Finally by richard ross

By Richard Ross “I was in Isolation – the longest stretch was 80 days.”, said my friend Ronald Franklin, who was held for seven years and released about six weeks ago. His call came the same day as the passage of California SB 124, a bill that finally prevents kids in detention from being held in isolation for punishment. After numerous failures the legislature passed it. Ronald was held in Florida where, as in most states, “iso” is a normal form of discipline.

During a visit last year in Santa Barbara—my hometown—I watched a girl get into a dramatic shouting match with a guard. “I don’t care—I know I’m going to do my 72 anyway. I ain’t afraid of you.” She referred to the default procedure of three days in solitary. The policy around the country can vary. It is usually dealt as 23 hours in a closed cell, without a mattress, books or any diversion. It varies. Often kids are let out for one hour of “large muscle movement.” There are few states where this is law, but it has become customary.

I experienced the mind numbing boredom of 24 hours in an isolation cell in a Midwestern detention center. It was a limited time commitment and experience. It has to drive you crazy. The noise, the concrete walls the color of spit, the smell and the harshness. Yet a few weeks ago Contra Costa County in California passed a county ordinance ending isolation, and the state passed a broader ruling. Are we at a tipping point?

Perhaps there is a caution or a cynicism that warns me, “Will the same people running these places rename isolation to “administrative segregation?” Will there be the same practice under a different name?

Some small part of me believes that I witnessed the nadir of what we do to children who are in our care, and this is another sign of the path to better and more humane treatment of kids.

Take teenagers—who you must look at through the lens of trauma and deprivation—and when they act out lock them in a closet for hours, days or weeks. Who came up with that idea as productive treatment?

_MG_9634 copy

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Ronald is out. He did his time and is now enrolled in a computer technical school.

“What was that 80 days in iso like Ronald?” The normally loquacious 20-year-old went silent for a long period. “Terrible.” was the terse, concise response. He then repeated, “Terrible.” He couldn’t talk about it further. It had done too much damage.

We have damaged our children and ourselves too much by using this practice.

June 2nd, 2015 is the day that legislature was passed. Now it is critical that administrators of juvenile institutions “buy into” the idea that we can and should do better. The institutions have to be accountable, and there has to be people monitoring behavior of not only the children, but the custodians responsible for them. There will be a formal system in place. But, there also must be the will to understand that this is the current law of the land in California and it is going to be enacted in other states. Although an already sun-parched state, this is a lovely ray of sunshine in California.

"When you lead this life . . ." by richard ross

I’ve been here five months. I live in North Hollywood. This is my seventh time here. I was born in Koreatown. I was living with my dad and four brothers. My mom is not in the picture. My dad was in jail until I was 12. My grandma raised me from two to 12. There was no grandpa. My dad was around for about a year when he got out of prison, but he violated and went back. Now he’s been out for about a year again, and I’m living with him. He works at a hospital cleaning equipment. Three of my brothers live with me. I have four brothers: 17, 18, 19, and 20. They all have different moms. And they’re all in Clanton—it’s a Valley gang. I’m gang affiliated. I got jumped in for 13 seconds. Sometimes you have to go on different missions. No, I didn't get humped in, I’m a virgin. If you get humped in, you stay a hoodrat and get used over and over by the homies.

It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here.

I should be in 11th grade, but I dropped out in 8th grade. I don’t go to school. I’ve been to lots of placements, camps. The longest I was home since I was 12 was nine months. I have no history of abuse. I just go AWOL a lot to hang out with my homies. Now I’ve been living with my brother’s baby mama. She’s 17 now. She was 15 when she had her baby. That brother is in jail. He’s the 18 year old. He’s out of state, doing a homicide. If I win my fitness, I’ll get a job. It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here. It’s gonna be hard for me to change, but I’m really working on it.


When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

My family is the gang, really. My uncles, my aunts, even my grandmother who’s 52 is in a gang. My cousins are the peewees; they do all the work. My dad, he’s a duke. He’s 32. He sells drugs everywhere in LA. I was selling as well. My family’s uncontrollable. My five uncles—three are in jail for murder, two for attempted murder. My aunts are in for 211—deadly weapons. I’ve got one brother fighting murder, another brother in and out of juvie, they’re all dope related, they’re all in the gang . . . my family is the gang. When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

-L.V., age 16


**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children by richard ross




In 2005, Vicky Gunderson’s 17-year-old son, Kirk (pictured above), committed suicide while in solitary confinement in a Wisconsin jail. Here's her story:


"As a mother, not being able to hug and comfort my son when he was alone in a concrete box was like the worst form of hell. Knowing our son Kirk ended his own life while being held in solitary confinement, after he requested to not be left alone...I cannot describe that to you. Kirk was only 17. It was two days after Christmas.

