12:00 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Behind 'Juvenile In Justice': A Discussion With Photographer Richard Ross

Credit Richard Ross

There are about 70,000 young people in juvenile detention centers or correctional faculties in the United States. Richard Ross spent the past seven years documenting the lives of American juveniles who have been housed in these facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist, and, occasionally, harm them. The culmination of this work is a project titled Juvenile in Justice at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University. The exhibit includes 60 large scale images, including some from four counties in Kansas. Aileen LeBlanc talked to Ross about his work.

"I was in Rosemead, California," Ross says.  "I asked the director what percentage of girls in custody had been sexually abused and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said every one of them." 

A young girl at an all-girls level-12 institution in Rosemead, California.
Credit Richard Ross

"I lived with my grandmother for about a year. They had my mom away from me...she was doing heroin and crack. I don't do drugs. Don't really like them. There are no charges against me. I'm here because I am a material witness and I ran away a lot. "  B.B., Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention

I think they cursed me when they named me...They should have named me Devil. - B.B., age 17
Credit Richard Ross

"I went to school next door to this place for eight months. When I went back to regular school I got in a fight in three days. A kid was calling my mom bad names. I punched him and left school and started beating up a car. Cops came for me and I wouldn't put on my seat belt when they put me in their car. So that was another violation. I told them I didn't want to come back here...but here I am. I've been here a week and have a week to go. I'm "sanctioned" for two weeks."  - N.R., Douglas County Juvenile Detention, Lawrence, Kan.

"(This) there because his parents said he was out of control. He’s there doing his homework. You do your homework when you’re at home." - Richard Ross
Credit Richard Ross

Each floor is one mile around. The basketball court gives a sense of scale.

Cook County Detention Center in Chicago, Ill.
Credit Richard Ross

"The skills they learn are how to say 'sir, yes sir,'" Ross says. "It’s a world that teaches kids how to be accountable to a very clear and mapped authority."

Credit Richard Ross

"When I started, I realized kids as young as seven can be taken into custody... into institutions like this. I felt nobody was paying attention to this and nobody knew this existed," Ross says.

Richard Ross spent the past seven years documenting the lives of American juveniles who have been housed in correction facilities.
Credit Hugo Phan

"These are children that have the least voice...from families that have the least resources...from neighborhoods that have the least power." - Richard Ross
Credit Richard Ross

" 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 come in, they come in, they don't knock or anything." - C.T.

C.T., age 15 at the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center.
Credit Richard Ross

"Rooms are 7x10, 8x10. Kids are kept there for days, weeks, months, years... some kids I met were kept for three years or more without a trial." - Richard Ross
Credit Hugo Phan

Juvenile in Justice is at WSU's Ulrich Museum of Art until Sunday, April 13.

This story originally aired on Morning Edition on Feb. 28, 2014.


KPTS Public Television featured "Juvenile in Justice" on their Impact show. You can watch it here: