Richard Ross: Juvenile In Justice - Conversations from Penn State

Uploaded by wpsu on 27.11.2012

[ Multiple Speakers ]
In his latest work,
renowned photographer
and researcher Richard Ross
opens our eyes
to the harsh realities
of America's juvenile
justice system.
For his new book,
"Juvenile Injustice,"
Ross photographed
and interviewed more
than a thousand youths
over a five-year period
in juvenile detention facilities
around the country.
The result is powerful
and haunting.
We'll talk with Ross
about juvenile justice,
the power of the still
and about where he'll be
focusing his camera next.
Here's our conversation
with Richard Ross --
>> Patty Satalia: Richard Ross,
welcome to the conversation.
>> Richard Ross:
Thanks for having me, Patty.
>> Patty Satalia: Before we talk
about your latest photographic
project, Juvenile Injustice,
I want to talk a little bit
about what led you there.
You were probably best known
for I think it was your fourth
book -- the fourth book you ever
wrote, "Architecture
of Authority",
a photographic examination
of how architectural spaces
exert a kind of power
over the people who are
in those buildings.
You did a photographic
examination on museums,
and how art is displayed
on light, on --
"Waiting for the End
of the World", a book which was
about bomb shelters in the US
and across the world.
And these projects took you
literally all around the world.
What -- how did those kinds
of things lead you
to examine juvenile justice
through photographs?
>> Richard Ross:
I was used to working
with architecture.
Only peripherally was I working
with people.
The "Architecture
of Authority" got me some
that I was hoping for,
but didn't quite expect.
>> Patty Satalia:
A Guggenheim --
>> Richard Ross:
A Guggenheim was in the --
>> Patty Satalia: -- fellowship.
>> Richard Ross: --
and some other notices
and shows, just general
recognition amongst a world
that was pretty well spelled
out in terms of my hierarchy
of accomplishment.
And then success is a very
dangerous mistress.
If you fail, you know,
you can go to anywhere,
and have an opportunity
to explore new territory.
When you're successful,
I wasn't sure where to turn.
And being in southern
California, so close to LA
and Hollywood,
the natural instinct is to say
"Son of, or the sequel".
of Authority Part 2" made no
sense, although I was perfectly
willing to keep
on exploring that.
But then I looked
at all the images I had of kids
and spaces that kids occupied,
my kids were --
had gone through high school,
they hated high school.
I looked at the architecture
of high school, I had looked
at the architecture
of the Montessori School,
where everybody sits
on a circle.
We're sitting in a circle now,
which defines us as being equal.
If I would be above you
or you would be above me,
the architecture would say
something different
about who's empowered,
who's subordinate.
When the Presidential candidates
speak from the dais,
it's to elevate them
above everybody else,
intellectually in terms
of authority.
And then I went down to Texas,
and had access to some
of the juvenile system there.
>> Patty Satalia:
Your cousin works --
>> Richard Ross:
My cousin was a
juvenile prosecutor.
And he said come look
at the facilities we have.
And at the end of that visit,
where I photographed
I said do you ever think you'll
be so successful that you'll be
out of a job?
And he said "not as long
as the State of Texas keeps
on making 10-year olds",
and I was taken aback by that.
And then he said Texas isn't,
you know, there's no
notoriety here.
>> Patty Satalia:
Although it has a higher
incarceration rate
than other states.
>> Richard Ross:
High incarceration rate,
but they're very transparent
about, "yes you can come
to Texas to visit
and see our facilities.
We know things are broken.
We value you being willing
to come and explore,
and make your findings known."
But then I discovered
that 22 states instead of --
including the District
of Columbia,
will take kids 7 years old
and older into custody.
>> Patty Satalia: And for things
that are shocking.
In fact, I think
in your book you wrote
about someone who stole a bagel,
and someone from the facility --
the detention facility said this
child doesn't belong here.
>> Richard Ross:
Well that was a great use
of the photographs,
where in Wausau County,
a fifth-grader was taken
into custody.
And when I went to school,
there were no police
in the schools.
Now about 70%
of institutions have
school police.
And Harris County,
which is Texas,
school districts hire their
own police.
So they have autonomy well
beyond even the normal
policing authority.
And when the child took
something, got in a fight,
instead of resolving the
situation as you or I might,
school police were brought in.
