Daily Picture Show

An Unusual Glimpse Behind Bars: Juveniles In The Justice System

This 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job. i i

hide captionThis 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job.

Richard Ross/Juvenile-In-Justice
This 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job.

This 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job.

Richard Ross/Juvenile-In-Justice

In the confines of jail cells, photographer Richard Ross documents children's experiences. He snaps pictures without revealing his subjects' faces, aiming to "give them a voice."

The Juvenile-In-Justice project includes photographs of more than 100 facilities in 30 states. The project's website has numerous images and quotes from incarcerated children.

Shooting compelling images in a bare, 8-by-10-foot cell is not an easy task, the veteran photographer tells The Picture Show in an email. Neither is "coming up with a new solution that respects the juveniles' privacy, identity and still gives a feel of what the space is, without being boring or predictable."

His images highlight scarred arms, bright jumpsuits and angular, empty cells. They show a variety of facility conditions and inmates of different genders and ages.

One photograph shows a small 12-year-old looking over papers in his cell. He says he was sent to the facility for fighting with another boy.

Ross argues in a caption that "institutionalizing juveniles and branding this as criminal behavior rather than dealing with it as normal behavior wrongly places juveniles in places they should not be."

  • The Orleans Parish Prison in Louisiana is an adult facility with a wing for juveniles. On this day, the air conditioning is not working. There was a fight the night before, so the inmates lost privileges for TV, cards and dominoes.
    Hide caption
    The Orleans Parish Prison in Louisiana is an adult facility with a wing for juveniles. On this day, the air conditioning is not working. There was a fight the night before, so the inmates lost privileges for TV, cards and dominoes.
    Richard Ross/Juvenile-In-Justice
  • The Hillsboro Treatment Center in Missouri is a maximum security center. D.N,  age 17, has been there two years for armed robbery. "You should ALWAYS give someone another chance," he says.
    Hide caption
    The Hillsboro Treatment Center in Missouri is a maximum security center. D.N, age 17, has been there two years for armed robbery. "You should ALWAYS give someone another chance," he says.
  • Hale Ho'omalu Juvenile Hall, Honolulu, Hawaii. A new facility has been completed since this photograph was taken. C.C., 16, has been here one week. He is under court order to stay isolated from other kids.
    Hide caption
    Hale Ho'omalu Juvenile Hall, Honolulu, Hawaii. A new facility has been completed since this photograph was taken. C.C., 16, has been here one week. He is under court order to stay isolated from other kids.
  • Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention 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.
    Hide caption
    Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention 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.
  • "I got into a fight with a blood. I didn't get hurt in the fight, but when they put me in solitary I punched the wall and broke my hand in three places." -R.C., age 15, Spofford Juvenile Center (later known as Bridges Juvenile Center), Bronx, N.Y.
    Hide caption
    "I got into a fight with a blood. I didn't get hurt in the fight, but when they put me in solitary I punched the wall and broke my hand in three places." -R.C., age 15, Spofford Juvenile Center (later known as Bridges Juvenile Center), Bronx, N.Y.
  • Red Cliff Ascent is a privately-owned wilderness camp outside Springville, Utah. "I have to wear this red jumpsuit because I'm a 'flight risk.'" - P.C, age 15.
    Hide caption
    Red Cliff Ascent is a privately-owned wilderness camp outside Springville, Utah. "I have to wear this red jumpsuit because I'm a 'flight risk.'" - P.C, age 15.
  • Most of the kids at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua have come from horrific situations of abuse, drugs and addiction.
    Hide caption
    Most of the kids at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua have come from horrific situations of abuse, drugs and addiction.
  • "I've been here a week — I have one more week to go. I'm here for a (probation) violation. I was put here originally on battery charges (a fight with another boy). When Youth Services were called to take me, I didn't want to get in the car, so I didn't put on my seat belt — that gave me another violation." — N.T., age 12.
    Hide caption
    "I've been here a week — I have one more week to go. I'm here for a (probation) violation. I was put here originally on battery charges (a fight with another boy). When Youth Services were called to take me, I didn't want to get in the car, so I didn't put on my seat belt — that gave me another violation." — N.T., age 12.

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The online galleries feature testimonies with the children's ages and other background information, which add more context to the faceless bodies. But Ross says the act of hiding identities sends a message of its own.

"By not showing the faces, I can imply shame or a sense of universality," he says.

The goal, Ross says, is to hand over the photographs to "organizations that have better data and more skills at advocating for policy change than I do. I hope this will better arm them to show a human side to their statistics."

Juvenile-In-Justice has required a high level of perseverance and negotiation, Ross says.

"I had to try and convince many, many people I was working with them in a spirit of bonhomie," he says. "Yet, I still had to allow the images to be critical or comment on the situation, while not violating the trust of the people I was dealing with."

The photographer has a forthcoming book featuring his photos of the juvenile justice system.

"After the years and years of work I have done in many fields on many assignments," Ross says, "this is the one that has been the most rewarding."

PBS NewsHour also interviewed Ross and produced a video about his work.

PBS NewsHour/YouTube

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