Literacy and Resistance to the School-To-Prison Pipeline by richard ross


"Teaching writing to students of high need in an urban school is simultaneously pedagogical, curricular, and political. Students labeled “at-risk” for school failure often have lowered expectations placed upon them from without that impact how they feel within. Compounding this problem of perception is the real issue of heightened surveillance on these students, including the disturbing trend of involving the police when students break the rules of the school; in addition, their own history of juvenile incarceration often exacerbates their school failure. This article addresses these issues in an urban context, as well as provides insight into literacy teaching that assists students in the acquisition of knowledge, literacy, and expression. "

Abstract: Martin, Jennifer L. and Jane A. Beese. "Talking Back at School: Using the Literacy Classroom as a Site for Resistance to the School-To-Prison Pipeline and Recognition of Students Labeled “At-Risk”." Urban Education, vol. 52, no. 10, Dec. 2017, pp. 1204-1232.

Photo Credit: Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justice. The Multnomah County Department of Community Justice Detention Facility, Multnomah County, Oregon.

Joseph Ligon by richard ross

By Richard Ross

“I may be released before you get here…”

These are the optimistic words of Joseph Ligon.

Joe was incarcerated when he was 15 after a one-day trial for a murder he denies committing. He is in Pennsylvania—one of the three major states (Michigan and Louisiana) that required a subsequent Supreme Court ruling to allow juveniles committed to life imprisonment to have reconsideration. Joe went in when Eisenhower was in his first term, the Korean War was in full swing and the Dodgers (Brooklyn) were playing the Yankees in the World Series.

The images you see are of Ligon during his incarceration. These three states do now allow any photographs of these people with varying excuses that range from victim’s rights to Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Barbara Walters. Regardless of the excuse‚ the result is to keep these people faceless and without voice.

These wordless images should speak volumes about the inhumanity of the juvenile justice system even though they are punctuated by an image of a quiet, humble almost 80-year-old prisoner.

Let facilities take root in our neighborhoods by richard ross

A version of this article was originally published by the NY Daily News.



At age 15, I was arrested for stealing a car and was sentenced to juvenile prison until my 21st birthday. In mid-90s Illinois, the sole female juvenile prison was located in a Chicago suburb, five hours north of my rural town. Visitations were held weekly, but without public transit options, my single mother — who bicycled to work — was unable to come.

In the two decades since, several states have shifted from warehousing delinquents in remote prisons to localizing them in treatment centers that address their psychological needs. In 2012, Gov. Cuomo approved the Close To Home initiative, which relocates young offenders nearer to their communities, where they can restoratively transition back home.

The idea is sound and progressive: Being within MetroCard proximity to their families allows kids to stay in touch with their support networks while receiving transferable school credits, reducing both dropout and re-entry rates. Close to Home facilities offer enhanced counseling services, too.

But not everyone believes in the project — especially not when it’s in their backyard. On Tuesday, residents of South Ozone Park celebrated the city controller’s decision to reject a contract to operate a facility putting up to 18 teenagers in their neighborhood. This comes after months of heated protests and a civil suit filed against the children’s service agency, which locals claim was trying to turn their neighborhood into a dumping ground.

After hearing plans to build a treatment center in Queens Village, neighbors there erupted into their own revolt, vowing to follow South Ozone’s example.

Opponents say they have safety concerns. It can appear they are more motivated by fear of diminished property values. Neither reason justifies blocking the program.

Kids eligible for it are either non-violent offenders like me or do not pose a clear or present danger. They’re just young people in need of a second chance.

If, that is, they’re anything like me. My delinquency started when I was 13, after my parents divorced and my siblings fanned out among friends. I went from a crowded bedroom to an empty trailer and was left confused and angry. I didn’t understand my mother’s need to work 16-hour shifts and sleep during her time off.

I began running away, committing petty crimes and using various substances to numb my sense of loss. By the time I was arrested, I knew that being taken off the streets probably saved my life.

During the first year, letters home were frequent. I sent, “Miss you,” crayoned with blue bubble letters, followed by, “Please send a photo, I’m afraid I’ll forget your face.” Correspondence rapidly dwindled, and in a final note, I wrote, “Sorry for the pain I caused, wish I could have gotten it together sooner.”