They have a certain protocol,
the kid had to be brought
into a detention center.
It was 10, 10:30 in the morning,
the mother couldn't get the
fifth-grader until about 6:30 --
single parent --
when she got off work.
And all of a sudden you have a
fifth-grader there in a stark,
concrete cell, no belt
and their shoes
because of suicide watch.
And I had to say to the kid,
don't worry,
your mommy will come
and get you.
It's just -- and that --
the administrator said can I
have you image
and show the principals,
and say to the principals,
"when you bring
in the school police,
this is the protocol
that you invoke.
This is not a place for kids,
therefore, change
your procedure."
>> Patty Satalia:
This photographic exploration
took you five years to complete.
And in effect it's really
in a lot of ways an ongoing
process because --
>> Richard Ross:
It hasn't stopped.
>> Patty Satalia: Yes,
it hasn't stopped.
It took you to --
you talked with 1,000
incarcerated youth in 31 states,
and visited 200
or so facilities.
How difficult was access?
You mentioned
that it was relatively easy
in Texas, and actually
Pennsylvania turned
out to be a welcoming state.
But in general,
how difficult was access?
>> Richard Ross:
It's all a negotiation,
and my practice as an artist,
normally people sometimes have a
question about photography
as art, but sort
of 1930s argument.
But when they realize that most
of my practice now is
on the phone or on a computer,
each image I take probably
represents anywhere from 10
to 100 emails.
By the time I get
into a facility, fly there,
sit in the cell,
because from the "Architecture
of Authority" project,
I've discovered
that the best way to get access
to a kid is to sit on the floor
of an 8 by 10 cell,
and spend a half an hour
with the kid above me,
so that they have the authority
and the power to realize
that I'm not the tall,
old white guy that's giving them
but they're
in authority above me.
They can cut me off at any time.
>> Patty Satalia:
Most were willing to talk --
interested in talking.
>> Richard Ross:
They're teenagers,
they're bored,
they're drama kings and queens.
They're glad somebody's paying
attention to them, and I'm glad
to be listening to them.
>> Patty Satalia:
You said that this project,
that you burned bridges in front
of you as a result
of this project.
And we should note
that these images you're giving
to people for free
to distribute them,
which isn't something --
>> Richard Ross:
Great marketing strategy.
So it's sort
of like the joke I lose money
on every suit I sell,
but I make it up in volume.
I'm doing it with some support
from the Annie E. Casey
getting the Guggenheim help get
me the time and little bit
of funds to really start
this project.
But I had to keep my mouth shut
about it for the first five
years I was doing it.
Because if people understood the
power of the photographs,
and started really --
administrators saw the body
of evidence that I had,
they wouldn't let me in there.
It would be really burning the
bridges in front of me.
But then in October,
Rick MacArthur,
who's the publisher of Harper's,
who did the introduction to the
of Authority" book, I --
some of my friends knew
about the work.
And he said you've done a
longitudinal study,
you've got a significant body
of research.
Let us publish it.
We'll give you as much space
as you want,
we'll let you write anything
you want.
Whatever you want to do,
we'll give it to you,
but you should publish it now.
>> Patty Satalia: The isolation
and the despair that you feel
when you look
at these photographs is really
-- words aren't adequate
to describe that.
And these are pictures
of kids mostly from the back.
If they aren't from the back,
their faces are blurred,
this is one
of the things you negotiated
because of course
they're minors.
Talk a little bit about --
you said the power
of the photograph,
what are these images doing?
>> Richard Ross: Well,
no matter what,
they describe the conditions.
An administrator can make it the
most beautiful room possible,
they can do their best,
but if you have a Four Seasons
room and the door is locked,
you're a prisoner,
no matter what the facilities.
Your liberty is taken away
from you.
Here I obscured the kids' faces
because I wanted to generalize,
you know, not only a memorandum
of understanding,
so that it wasn't just a
caricature of that kid.
You could see about the age
of the kid, the gender,
the race of the kid,
but you could identify
and you could empathize more
of all the things we did
when we were teenagers.
Teenagers by definition
screw up.
>> Patty Satalia:
Delinquency is part
of adolescence.
>> Richard Ross:
And the whole problem --
one of the problems here is
that we've criminalized normal,
abnormal teenage behavior.
