Richard Ross

2008 - 2012

For the last six years I have photographed and chronicled a world of violence and trauma that punishes the youngest, most fragile level of American society. I have interviewed over 1,000 kids in their cells at over 250 facilities across 31 states in an effort to tell the stories of children with the least voice, from families with the least resources, in communities with the least power. Approximately 70,000 young people are in detention or correctional facilities every day in the United States. Studies have found that perhaps 12% of these children need to be confined for the protection of themselves and society. Juvenile-In-Justice is photographic and visual evidence of a system that discards young lives under the pretense of societal safety.

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  • Restraint chair at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility, Albany, Oregon.

  • I was at the packing plant for about 16 months. I come here to St. Bridgette’s for help. Father Paul does his best for us. ICE had a big raid, lots of trucks and men with guns and helicopters. They deported most of the people but kept some of us to go to court against the owners. They had a lot of minors working here. All of us were from the same little village in Guatemala. We live in houses that the company owns. I think they let me stay because of my baby.
    —R.T., age 16

    Postville, Iowa.

  • South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility, South Bend, Indiana.

  • Intake at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Downey, California.

  • No one has visited me here. No one. I’m not here for a status violation. They got me charged with more than that. I talk to the judge tomorrow. I have to touch the wall for doing what they call “antisocial” behavior — only a “procedure violation,” nothing big. I’ve been touching the wall for a while now. Doesn’t matter what part of the wall I touch as long as I have some part of me on the wall. I am trying to get some sleep here.
    —J.B., age 17

    Hale Ho’omalu Juvenile Hall, in downtown Oahu, Hawaii, built in the 1950s, now closed.

  • I’m waiting for my mom to come get me. Is she in there? She’s at work today. I want to go home. I got in trouble at school today.
    —R.T., age 10

    Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Center, Reno, Nevada.

    R.T. was brought in from school by a policeman. He stabbed a schoolmate, but it is unclear what the tool was, a pencil, knife, fork . . . He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn’t come get him until she got off work for fear of losing her job. He was checked on every five minutes. The director of the facility recalled an eight-year-old being brought in for taking a bagel and stated, “This is not the place for
    these offenses.”

  • I got kicked out of school for partying and truancy. I use meth. They have had me here for two weeks. I think they keep me here because they think I am a risk of hurting myself. When they want to come in, they come in, they don’t knock or anything — this is the observation room. There are five other girls here I think for things like running away and curfew violations...lewd and lascivious conduct, selling meth, robbery, weed... stuff like that.
    —C.T., age 15

    Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center, Caldwell, Idaho.

  • A young girl at Maryvale, an all-girls level-12 institution in Rosemead, California.

  • Orientation Training Phase (OTP), part of the Youth Offender System (YOS) Facility in Pueblo, Colorado. OTP performs intake and assessment of convicted kids and is set up to run like a boot camp, with staff yelling at kids all the time. All of the kids at OTP have juvenile sentences with adult sentences hanging, meaning that if they mess up, they will have to serve their adult sentence. For example, a juvenile could be there serving a two-year juvenile sentence with 15 years hanging.

  • The “Wall of Shame,” at Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Miami, Florida: mug shots of kids that were released from the center and killed by gunshot wounds. “Expired” here indicates “deceased.”

  • Twenty-three young men, undersupervised, at Orleans Parish Prison, Louisiana. There was a fight the night before, so staff has taken away privileges of TV, cards, and dominoes. The air conditioner is broken and it is August in New Orleans.

  • I was with a group of guys when I was 13. We jumped this guy near the lake. We got about $400. They gave me the gun ’cause I was the youngest. I been in Juno cottage for two years. I was coming back from the med unit with a homie and we broke into the canteen through a window and ate all the candy bars we could find. He got sick and we only had a five-minute pass so they caught us. I got sent to Valis but got played by a staff there so they sent me here to Martin.
    —S.T., age 15

    Ethan Allen School, Wales, Wisconsin.

  • Mendota Juvenile Treatment
    Center, Mendota, Wisconsin.

  • A 12-year-old juvenile in his windowless cell at Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Mississippi, operated by Mississippi Security Services, a private company. There is currently a lawsuit against MSS that forced it to reduce the center’s population. An 8:1 inmate to staff ratio must now be maintained.

  • I’ve been here a week this time. I’m on court order to stay isolated from the other kids. I was in foster care for about 11 years and now I am adopted. They got me for residential burglary when I was in seventh grade, but since then it has been lots of probation violations — late for school, not appearing for my P.O., stuff like that. Drug Court probably saved my life. My mom is into drugs and my dad was deported to the Philippines. I have three sisters but we are all split up. The only person who visits me is my YMCA drug counselor. Lunch? It was junk.
    —C.C., age 16

    Hale Ho’omalu Juvenile Hall, in downtown Oahu, Hawaii, built in the 1950s, now closed.

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