Since Kirk’s death I’ve learned that kids as young as 13 are locked up in cells away from human contact for days or months at a time all across the country. It has a devastating impact on their development, especially for those with mental health problems.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has announced a review of its use of solitary confinement. As part of that process, Attorney General Holder can ban the solitary confinement of young people in the care of the federal government. That would help set a standard for all facilities across the country, like the jail where Kirk died.

Please join me in calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to ban solitary confinement of youth held by the federal government."


Please join Vicky Gunderson and Juvenile In Justice in signing the ACLU petition to ban the solitary confinement of children in federal custody:

[Guest Post] End Solitary Confinement of Youth in Adult Jails and Prisons by richard ross

Governors have an historic opportunity through the Prison Rape Elimination Act to do just that:cfyj_prea_teal-01

From Campaign For Youth Justice's Liz Ryan: This year, governors will need to certify that their states are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a law that Congress unanimously approved in 2003, designed to end sexual violence behind bars. To implement PREA, the U.S. Department of Justice issued regulations, including provisions restricting the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations state: “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.” The regulations further ban the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibit contact between youth and adults in common areas, ensure youth are constantly supervised by staff; and limit the use of isolation.

Simply separating youth from adults in adult jails and prisons isn’t enough to protect youth. When officials separate youth from adults in adult facilities under the guise of protection, they are addressing one problem and creating another. In order to keep youth separated from adults, youth are often placed in their cells for excessive periods of isolation—isolation that equates to solitary confinement. The report, “Growing Up Locked Down” released by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, along with Ted Koppel’s March 22, 2013 program about youth in solitary confinement in adult jails and prisons showed the harm this practice causes, including depression, exacerbating already existing mental health issues, and putting youth at risk of suicide. It is crucial that governors implement best practices being set under the PREA to fully protect youth in the justice system—by removing youth from adult jails and prisons and by accessing federal support to undertake new reforms.


Take Action Now: 

Click here to sign the petition, which will be sent to governors nationwide. Your signature makes a difference.

Liz Ryan brings more than two decades of experience to the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), an organization she founded that is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating children in the adult criminal justice system.

Solitary Confinement: A Mother's Perspective by richard ross

 [Guest post by Grace Bauer, Co-Director of Justice 4 Families]




In what feels like another lifetime…


It was summer and we decided to take the kids and my mom fishing.  My son wanted to bring his new bike with the training wheels.  As soon as his dad took it out of the truck, he was off.  Happy to have a big place to ride, he had a smile from ear to ear. 



A little while passed and he asked his dad to take the training wheels off.   Once the wheels were off, his dad held on to the back to steady the bike and he began pedaling.  It didn’t take long for him to tell his dad that he could do it and dad should let go.  I held my breath and his dad held on for a minute longer, despite his protests.  Dad was running behind him and then he stopped.  He was right!  He could do it!  Off he went, pedaling like mad, red hair blowing in the wind, yelling the whole time, “I’m doing it!  I’m riding my big boy bike!”        




[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]Solitary confinement, or isolation, is widely used around the country in jails, prisons and detention centers for adults as well as young people.  Until very recently, few people, beyond attorneys, families and advocates, gave it much thought.  Isolation, like so many corrections practices, happens behind the walls of silence, long ingrained into facility culture and practice.  In our punishment-oriented society, we tend to think those behind bars deserve whatever they get.  This kind of thinking is fueled by a distorted sense of fear created by media and political rhetoric so much so that falling crime rates and research showing the failure of such practices barely register in society’s consciousness.


When a young person enters into secure detention, they typically become isolated from their families and communities.  Exorbitant phone costs, limited visitation procedures and times and placement in facilities long distances from home all add to that sense of isolation.  Often, facilities will have a standard 2-6 week “intake” period where the child is not allowed any visitors and very limited communication by phone.  Given that the majority of children involved in juvenile justice systems come from families who live below the poverty line, many families do not have transportation to reach far away facilities or the extra money to cover the cost of calls that experts describe as “gross profiteering.” These are common practices in detention that fail to take into account the research that demonstrate the critical importance, of maintaining family and community connections, to the successful reentry of young people and to prevent recidivism.


My son is 25 years old.  He has spent the majority of the last 15 years in detention centers, youth prisons, county jails and state prisons.  His sisters have grown up, his niece was born and will celebrate her sixth birthday, our home was lost in a hurricane, a new home was built, his sister started college (and will graduate) and his uncle died, all while he was confined.  He earned his high school diploma but has few job skills, little job experience, no home, no family of his own, few friends and few prospects on the horizon.  We have missed him and his presence in our lives and he has missed life, period.