Rather than dealing with it
on a rational basis,
we've created a set
of procedures that criminalize,
demonize, and incarcerate kids,
when the majority
of them are being
normal teenagers.
>> Patty Satalia:
On a given day,
how many youth are incarcerated
in juvenile detention facilities
across the country?
>> Richard Ross:
Depending on how you define
detention, the statistics range
anywhere from 70
to 90,000 kids per day.
>> Patty Satalia: Per day,
at a cost of 88,000 dollars per
year per child,
which is almost three times --
it's more than three times what
it costs --
or almost three times what it
costs to incarcerate an adult.
>> Richard Ross: Again,
it's one of those situations
if you look at the figures --
and Annie Casey is great
for collecting data --
but I shot up at Alameda
Detention Center,
which is Oakland, California.
They spend 224,000 dollars per
year per kid,
so that's almost a quarter
of a million dollars.
>> Patty Satalia:
And it's 8,000 dollars a year
for college --
a year of college.
>> Richard Ross:
Well now the State
of California raises tuition,
and my students
at UC Santa Barbara can't get
into classes,
because so much money is spent
on incarcerating kids,
and not enough is spent
on educating kids.
>> Patty Satalia:
How did we get into this?
Why do we incarcerate youth
who according to this book
and others,
kids who pose relatively little
risk -- there are kids in there
who have murdered,
but most of them are
in for non-violent offenses.
>> Richard Ross: About --
again, I'm a photographer,
I am not a criminologist,
I'm not a sociologist.
But from what I've read,
from who I've spoken to,
about 12.5% of the kids are --
that are in there may be defined
as sociopath.
A lot of them have emotional
and mental health needs
that aren't being addressed,
a lot of them come from poverty,
a lot of them come
from unsupervised
or under-supervised homes.
For a lot of them,
the educational process
has failed.
And there are --
for example,
there are a tremendous number
of kids that are in there
for status offenses,
but they do something wrong
they're put out on probation,
they violate probation --
>> Patty Satalia:
Violation of parole.
>> Richard Ross: -- because --
or probation,
it depends on how
they're categorized.
But how many kids
in this country have
smoked weed?
And if you're out on probation
or parole, and it's Friday night
with a bunch of your friends,
do you understand the
consequences of your actions?
Has your prefrontal cortex
developed to the level
that it should have developed?
I don't think so.
Sometimes they're given
second chances.
Sometimes there are great people
within the probation system
that really look
to the benefit the kid,
and deal with diversions rather
than incarcerations.
But the numbers don't lie.
We're spending the --
too much money,
and throwing away too many lives
for the wrong reasons.
>> Patty Satalia:
Speaking of second chances,
you are working
at the University of California,
Santa Barbara with Victor Rios,
who got a second chance.
He went on to earn a PhD,
and he works with you
and your wife on --
this book has become a class.
Tell us a little bit about that.
>> Richard Ross: It's great.
I mean we have a
multidisciplinary program
at UC Santa Barbara,
but never quite.
The administration's always
talking about doing a great job,
they never quite figured it out.
So Victor and my wife,
Sissy and I got together
and we said we can do this sort
of under the radar.
And we all met,
and sort of like exchanged notes
in classes,
and rather than changing how
courses were structured,
we scheduled things
at the same time,
and we all would interject each
other into each other's classes,
and open up office hours
for each other's students.
>> Patty Satalia:
So kids are writing
about juvenile justice
for example,
and Rios is a Sociologist.
>> Richard Ross:
He's teaching the methodology,
my wife Sissy is teaching them
academic writing and journalism,
I'm teaching them photography,
and we're all teaching them how
to care, get involved,
and have a voice
in the procedure.
And then we brought
in all speakers, the --
brought in the Editor
from Colors Magazine
from Venice,
Bart Lubow [phonetic] came
from DC, the Police Chief came,
David Inocencio
who writes the Beat
Within with kids
within detention centers,
he came, Karen Grau
who is a filmmaker
from Ohio came.
And people were so generous.
They would come gratis,
or just for minimal expenses.
And everybody was behind getting
this program going,
and it's become something.
>> Patty Satalia:
And in fact you credit Bart
Lubow with changing your anger
at what you saw
into effective advocacy.
