Photographer Brings Stories of Juveniles In Justice

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IU NewsNet on 4/23/2018

Photo taken by Richard Ross of a 12-year-old at Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Nationally-acclaimed photographer, Richard Ross, brings his work “Juvenile In Justice” to Bloomington for the month of April. His photos show the treatment and containment of children in detention centers and have been featured by CNN, NPR, TIME Magazine, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post and more. The artist visited Bloomington for two days and held events, discussions and workshops for the community. Ross’s photos look into the lives of these children, he says his goal is to use his photos to promote policy change.

Unlike other photographers, Ross says his photos don’t belong in an art gallery. After 12 years of photographing and interviewing children in detention, he says his photos must be displayed where the policy-makers and public officials will see them.

“I’m more interested in getting people not of my point-of-view to listen to a discussion about how to treat kids more humanely, more financially effectively, morally more effectively,” Ross said.

He says mostly artists visit art galleries and they already understand the implications of his photos. The power is in the City Hall, and he says the power can make the changes for these children.

“My work is important because it gives a face to kids in the justice system,” Ross said.

While in Bloomington, Ross met with Bloomington city officials and he says he wants them to be influenced by what he saw. Other events included an artist talk, postcard writing to juveniles in detention, a photography workshop, a billboard downtown and a play about his work titled Juvie Talk. Additionally, he is selling two books with detailed stories from the children in his photos.

“When you tell a story it has more impact in swaying people’s minds,” Ross said. “It’s hard to describe it but it gives me great pleasure to be able to help other people in this world and if I’ve got the ability to do it, the I’m going to put my effort into it.”

Richard Ross’s work shows children in small rooms experiencing inhumane conditions, but Monroe County, Indiana has an alternative. Instead of detention, children attend an after-school program where they focus on education, skill-building and community service.

The program is called the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative or JDAI, and it is now a statewide program. Through the Family Solutions Day Treatment and Day Reporting center, minors are also offered a GED program or school tutoring.

Monroe County Juvenile Probation Supervisor, Christine McAfee, says they do everything in their power to keep children out of detention centers.

“We are trying so hard to make sure that what we’re doing is in the best interest of the child,” she said.

Since 2014, when the program began, McAfee says the JDAI program has focused on teaching life skills, counseling, and how to bring the children closer to their families. Most importantly, the JDAI program works to decrease the amount of racial discrimination within the juvenile justice system.

“Some of our kids are living in pretty dire straights and the idea of doing homework when they’re not sure where’re they’re going to sleep tonight is pretty unrealistic,” McAfee said. “So if we can help prepare them in life and develop those skills, holy cow, we’ve got a whole lot of really good stuff in front of us.”

Monroe County Juvenile Judge, Stephen Galvin, says the number of children in detention has plummeted since the implication of the JDAI program in Indiana.

“We should not be locking up children unnecessarily,” Galvin said. “If we can help children without detaining them it’s a plus for the child, its a plus for the family its a plus for the community as a whole,”

Galvin says as a judge he notices that detaining children makes them more likely to reoffend. The JDAI program works towards getting children out of the legal system and making conditions better for those still apart of it.

“We need to give them hope,” Galvin said. “We are trying to give them a place in the social order and convince them that there’s hope.”

Judge Stephen Galvin and Christine McAfee were just two of the city officials who met with Richard Ross during his visit to Bloomington. Ross says he is working with the JDAI program to spread the initiative to more places he brings his photography. “Juvenile In Justice” will be on display at Bloomington City Hall until April 30.