He will return to society, at some point, along with roughly 800,000 others released each year; 95% of all sentenced inmates.  The “tough on crime” rhetoric may make folks feel better but the reality of mass incarceration impacts everyone in society through lost revenues, increased health cost, lower wages, unemployment, expensive corrections and judicial budgets-- the list goes on and on.  As facilities cut back on the very things that lead to successful reentry, we can expect that young people, returning to society, will return less prepared, more disadvantaged and more deeply scarred.


All of the above and then we add on the deep psychological damage of solitary confinement.  During this video, you can see how isolation looks during a 24- hour period.  You are able to watch the entire day pass in mere minutes.  From the outside looking in, especially in this condensed version, you might believe that isolation isn’t that bad.  In fact, for those of us living in a high tech, ever-connected world, 24 hours of being disconnected might seem like a welcome relief from the endless text messages, calls, voice mails, email and social media alerts!  Before you volunteer yourself, lets think about this from the inside looking out.

When my son was 13 and placed in a notorious juvenile prison, he spent nearly a year in protective custody, AKA solitary confinement.  In those early days we had no information on the damaging effects of solitary and actually felt relief that he felt safe from the rampant violence in the facility.  He was released from state secure care in 2002; four years would pass before we learned the truth about his time in isolation.  It should have been evident that something traumatic and life changing had happened and we certainly saw the signs of something but we didn’t know what.  In 2006, a young man confined with him at the youth prison called to tell us about the day my son was raped by another young person, in solitary, who had been placed in the cell by guards.  Those guards then took bets on which “kid would win”.  My son lost the fight that day. Throughout his years of incarceration, he has experienced solitary confinement in every facility, often for extended periods of time.



Crisis/isolation rooms at the recently built Kapolei Court Complex & Secure Detention, Kapolei, Hawaii. (Richard Ross / Juvenile In Justice)

[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]

I clearly remember the call from my son.  “Mom, this can’t be legal.  This is so wrong!  I can’t believe they are doing this to this man.” This from a young man that never complains about his own stark living conditions, poor treatment, the brutality that is inflicted on him or that he witnesses almost daily or the arbitrary enforcement of rules.  His concern during that call was for another man being held in solitary.  This man, who was a little older than my son, was quite obviously mentally ill.  My son was afraid for this man’s life.  He told me about the man’s behavior over the last few days, including banging his head on the bars and floor hard enough to knock himself out and needing stitches to close wounds, screaming for hours until he was too hoarse to scream anymore, crying uncontrollably for hours, threatening to kill himself and talking to people who weren’t there during hallucinations.  My son, the “criminal”, called me to see if I could find help for this man because he was very concerned that the man was going to hurt himself or take his own life and he felt like the facility staff were ignoring how serious this situation actually was.


From January 25th through May 8th of this year, my son was confined in isolation, though the prison called it “protective custody.”  He was confined for 110 days with the exception of being allowed to take a shower on Monday and Thursdays and use the phone at midnight or later.  Several of his showers and calls were denied for unknown reasons.  The average call lasted 6 minutes. That means that over a 110-day period my son showered approximately 30 times and was able to speak with us for about 3 hours.  In this particular case, my son was confined for his own safety after being stabbed three times during the robbery of his cell.  As his mother, I am grateful that he was kept safe and at the same time, terribly troubled by this prolonged period of isolation and its impact on his mental health.



[feature href=”” buttontext=Go!”] Ready to take action against juvenile isolation? [/feature]


I have witnessed the long-term impact of my son’s time in isolation and prison.  Some nights when I try to sleep, visions of the assaults play in my mind, like a movie that you can’t turn off.  I have sat across from him, trying to maintain my own composure, while mentally cataloging and assessing the bruises and wounds on his body.  I have waited for calls or visits where I can know, at least for a short time, that he is safe and alive.  I listen to him talk about how useless he is and how he has no worth.  I held back tears (at least, in his presence) the day he said, “I’ll never be anything but a criminal.” In the car, on the way home, I cried like a child, as I thought of all the good in him and the future I had once dreamed of for him.  The level of violence and inhumanity that he endures sickens me.  Sometimes, when I can’t hold it off any longer or we experience a new trauma, I cry hard and long for all that he has lost, all we have lost and how far we still have to go.


