of normalcy for a teenager at the village they won’t find at the jail. But for the safety of the kid and others, the jail is probably the best place for him at this time.”
Paul Elam, chief strategy officer for the Michigan Public Health Institute, is on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s juvenile justice task force and is the Michigan compliance monitor responsible for ensuring the state is in line with federal laws concerning incarceration of juveniles.
“We don’t like locking kids up in adult facilities for several reasons,” Elam said, “but chief among them, it’s not best practice. It’s not in the best interest of juveniles.”
Elam said there are exceptions when juveniles don’t comply with rules in juvenile detention facilities and when they are awaiting trial. But it should be done only in the short term, he said, even if isolated from the general population.
“Adult facilities are not for treatment but are designed strictly for safety,” Elam said. “A juvenile is not going to receive proper treatment, services or education there. And there is no requirement for that to happen during their detention.”
Jennifer Peck, an associate professor in criminal justice at the University of Central Florida, has done extensive research in juvenile justice issues and said there is a distinction in the custody of juveniles and adults.
“If he was to be brought to a juvenile facility, he probably still could be isolated anyway,” Peck said. “Ideally, there would be more rehabilitative programming such as education, mental health programming and addressing aggression issues. And more counseling.
“But he could also be receiving some of these services (in jail),” she noted. “Education is difficult because it involves school services. The nature of his charges and the severity of his own safety needs have to be considered.
“Any type of secure confinement does have consequences — juvenile or adult facility — but the safety of youth and general public is the major consideration.”
Michigan authorities must have a strong belief Crumbley presents a danger, said Camille Gibson, interim dean of the College of Juvenile Justice at Prairie View A&M in Texas.
Gibson said since Crumbley’s being isolated from the adult inmates lessens concern of him being preyed upon but that federal and international practices call for separation of sight and sound exposure as well from inmates 18 years or older. Crumbley is housed in this manner, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
“With juveniles, there is always a hope that rehabilitation is possible with appropriate services and counseling,” Gibson said. “But if he is being charged as an adult, then he needs to be handled as an adult would.”