Photographs That Go Inside America’s Troubled Juvenile Justice System

Right now, there are over 70,000 kids behind bars in the United States, some of whom are serving time for crimes committed when they were as young as 12 years old. 33 of our states set no age limit for criminal responsibility, meaning that alarmingly young kids can be tried in criminal court, and the states that do have a limit still allow children under the age of 10 to be tried criminally. The United States is also the only country in the entire world that allows children to be locked up for life without parole.

While reading these statistics shocks the conscience, it can be hard to truly wrap one’s mind around the numbers—but a new exhibit by photographer Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justice, makes it much easier to grasp this grim reality. Ross set out to create a visual inventory of our juvenile justice system, documenting over 1,000 juveniles housed in more than 200 correctional facilities across 31 states. In addition, extensive interviews were conducted in each facility. The identities of the children are protected and their faces are not photographed. This protective aesthetic choice by Ross makes the images especially haunting, rendering an eerie anonymity and emphasizing the often dismal environments these children are kept in.

Ross hopes his project will give viewers a deeper understanding of the conditions of our juvenile justice system, and ultimately instigate policy reform at the legislative level. An interactive map on the project’s website allows users to select correctional facilities by state and peruse galleries of photos from each facility to fully absorb the depth of his work. Those of us in New York can view the project in person at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in SoHo through February 16th.