Day in and day out, we look for ways to keep him up-to-date on the world and engaged in learning.  I marvel at his continued compassion and concern for strangers in such circumstances. His belief that, someday, he will finish serving his time and somehow overcome the numerous and complex barriers he faces inspires me. If he can still feel hopeful, I’ll be damned if I will be the one to take that from him.


Once, he was an honor roll student that was well liked by his teachers and peers.  After a few short months in juvenile detention he became fearful and anxious.  I could not touch him to wake him up. He would strike out blindly in his waking moments out of fear of being assaulted. He cried out in his sleep and suffered from nightmares.  He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and deep depression.  The physical abuse has left him with physical scars but it is the emotional damage, caused by the extreme isolation and exposure to horrific violence at such a young age, that concerns me the most.


My son’s original crime was stealing a stereo out of a truck and breaking the window out of the truck.  He was sentenced to five years for that crime.  We were fortunate to find an attorney to represent him and get him out after a year.  Unfortunately, the damage done in that year was enough to alter his life in ways I could not have imagined. He was grieving for his beloved grandmother and acted out, as adolescents often do in those tumultuous years. The vicious assaults on his body, severe neglect and emotional and verbal abuse he suffered would be considered criminal if I or anyone else, other than the system, had inflicted them upon him.  Yet the state and its employees were allowed to do this kind of harm to him and to thousands of others and there has never been any accountability for those crimes.


Behind the razor wire fences of America’s prisons, there is seldom fair redress of grievances, little accountability to the safety and wellbeing of those housed within those facilities, scant programming, meager education services, woefully inadequate healthcare, widespread racial disparities and the pervasive and systemic abuse of power by those in authority. Study after study, report after report, all confirm the negative impact of isolation and the abject failure of mass incarceration.  The cost benefit analysis, illustrated in volumes of data and research, demonstrate the exorbitant cost we pay to have less public safety, generate more crime and do unnecessary and possibly irreparable damage to those behind bars.


Prisons were supposedly built to lock up those who might harm others and deter crime.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of those goals.  Today, prison walls have become an impenetrable shroud that shields and perpetuates crimes against humanity.  Those walls allow the rest of us to ignore the root causes of crime and save us from having to look at the mass destruction of human lives that our appetite for retribution and punishment have caused.





Grace Bauer is the Co-Director of Justices For Families, a respected leader and a trusted confidant for families seeking justice across the country, and the mother of three children from Sulphur, Louisiana.


"Who am I? Not really anything beyond the gang" by richard ross

IMG_0569 I’ve been here five and a half months. This is my seventh time. First time, I was 15. I am from Santa Barbara. I go to alternative high school. I have about 170 units so I’m about to graduate. I have been to Santa Barbara Junior High School, La Cuesta, Community Day School... I stopped going to school. Now I only do school work when I am here. My mother is a caregiver to an old lady, Dad's in prison on gang and drug related charges. I don’t know how old my Mom is. I think she may be in her 30s... maybe 37. I live at home with my Grandpa, my two brothers and my little sister. Nobody visits me here.


The first charges against me were petty theft, felony vandalism... disturbing the peace. Then I started getting some heavier charges like assault with a deadly weapon, possession with intent to sell, narcotics charges. Mostly marijuana. The police would call me gang affiliated. I was at Los Prietos a couple of months ago. Been there three times. Third time I didn’t finish. I don’t want to be there. I’m over it. Same shit over and over again. I don’t like being locked up but I don’t really care...I do care but if it happens, it happens. I’m not going to cry about it. I’m here on new charges, I was with my homeboys and we fucked up this other guy’s car. Also got an assault on a police officer here. Staff tried to put his hands on me so I hit him. I’ve been pepper sprayed twice in here and once at Los Prietos. I’m inside the room because I am on ISO (Isolation) for breaking a computer keyboard at school. I been here two weeks straight. I got into a bunch of fights. I never really cared about my life, then I got a girlfriend and I cared about her. She hasn’t called or written since I’ve been here. She left me hanging. She was special... Now I’m here. It sucks but I can’t do shit about it. I just have to deal with it. Who am I? Not really anything beyond the gang, just my legal name.


- K.N, age 17, at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, Santa Maria, California.


[audio interview] Both sides of the bars: K.X, age 19, and the superintendent by richard ross

Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility is an all-female facility in Albany, Oregon. The only one in the state. Last month Richard Ross spent 12+ hours talking, photographing, and recording the people who live and work at Oak Creek. The following post focuses on two perspectives: K.X, a young woman in insolation at Oak Creek and Mike Riggan, the superintendent of Oak Creek…[See all blog posts on Oak Creek HERE] 

Image by Richard Ross for Juvenile-in-Justice.  

