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(Multiple values) There are six girls here today.2 of the girls runaway/curfew violations.1 lewd and licivious conduct, molestation abuse1 controlled substance1 trafficking methamphetamine1 burglary and marijuanaDrugs of choice are meth, weed, a SLIGHT rise in Spice-Salvia)
C.T., age 15: "I got kicked out of school for partying and truancy. I use meth. They have had me here for 2 weeks. I think they keep me here because they think I am at 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 runaway and curfew violations, lewd and lascivious conduct, trafficking meth, burglary, marijuana, molestation abuse, stuff like that."Richard Ross
(Multiple values) There are six girls here today.2 of the girls runaway/curfew violations.1 lewd and licivious conduct, molestation abuse1 controlled substance1 trafficking methamphetamine1 burglary and marijuanaDrugs of choice are meth, weed, a SLIGHT rise in Spice-Salvia)
BASICS: Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany, Oregon is the only girls-only facility in the state. They are part of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). Oak Creek has 75 beds and the average length of stay is 138 days. When asked if girls are easier than boys, Mark Riggins, the director at Oak Creek answers, “God, no.” The facility offers gender specific programming, but understands that regulating girl’s emotions is a chore. There are lots of issues with self-harm here and the staff works to provide safety while maintaining a pro-kid atmosphere. PICTURED:B.E., age 17:“This is my fourth time here. This time I’ve been here about a month. I’m almost 18. Before this I was in DHS (Department of Human Services, sometimes CPS) custody. I was at Kristy Care, but I had assaults against staff. They all occurred during a take down when I was 14. I’m here for 3 assault-4’s misdemeanors. There are no other programs that would take me. My mom is a Kurd. My sister and I were adopted by my dad, he’s a lot older. I was born and raised in Kurdistan. I was about 10 when I came here. I was in Kristy Care for cutting myself. My mom is 30. She’s a prostitute. My father is about 80. My dad sexually assaulted me and my sister. My mom stayed in Kurdistan. My adopted dad brought me and my sister here. He assaulted us repeatedly. He’s now back in Missouri with his adult daughters who are in their 50s. He only got 5 years of parole. My sister lives in South Portland and works in a Mexican restaurant. My original parole officer wants to terminate me. I wanna go live with my sister. There’s no drugs or drinking involved. I smoke cigarettes. I’m working towards my GED. I ran away from foster homes a bunch. I’ve been to more than 20. I’ve been to 4 different programs besides this. Sort of independent living – but its not. It's a step down program. I was at the Farm Home for cutting. I was at Kristy Care 3 times. I left twice and I got kicked out once
Washoe County Detention Facility, Reno, Nevada.BASICS: Built in 2004 for a capacity of 108, all are pre-adjudicated. The facility holds youth for up to 30 days before transferring them to commitment. PICTURED: R, age 10, a 5th grader, brought in from school by a policeman. He seemed tiny and timid, standing barefoot in oversized warm-up pants and a sweatshirt. 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 is checked on every five minutes. He stabbed a schoolmate- but it is unclear what the tool was, pencil, knife, fork... The Director of the facility tells me that one principal had an 8-year-old brought in for swiping a bagel off his desk. The director says, this is not the place for these offenses.
BASICS: Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center (Juvenile Justice Center), 3300 Northwest 27th Avenue, Miami, Florida, 33142. The Center is run by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and has a maximum bed population of 226, but can exceed that number by more than 100. According to their own material, The Center has an average length of stay, per youth, of 13 days. PICTURED: Referred to by Sgt. Burke as the "Wall of Shame," a wall where mug shots hang of kids that been killed or sentenced to adult life. The wall reminds staff of their failures, and helps them remember the criticality of their mission to place these kids right. The vast majority of the kids in these images are dead, all from gun shots. The staff shows kids and parents what they should do when they leave and what can happen if they don't do it, if the kid doesn't follow the "straight and narrow." The Sgt. says, even if you can change one or two lives, you feel good, he has been doing this for twelve years.
Racine Juvenile Detention, Racine, WIPictured: Gym area. Kids get at least one hour of exercise daily. Kids playing ping pong are L. and J., both 15.