I got used to the locking of steel doors, barbed-wire fences and caged windows. Stifled cries echoing down the hall as I tossed in my sleep became home.

After two years, I was paroled for good behavior to a group home in a small town, still out of my mother’s reach. My progression into independent living was hinged upon finding a job — but the revelation of my facility’s address sabotaged employment opportunities. The resentment among the locals in Illinois mirrored the current climate in Queens. My existence had pockmarked their town.

New laws bumped my release date to age 19, but I couldn’t celebrate; I wasn’t really ready to be freed.

Landing in a battered women’s shelter and acquiring a mentor was my turning point. Through her nurturing, I was able to find something positive within myself and walk a different path.

I’m now a 33-year-old college grad who lives near South Ozone with my husband. I’ve been in the city for almost a decade, and as I witness these protests, I’m reminded of how it felt to be loathed by people who didn’t understand my predicament.

If they keep juvenile facilities out of their neighborhood, NIMBY opponents may win a small victory. But it will pose a larger, lasting threat to the city’s future.

Blanchard is a writer and teacher.

Alabama: A Different Approach by richard ross

By Richard Ross Cathy Woods is the assistant director of one of the more progressive juvenile detention centers in the United States: Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center in Alabama. Tuscaloosa isn’t just the home of the Crimson Tide or where George Wallace stood on the schoolhouse steps trying to thwart desegregation; it’s the location of a reasonably progressive, private juvenile hall.

The director’s corner office at the facility is decorated with Alabama pennants, “Roll Tide” accomplishments, autographs and bobbleheads of Bear Bryant. Through some unusual series of events, the day-to-day operation has defaulted to Woods, the assistant director, and her cadre of retired female schoolteachers.

Far from perfect, Tuscaloosa still shackles its children as they are transported from the hall to the enclosed family court next door and takes mattresses from the youth kept in solitary—of which there are too many. Their practices are outdated and this can’t be overlooked, but there’s something about the approach to rehabilitation here that it is unexpected.


Let me explain: across the country the majority of juvenile detention administrators and staff come from mixed backgrounds, often from local law enforcement or military posts. While the traditional tenets of juvenile justice have been rehabilitation, deterrence, and punishment, the rigid and militaristic approach staff bring from their previous professions makes punishment the default. Here in the heart of Alabama, there is a focus on nurturing and rehabilitation.

In the family courtroom next door, Woods sits in on every hearing. She takes the time to drive a girl who was in custody for sex trafficking to a shelter she found for her in Birmingham, and assists her in getting a job at Subway. The detention center is regularly visited by a goat, pig, pony, sheep and a chicken—hardened kids from the inner city are exposed to lives that need them and don’t prejudge them. The kids are forced to step outside of their comfort zones and are encouraged with praise when they are successful with new experiences. It is tempting to attribute this contrast in treatment to the female leadership of the facility, but to credit gender alone would prevent us from getting to the heart of what is so different about this approach.



There is financial support from the community to assist with materials and equipment that couldn’t otherwise be obtained. The effort is spearheaded by Woods, who wears the hat of a smart politician and a development officer along with her official title of assistant director. Emotional support comes from staff within the facility as well as community members surrounding it, both providing attention and patience. There is so much going on here, all with the goal of nurturing the kids rather than punishing.

What they are still lacking and hoping to create is a shelter for kids that acts as an alternative to the detention center. Woods and the family court judge (also female) are adamant as to the need for this. There is only so much that can be done to enhance what a juvenile hall offers. The lack of a non-secure shelter is what all agree is a critical shortcoming. These women don’t want to create more punitive policy, they want to build a space where their kids can feel safe and protected.

Why is it that when searching for people to run juvenile detention facilities, we favor people with military backgrounds to those with teaching or counseling backgrounds? Is it such a radical idea that we hand over leadership of our juvenile detention facilities, perhaps even all detention and corrections facilities, to those who nurture and support rather than discipline and dismiss?

I wonder.

Children of the Abyss by richard ross

By Jason Sexton

It was the end of an era. But one that must be told.

