Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention in America

On any given night in the U.S., there are approximately 60,500 youth confined in juvenile correctional facilities or other residential programs. Photographer Richard Ross has spent the past five years criss-crossing the country photographing the architecture, cells, classrooms and inhabitants of these detention sites.The resulting photo-survey, Juvenile-In-Justice, documents 350 facilities in over 30 states. It’s more than a peek into unseen worlds — it is a call to action and care.

“I grew up in a world where you solve problems, you don’t destroy a population,” says Ross. “To me it is an affront when I see the way some of these kids are dealt with.”

The U.S. locks up children at more than six times the rate of all other developed nations. The over 60,000 average daily juvenile lockups, a figure estimated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), are also disproportionately young people of color. With an average cost of $80,000 per year to lock up a child, the U.S. spends more than $5 billion annually on youth detention. On top of the cost, in its recent report No Place for Kids, the AECF presents evidence to show that youth incarceration does not reduce recidivism rates, does not benefit public safety and exposes those imprisoned to further abuse and violence. Ross thinks his images of juvenile lock-ups can, and should, be “ammunition” for the ongoing policy and funding debates between reformers, staff, management and law-makers.

“Some of these kids really don’t stand a chance at all. Have they committed crimes? Yes. But has society failed in the social contract to keep these kids in a safe environment? Absolutely.”

This is obviously terrible, but I’d also like to point out that there are also detention centers that are much different.  My dad works at a juvenile court, and oversees some of the detention center attached to it as part of his job.  It is a brand new building, only opened in the past year.  There is a recreational area.  There is a nice food area.   Cells are small, but lead to a common room which has Foosball, video games, and smart-boards.  But getting funding for that — was extremely difficult.