This is my first time. I was in L.P. for a few days. I was just AWOL for a few days from my foster home. I’m there with my biological brother and my foster mom’s daughter and another foster girl. I was with my aunt for two years. I was eleven when I was taken from my house. I didn’t know what was going on. My mom didn’t know what it meant for me to be detained either. The cops found a weed plant in my brother’s room and then they started investigating my mom and my step-dad. They smoked crack. DCFS took me, my two brothers, and my little sister into custody. My mom was pregnant and when the baby was born they took the baby away. My dad lives in Mexico. I’m not sure if my mom has papers.  My foster home is pretty good, no foster dad there. There was really no reason for me to go AWOL, I was picked up for truancy but I had gotten into trouble for graffiti. Putting white out on a bench in the park right next to school—during school. I was with a friend and we were waiting for nutrition class to end because we didn’t want to go to nutrition…so we went next door to the park for that period. They called it pen tagging. Then I lied to the police about what my name was. They handcuffed me. I went to court two months ago and they gave me probation. Then I violated by running away. I’m in 9th grade. My mom was in AA rehab. There’s no abuse in my background. I’m fighting going to camp. The judge is making me go to placement although I have no idea why. They want me to go to a group home when I’m doing well in foster care. My boyfriend is 17. He’s a sophomore in HS. I stopped going to school in January. I tried going to continuation school. Whittier wasn’t accepting me so I went to Frontier. But I couldn’t get anyone there to help me enroll. I must have gone at the wrong time. I missed a court date and they issued a warrant. I’m not even sure why. I didn’t want to go to court. I was going through stuff with my mom. She talked to me about her
PICTURED: Darold, Age 16, from Seattle. At home he lives with his mother, ten-year-old brother and step father. He does not know his real father. He doesn’t like school and has been suspended. He spends his time at home hanging with his friends.  He has 2 older brothers and one older sister, all in their 20s+, that don't live at home. He has been at King County for about a week and has been here 3 other times. They are thinking of moving up his charges to Robbery 1. He might be going to a decline status, not an auto decline, a person on person crime. He might be going to RTC to break the detention cycle.BASICS: King County Youth Service Center. Houses the Juvenile Detention Center, Juvenile Court and Juvenile Court Services a well as juvenile divisions of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Department of Judicial Administration. The Youth Service Center is located at 1211 East Alder Ave. in Seattle's Central District neighborhood. 
BASICS: Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany, Oregon is the only girls-only facility in the state. They are part of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). Oak Creek has 75 beds and the average length of stay is 138 days. When asked if girls are easier than boys, Mark Riggins, the director at Oak Creek answers, “God, no.” The facility offers gender specific programming, but understands that regulating girl’s emotions is a chore. There are lots of issues with self-harm here and the staff works to provide safety while maintaining a pro-kid atmosphere.PICTURED:
MJTC Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center for mentally and emotionally disturbed juveniles
I’ve been here five months. I live in North Hollywood. This is my seventh time here. Sometimes it was probation violation, fighting at school, drug violations—weed and meth. I was born in Koreatown. I was living with my dad and four brothers. My mom’s not in the picture. My dad was in jail until I was 12. My grandma raised me from two to 12. There was no grandpa. My dad was around for about a year when he got out of prison, but he violated and went back. Now he’s been out for about a year again, and I’m living with him. He works at a hospital cleaning equipment. Three of my brothers live with me. I have four brothers: 17, 18, 19, and 20. They all have different moms. And They’re all in Clanton—it’s a Valley gang. I’m gang affiliated. I got jumped in for 13 seconds. Sometimes you have to go on different missions. No I didn't get humped in, I’m a virgin. If you get humped in, you stay a hoodrat and get used over and over by the homies. I should be in 11th grade, but I dropped out in 8th grade. I don’t go to school. I’ve been to lots of placements, camps. The longest I was home since I was 12 was nine months. I have no history of abuse. I just go AWOL a lot to hang out with my homies. Now I been living with my brother’s baby mama. She’s 17 now. She was 15 when she had her baby. That brother is in jail. He’s the 18 year old. He’s out of state, doing a homicide. If I win my fitness, I’ll get a job. It may be tough because they have me charged with GTA, high-speed pursuit, and attempted murder. It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here. It’s gonna be hard for me to change, but I’m really working on it. My family is the gang, really. My uncles, my aunts, even my grandmother who’s 52 is in a gang. My cousins are the peewees; they do all the work. My dad, he’s a duke. He’s 32. He sells drugs everywhere in LA. I was selling as well. My family’s uncontrollable. My five uncles—t
C.T., age 15: "I got kicked out of school for partying and truancy. I use meth. They have had me here for 2 weeks. I thi
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Richard Ross
1 of 16

