EDMOND — After seven years of documenting the stories of America's troubled youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers, Richard Ross has seen a lot of heartbreak.
“They treat kids horrifically, and institutions bully those who are least powerful,” Ross said.
The California professor and photojournalist first began documenting corrections by photographing the architectural spaces of America's prisons for his book “Architecture of Authority.” Over the last several years, Ross has placed children in the scope of his lens with his latest and ongoing project, “Juvenile in Justice.”
Ross has interviewed more than 1,000 minors in 31 states, including children housed in two Oklahoma detention centers, for the project. He said the parallels between adult and juvenile corrections are often stark, and the similarities in the children's circumstances are hard to ignore.
“They are born to situations of poverty and deprivation and poor education,” Ross said. “They make poor choices, and then we beat them up and we eliminate the possibility of them making any better choices.”
Ross said he hopes his work will not only showcase to the average person how deplorable the conditions within the facilities are, but also inspire them to make societal changes to better the chances for America's youth.
“I want to change the legislative and judicial practice, and I want to frame the issue for the next generation of people coming up to not accept this as a given,” Ross said.
“Why do you have to put children into these institutions to get them the resources that they need? Why aren't there drug counselors, why aren't there mental health counselors in the communities and the schools that they live in? What's the point in taking them away from their families?”
Juvenile detention centers like the ones documented in Ross' project are most often closed off from public view, and the average person is unaware of what life is like for children in the system, said Elizabeth Maier, assistant professor of criminal justice at The University of Central Oklahoma.
“Mr. Ross' work sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of the American justice system,” Maier said in a news release. “His photographs and future book will provide citizens with an opportunity to see a glimpse on part of the juvenile justice system.”