>> Richard Ross:
He's very soft-spoken,
he's very well-mannered,
and he's taught me
that getting --
I have a limited number
of battles I can fight,
and when I get frustrated
with getting
into different systems,
I have to figure out the energy
versus the reward,
and figure out where I can apply
my work, where I can gather the
research I'm doing,
and where I have to avoid it,
where I have
to avoid just getting
so mad at people.
>> Patty Satalia: You --
one of the --
I think one
of the proudest moments
as a result
of this photographic exploration
is a Senate Subcommittee used
your images as part
of a discussion
on Federal Legislation
to prevent pretrial juveniles --
kids who have been detained,
but they have not yet been
to trial --
from being housed with kids
who have committed
serious crimes.
And you said,
"it's great to know
that your work quote was being
used for advocacy,
rather than the masturbatory art
world I grew up in".
>> Richard Ross:
You can say that.
Yeah, my world had a certain
hierarchy of the exhibitions
at the major museums,
the books being recognized
by certain people,
that was what I grew up in,
that was the --
what I felt I was pleasing my
parents, who were long gone,
with the expectations
of what a project should be
in terms of being celebrated
or recognized.
And now being able
to write a letter to a judge
in Miami, regarding a kid that's
been held for four years
and four months without a trial,
in spite of the 6th Amendment.
And knowing
that that judge feels
that he's a little
under scrutiny
of a broader public
with his actions gives me a
degree of satisfaction.
Knowing that the work
that the Supreme Court ruled
that kids under 16 cannot be
sentenced to life
without parole, a suit brought
by the Equal Justice Initiative
of Montgomery,
Alabama about three months ago,
and a 5 to 4 ruling
that you can't give kids life
without parole,
maybe my work had --
action had some tiny bit
of moving things along.
Statistics are critical,
legal briefs are critical.
But then you look
at these kids' faces, blurred
or not, and you know
that there are lives
at stake here.
It's a great feeling.
>> Patty Satalia:
In fact each photograph
in this book --
and there are about 150
of them -- have a little story.
There's one
that I really can't shake.
It's a young man reclining
on a cot, and he's holding a
piece of paper
with his personal timeline.
And it's literally one disaster
after another
from the day he was born --
abusive parents,
drug-addicted mother,
stepfathers who beat him.
You know, there's some who talk
about being electrocuted,
hands burned, young girls,
all of them in one facility
that you visited in Rosemead,
every one of them had been
sexually abused prior
to their incarceration.
>> Richard Ross:
I asked the director
of that institution what
and he said every one.
And it floored me.
And then he turned around
and said most
of the boys are physically,
mentally, and sexually abused
as well.
So you look at these kids
as being horrendous.
We went through the 90s
with the concept
of super predators.
Very few people have stopped
and really looked
at these kids whose victims,
not only of their environment,
but of the system,
of society as well,
and figure out how
to be restorative
to these kids instead
of being biblical,
and dealing with retribution
against these kids.
>> Patty Satalia:
And with what effect?
One of the things
that Bart Lubow says is
that the real tragedy is
that it's unnecessary
and ineffective, that the longer
that these kids are
the more likely they --
the recidivism rate is to go up.
>> Richard Ross:
As soon as a kid --
every kid screws up.
That's the definition
of a teenager.
You have to screw up.
If you're a kid of color,
the chances of you being brought
into a system that's harsh
or penalizing is
so disproportional
to general society.
When a kid crosses
that threshold of any sort
of detention system,
where they are a prisoner,
whether they're convicted
or pre-adjudicated,
their chances of succeeding
in life fall about 50% of --
on the other side
of the threshold.
So you talk about kids that are
on the deep end of the system,
that may become
so deeply involved
that they become
that it's really difficult
to save them,
but it's still lives at stake.
And then probably 80% of them,
for one reason or another,
if you think they're kids
that have their toes touching
the water, and can be diverted
into useful lives
if given the right resources.
And I'm trying to give evidence
as to who these kids are,
and allow policy makers
to use images
to frame the conversation,
to change the way policy is now,
but also going around to places
like Penn State and trying
to influence another generation.
So it's multifold
in my strategy here.
>> Patty Satalia:
You mentioned race a moment ago,
and there are some photographs
where everyone featured is black
or hispanic.
What did you see going
around the country and looking
at these juvenile
detention facilities?