I watched it growing up in Tracy, a California prison town. Older guys would leave for prison. Bay Area rappers spoke of being brought up middle-class yet catching cases, doing “lock-down” in Preston. Fast juvenile crime and doing time earned stripes and cred for a meaningful street economics.

Racist social injustice yielded police brutality that swelled into events like the Rodney King riots. I was expelled from high school that year, my freshman year; a big gang fight.

The wider scenario everyone knew of but didn’t speak much about—someone [anyone!] would sort this out. Lock ‘em all up.

The scenario, especially in the slowly burning-over suburbs, was fueled by transient youth moving around with their families into more affordable living situations, hoping for a better life. Kids need identity, and often found it in gangs and crime. This was the tempest fueling mass juvenile incarceration during California’s 80s and 90s. CYA held over ten thousand in 1996, when I was there. Conservatively, that’s 135% capacity.

But it’s over now. Closing eleven of fifteen prisons in the past twelve years, it’s over. Kids are not held in cages, raped and abused, made to fight to survive in our prisons. Growing research continues arguing that juvenile incarceration doesn’t work. We’ve climbed out of the abyss.


I’m confronted with it as my children get older. They often wonder about my childhood, where I grew up, where my tattoos came from, what constituted my friendships, how I grew up.

A lot goes unspoken, but they wonder and appreciate a warm friendship I maintain with one of my former cell-mates. What is this profound friendship, easily quickened and rekindled with the depth of familial blood, or more?

Their eyes were opened December 2012. Living in England on a Cambridge postdoc, we travelled home to California for Christmas. We spent the holiday with my grandmother in Reno.

She asked if I wanted to visit the downtown art gallery and insisted I go. It was on juveniles in prison. She didn’t realize what she was asking. It’s not easy staring back into the abyss that was one’s former dwelling. But I obliged.

The gallery was more important for my own healing than I realized at the time, for which I’m profoundly grateful to Richard Ross. I took my kids, pointing out places I lived (Ventura, &c.). I wept once or twice. The gallery took me back where I hadn’t been in fourteen years. My children didn’t have words, and I had few to give them.

In my mind I go back more frequently now, teaching university courses on U.S. Institutions and Values, focusing on the prison. I teach an intensive Whittier College course on prison religion. Sometimes I write about prison.

I’ve recently been involved in discussions about the redevelopment of the oldest California juvenile prison, in Whittier, named after eugenicist Fred Nelles. I’ve taken students to it, always with a deep sour feeling in my chest, wishing I didn’t have to.

After a talk Miroslava Chavez-Garcia gave recently, a heated discussion about Nelles transpired. A former Nelles guard was asked pointedly by another audience member if he’d confirm that juveniles were abused there. Hesitating, he responded, “Not on my watch; and when I was there I didn’t tolerate it.” Then, in a flash of foolish honesty, “Nothing happened to them that they didn’t already have coming and didn’t deserve!”

My undergraduate students heard it, and were stunned. The state archivist was shocked. I wasn’t.

I recently took my twelve year old son to Whittier City Planning Commission discussions about the Nelles redevelopment. He was bored, but still wonders. He feels things about the prison, but has few words for it now. Yet his favorite author is Luis J. Rodriguez. I wonder how he will read the era of mass juvenile incarceration.

As they voted 3-2 to develop the Nelles site, one commissioner urged the acknowledgement of those who went through the system and made something of their lives. Nice idea. But we don’t know who these are. There remains a shame and stigma accompanying those who served time as juveniles, especially in their own minds, and in their families, and cities. They don’t want to be known.

We did time for things still difficult to make sense of and speak of. The number of exploding plea bargains must have been obscene (I’d love to know the number), generating endless lambs for the abattoir. This isn’t France, where once a carceral sentence is served nobody dares speak of it. Nosy Americans want to know. “What did you do?” “What were you in for?” Admitting one was incarcerated is not easy, and risky. The abyss is real. Americans love its utilitarian function for dealing with the “other.” But in this moment, should the tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated youth from the era of mass incarceration dare look? Should they come out? Perhaps they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But they’ve been damned before.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve really climbed out of the dark era of U.S. juvenile mass incarceration. Perhaps it’s still trivial for some, perhaps for politicians, who likely won’t bring any lasting change. I worried about this recently as did someone serving life from a juvenile sentence.