Inside America's Juvenile-Detention System

May 26, 2015

As a teacher, I regularly have conversations with my students about how art can and should function. What constitutes an object as belonging in a gallery as opposed to a community? Who instituted these boundaries? Is it possible to make art that occupies both worlds? Finally, can art in either world effect real change? None of these questions are easily answered, or even attempted. The photographic work of Richard Ross dares engage their premise.

Ross is an artist and a professor, though in every sense his work is framed by, and propelled forward with, the cause of social justice. His images (and teaching) have long provided access to invisible sights that regulate bodies through discipline and containment. His 2007 photographic body of work titled Architecture of Authority pictured schools, the corridors of mosques, meeting rooms in the U.N., segregation cells in Abu Ghraib and a capital-punishment death chamber. The images are bleak but arresting; their compositions and color palettes feel almost painterly.

While photographing at a detention center in El Paso for that project, Ross asked the director if he'd ever be so successful that he'd be out of a job and was told, “Not as long as Texas continues locking up 10-year-olds.” Subsequent research revealed that children as young as 7 can be charged as adults in 22 states. Ross launched his Juvenile in Justice series (followed by Girls in Justice) in that moment and worked on it for four years — traveling to hundreds of facilities and photographing thousands of minors — without publishing a single picture.

Artists like Ross will be the first to tell you: for the "fine artist" who makes work that engages themes of social inequality, there emerges an interesting (and often productive) conflict. How does one navigate worlds that tend to not only be cut off, but also in fact negate one another? In making art that operates within both commercial and nonprofit channels, Ross is sensitive to this potential discordance. Though he's represented by a commercial gallery that sells his photographs as fine-art objects, Ross regularly licenses his pictures to socially progressive nonprofits and social-advocacy groups for free or at a nominal charge. In addition he deliberately exhibits his work in university museums. "Where better to show the work," he relates, "but amongst a younger generation who are themselves in the midst of learning about sociology, education, race and gender studies, journalism, political science, social work and law?" Real social reform, after all, comes from some measure of cooperation between all these fields.

This strategy of collaboration is visible across Ross's practice. He is currently working on several theatrical projects — one with Flex Dancers, another with preteens — with the director Peter Sellars. He has also collaborated with the sociologist Victor Rios (a fellow professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara) as well as his wife, the journalist Cissy Ross. The trio teaches a class at UCSB titled, simply, Justice. Though it's offered through the art department, the students are equipped with multiple kinds of constructive tools: they learn to write, think visually and methodize their research on the topic. Guest speakers have included Piper Kerman, the author of Orange Is the New Black; a transgender prison guard at San Quentin; the clinical physiologist Maryam Kia-Keating; and the black-studies professor Gaye Theresa Johnson (the latter two speaking to trauma and the African-American experience, respectively). The class visits a juvenile-detention facility, where, says Ross, "they check everything at the door."

It's a feeling Ross has gotten used to. In meeting his subjects, whose faces do not appear in the final photographs, Ross is conscious to be respectful and never assert power over them. Rather, he takes off his shoes and sits on the floor while talking and shooting. "I give them authority over me," he says (not an unimportant gesture in a place where the power usually flows the other direction). Mostly he listens. This exchange, perhaps more than anything else, is the sight of true creative, social and emotional collaboration.

Ultimately, the exchanges haunt Ross. "It is impossible to leave them," he says. "Last week I was talking to a girl who has tried to kill herself repeatedly. She had been raped, homeless, beaten. She was sobbing, body-racking sobs. Because she needs mental-health assistance, is a female and a minor, I wasn't allowed to touch her. All I wanted to do was hold her and tell her that it will be all right. But I'm not allowed to, and it won't be all right." These encounters can be emotionally draining and prompt a feeling of powerlessness, but Ross, who is one of the few conduits to their stories, cannot let up.

The answer to the initial question — how can we measure art's possible impact on human beings and vice versa — is impossible to locate. However, what is clear is that Ross's photographs make courageous strides toward change by inverting (or revealing) systems of power and returning to subjects their sense of worth and humanity.

For more about Richard Ross's Juvenile In Justice project, visit his website.

Carmen Winant is an Assistant Professor of Visual Studies and Contemporary Art History at Columbus College of Art and Design.

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