>> Richard Ross: A lot of faces
of color, a lot of kids
that come from backgrounds
of privation.
And you go into this thinking
well a lot of these kids deserve
to be there, it's not true.
A lot of these kids are not
affiliated as gang members,
the minority, or the hardcore.
But they talk about their lives.
We talked previously about,
you know, the 2-year old,
the unsupervised,
the 12-year old mother,
babies having babies,
the grandparents raising
a generation.
The one kid
in Florida has been there 4
and a half years,
his mother was a 30-year
crack addict.
He hasn't been to trial yet.
There is a 6th Amendment
in this country,
but these are kids --
>> Patty Satalia:
That's guaranteeing everyone a
speedy trial.
But there isn't a ruckus though
if it's a teenager
who is waiting four years
for a trial?
>> Richard Ross: I sit there
and I talk to kids
that have no voice,
from families
that have no resources,
from neighborhoods
that have no power.
And they're the far end
of the spectrum,
that something happens
to my kid, I'm going
to be there, not tomorrow,
I'm going to be there
within the hour to advocate
and pay attention to them,
and make sure they're not
in the system.
But these kids,
they don't have somebody
speaking for them.
So when I turned around
and did this blog, which I --
this is my world now, and Tweet
and Facebook,
it became important
to use the first person
narrative, so that their voices
could be heard really directly,
instead of me describing them
as he said or she said.
I'm using their voice
to come forward.
>> Patty Satalia:
One of the things
that Bart Lebow
>> Richard Ross: Lubow.
>> Patty Satalia: --
Lubow, excuse me,
writes in your book
in the Forward is
that the tide is finally
changing, that in recent decades
there's been a dramatic
reduction in
youth incarceration.
And I'm wondering for those
who think we should be locking
all of these kids up,
what impact has that had --
the reduction --
on public safety?
>> Richard Ross:
It hasn't increased crime.
So you can look at charts,
which are very complicated
to look at,
which is why I'm doing
to supplement complicated data.
And as states have increased
incarceration of kids,
the crime rate has gone down.
As states have decreased the
incarceration of kids,
the crime rate has gone
down as well.
So there's no correlation
between locking up kids
and increasing public safety.
It doesn't exist.
And there's clear, hard,
empirical data
that it's not effective in terms
of helping society,
and it's wasting resources.
>> Patty Satalia:
You said once also,
"I respect artists that deal
with surface, texture, shape,
form, and concept,
but my heart lies with people
who try to change the world,
and feel they can have a
difference in making people
think differently".
Do you remember the moment
that your focus,
your passion changed?
>> Richard Ross:
It's been a series of moments,
but it -- my wife would kill me,
but my most satisfying moments
now, with a bad back and all,
sitting in a jail cell in Miami
for example,
which is way too cold, concrete,
and just spending three
or four hours with a kid --
one kid, another kid,
and listening to their story.
And I just think I could,
you know, I could be the normal
average American sitting there
on a Sunday or a Monday,
watching TV,
watching a football game
with friends, but I'm in Miami,
and I'm listening
to this kid tell me what his
life is, and asking him
about his father, his mother,
Boo, his brother,
this guy, that guy.
And it's so unbelievably
rewarding that as I'm doing it,
I just think I'm so privileged,
it's amazing.
I don't know how I got here,
but I'm so grateful to be
in this cell.
>> Patty Satalia:
And you feel a responsibility
to do something
with that experience.
>> Richard Ross: How do you not?
You have to share this,
you have to.
I've spent a lifetime
in like museums,
showing the world attics
and basements
that they can't get to,
to bomb shelters,
trying to explore a world
of people that are survivalists,
or fear the ultimate apocalypse.
And it's always been trying
to gather information that's
been not available.
And here I am
in the mother lode of that.
>> Patty Satalia: Alright,
Richard Ross, thank you so much
for talking with us.
>> Richard Ross:
Pleasure being here.
>> Patty Satalia:
I hope you enjoyed our
conversation with Richard Ross.
Comcast subscribers can watch
this program anytime
on Penn State On Demand.
Find out how
through our website:,
where you'll also be able
to view photographs
from Ross' book,
"Juvenile Injustice."
I'm Patty Satalia.
We hope you'll join us
for our next "Conversations
from Penn State".
>> If you have enjoyed
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>> This has been a production
of WPSU.