The mass youth incarceration era in California has ended, they proclaim. Or at least it’s on its way out with currently under a cool thousand in the state system. After being closed a decade, the forthcoming development of Whittier’s Nelles property signals the era’s final blow. (The ballooning county juvenile carceral situation is another story.)

Hopefully the ultimate end of the juvenile prison will come sooner rather than later. Those who endured its violent clutches continue trying to make sense of it, eager to make meaningful lives after such a destructive era. And we still struggle for words to speak to our children about it.

Jason Sexton is Lecturer in the Honors Program at California State University, Fullerton. He's writing two books on the prison, one introducing the subject of the prison to an evangelical Christian audience and the other giving an interdisciplinary theological account of the incarcerated church. He can be contacted at jsexton@fullerton.edu and his other work is found here: https://fullerton.academia.edu/JasonSexton

"It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids." by richard ross

I am out of prison for 48 days now. Was doing 20 split 5. That means I did five and as long as I didn’t get into trouble it will stay at 5. If you get into trouble it is another 15. I was in county. That’s where they hold 16 and up. If you are involved in major crimes they certify you as young at 16. I did juvenile so many times the juvenile court eventually got tired of me. I was 13 when I was first charged. I was well taken care of by my grandma. She is 72 or 73. My mom was incapable. She was an alcoholic and my dad...I barely knew him. DHR gave custody to my grandma. I think it was a kin adoption. My brothers and sisters were split up and went to different families. Seven of us went to grandma. We were all on financial aid. I made some poor decisions as a kid. I wanted to be a grown man. I blame myself. From 13-17 I was just in and out of here.

Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

The next person can say “Yes.”

I have had the flu for a few days but I wanted to come here and meet you and tell you today I came through the front door. I was failing back then but going through all this, everyone gets a sign. Some people don’t pay attention. I got my GED and learned how to weld here. Now I work at Burger King. They know I have a felony but you can’t lie about it. I applied for a lot of jobs and they all turned me down, but somebody gave e a chance. It’s hard striving for success. Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. The next person can say “Yes.” The Reverend has helped me get into Shelton State. Now I am staying with my sister. It’s me, her and her daughter. Prison was way more hard than here. Detention has a hands-off policy about kids here. Prison you get physically beat up. You have to learn to be a man in a hurry. You never know what can happen to you. People will pick fights. Here you get slapped on the wrists. Prison is hardcore. Only the strong survive there. I was at Draper, B.F. County, I moved around so I could get certificates and try and get some education. I am working on getting my welding certificate now. But I have to go through so many people. I can’t leave the state of Alabama.If I get tools maybe I can do something.



I met the Reverend when I was in here as a kid and he stayed with me. Religion is important to me. It is part of my life. I think everybody should get a second chance. Even someone who was charged with two 1st degree robberies and a shooting. It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids. Now I have been working at Burger King 21 days. It’s a different environment. My sister works at a nursing home. She gets $16/hour I think. I get minimum wage. Our apartment costs $320/month. Who do I trust? My sister, my pastor and Miss X. These are people who have been around me most of my life. Mostly I didn’t have to do what I did, but I was with the wrong crowd. The others I was with are repeat offenders so I don’t spend any time with them. Some are back on the inside.

- K.F., Age 23

**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.

Too many girls are locked up to keep them 'safe’ by richard ross

This story is also featured on the San Francisco Chronicle


By Richard Ross

There is a growing problem of girls and law enforcement. The problem is not the violent catastrophic deaths that have captured the news. It is the slower escalation in how we treat the girls — no less life threatening and just as destructive. This is the world of institutional destruction of girls.

We have begun to recognize that juvenile detention institutions are no place for kids. There has been real progress made in reducing the number of children held in the system. Yet the population of girls is growing. Twenty years ago, the percentage of girls in the juvenile system was about 20 percent. Today, we are closer to 30 percent. We know the way to change this equation, but we need the resolve to do so.

These girls have to be looked at through the lens of trauma and exploitation. Nothing is accomplished by putting them in hard detention units and further traumatizing a very vulnerable, already damaged, population of kids. Many of these girls come from homes of neglect and abuse. More than three-quarters of them are in need of mental health services.