[superquote]“I’m in isolation at Birch. [During the day] you can't lay down, gotta sit up. If they see you laying down they take away your mattress." [/superquote]

[superquote] I started doing a lot of stuff when my sister left: snorting powder, popping pills... I thought I was grown." [/superquote]

- K.X, age 19.


“We do have good staff here. K.X, the girl in isolation, unfortunately, chose to assault another youth and refused to stop when staff intervened. Staff was hit by her as a consequence of her refusing to stop. O.Y.A (Oregon Youth Authority) has a Matrix that was put into place a few years ago. Any decision to place a youth in isolation is in accordance with the policy and plan. This young woman, who has a history of assault and has been at Oak Creek before, can be very intimidating to other youth and is a bona fide gang member. I think this dynamic is something Casey misses, that fact that these kid’s (gang affected) loyalty is to their gang and family ties are subordinated to their gang identification. They will often put in work, usually in the form of assaults and managing it is a chore. I think what also gets lost is there is a victim(s) in these assaults and separating the youth until the dust settles and giving everyone a break is the safest bet." [superquote]"Now whether isolation is the right method, I don’t know. I do know that financially, to wrap a single program around this girl that is staff secure would be difficult." [/superquote]  

- Mike Riggan, Superintendent of Oak Creek.

[See more blog posts from Oak Creek HERE]  

A.W, age 16, Youth Training Center, Elko, NV by richard ross



I’m from southern California originally. I was living in Las Vegas, partying a lot,  doing lots of drugs and trying to be a DJ. My Mom is emotionally distant and my step dad is very aggressive. One’s Catholic and the other is a Jehovah’s Witnesses. They really don’t like that I am gay.

I am here for curfew violation and running away from rehab. I use X, Acid, MDMA, Alcohol. I shouldn’t be in rehab as I stop doing drugs whenever I want. I am not addicted to anything--I just take different drugs when I want. Rehab wasn’t right for me-so I ran away. A lot of guys here think they can have sex with me anytime they want because they are in prison so it doesn’t make them gay. It doesn’t count as long as they are giving rather than getting. These are a bunch of closet fags and a lot of homophobics. If I report them to the staff they hate me. Being gay in a place like this is hell. Being trans? I can’t even imagine that nightmare. I am here for 4-6 months…but I am not sure I will make it.

  - A.W, age 16

There is a relationship among the last several postings: isolation and sexual identity. LGBTQ juveniles are more frequently ostracized by their families and friends, this loss of support leads to a higher degree of homelessness and criminal behavior to survive. Once the criminal behavior results in institutionalization, there can be further isolation or abuse from staff or peers. All juveniles have multiple issues they are dealing with--these adolescents have the added burden of unconventional sexual identity that makes their status much more fragile.

Statistics from Youth Pride 

the EQUITY project

A.S, age 17, Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, Kailua, HI by richard ross

HYCF, Kailua, Hawaii

HYCF, Kailua, Hawaii

I am a transgender female. They have me living in an isolation area for the past 7 months I think to protect me against suicide, but also keep me sort of away from the other girls. I have 2 months to go before I turn 18 and can go home.

I don't really spend much of my time at home, mostly I'm on the street with older friends who are part of "that life." They're mostly people who are positive about who I am but also got involved in stuff like burglary, drugs and prostitution. My parents don't really get me, the girls here are welcoming, staff is ambivalent. I don't mind being separate from the other girls, but I miss the interaction. At night it is so noisy that I enjoy the quiet.

- A.S, age 17

Two ways to deal with drama by richard ross



Two solutions for dealing with teenage drama: the first image is the new Kapolei Court Complex & Secure Detention in Kapolei, Hawaii where a juvenile acting out can be placed in an isolation "crisis" room.



Two solutions for dealing with teenage drama: the first image is the new Kapolei Court Complex & Secure Detention in Kapolei, Hawaii where a juvenile acting out can be placed in an isolation "crisis" room. The facility opened in 2010 and was built at a cost upwards of $1 million dollars. It has several crisis rooms. The second photo is from Elliot Assessment Center in Massachusetts. There, a juvenile goes to settle in a plastic $7 dollar Home Depot lawn chair set up at the end of the hallway, staying within sight and sound of their community until internal drama subsides.

click HERE to view more images from Hawaii and click HERE to view more images from Elliot Assessment

Isolation by richard ross


In juvenile treatment facilities, the stay-time in isolation and observation rooms can vary from short-term (like time-out sites) to longer term.

At Giddings State School in Texas, pictured above, kids can be kept in isolation cells for up to 14 days, totally segregated from the general population.