I watched a well-informed attorney discussing with a dedicated Alameda County Family Law Court judge discuss the practice of putting girls involved in sex trafficking and survival sex into detention. The attorney said there was a bright line — no child involved in sexual trafficking should be in detention. The response from the judge was that she had no other place to put the girl where she would be safe. The judge didn’t want her out on the streets and at risk in her environment.

Yet, if we lock up these kids for days, weeks or months, do we have a better solution for them when they exit? The damage done to kids in these institutions is statistically documented and overwhelming. Due to higher rates of exposure to trauma among girls, post-traumatic stress symptoms can worsen as a result of juvenile justice system involvement.

I am optimistic enough to believe that if we asked ourselves as a society, “Do we want to keep girls in an unhealthy environment where they experience abuse, violence and deprivation?” our answer would be a resounding, “no.”

What should we do if we know that the support for a child for one year in California public school is approximately $8,700 while the equivalent cost of a juvenile hall bed is about $150,000?

What if the solution were pointed to as better resources in the community and the costs were shown to be equal or less? Wouldn’t we be overjoyed? And would we really want to take kids from neighborhoods with the least resources and the least political power and harm them further? I can’t imagine this is who we are.

Isn’t it time we end this cycle and begin reallocating budgets from incarceration to resources in the communities where these kids stand at least a chance of success? We are doing this wrong, and there is a way to fix it. We can and must do better.

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=”https://www.juvenile-in-justice.com/take-action” 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.


[Family-in-Justice] A Mother Speaks by richard ross

-8 Last week, we brought you inside Santa Maria Juvenile Hall to meet S.D, a 17-year-old awaiting sentencing for a violent crime committed with a group of older boys when he was 14. S.D was facing 60 years to life, now he has taken a deal of "juvie life" which means he will stay in the California Youth Authority until the age of 25. To get the deal S.D had to testify against multiple other members of his gang, which has put him at serious risk even inside the juvenile hall...

A couple days after talking to S.D at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall Richard met with his mom who lives in Santa Maria and tries to maintain a normal life in spite of the rocky years she had with her son leading up to the arrest-- from camping out  in the 'hood at all hours to try and find S.D and bring him home, to his expulsion from school and ultimate initiation into the gang at the age of 14...

Read her story below:


Richard Ross / juvenile-in-justice.com


"I gave my son his Grandfather's name... He will 18 in May. I hired an attorney for him... She gave me a deal, $15,000.00. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had a fair shot. This was his life. He was in trouble and being charged with something serious. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had an attorney. I was very fortunate and my uncle, my grandma passed away and left me some money. My uncle was the beneficiary and was able to send me more than half of what the attorney charged. Then I found out that my mother had another account in Arizona... but my lovely brother sort of wiped out the accounts and took all the money. So I was sort of stuck with half the balance. Fortunately, very fortunately, the courts took over and helped in paying the rest."

[superquote]He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. I was even out there on the streets at all hours trying to pull him out of there and bring him home.[/superquote]

"He's propped up, charged as an adult. His charge was first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and gang enhancement. He was 14 at the time. Lompoc has gotten so bad. The gangs have gotten larger, I guess you could say kids that are jumped in are younger. It's so sad. He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. He was never on probation. Since he wasn't on probation I couldn't get help. I tried the Grizzly Academy, they wouldn't help either, you have to want to go there on your own and you have to be 16, he was 14. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. And that's basically false information because now that this crime had been committed, even through he didn't do it but he was there, I didn't have anyone knocking on my door saying O.K we can help you know. I went to Lompoc PD, narcotics officers, gang enforcement officers... I looked online. Tried boys town in Oklahoma. He had been in counseling, therapy, I had reached out to Victory Outreach, the big brother program... I mean you name it. I tried everything I could. I was even out there on the streets, they call it the hood, at all hours. It didn't matter if it was 10 pm or 2 am, I was out there trying to do what I could to pull him out of there and bring him home. I was ready to pitch a tent out there. Sometimes I could catch him and sometimes he'd run away from me. It was a nightmare. But I wasn't giving up. I was told him I would never let the gang win him over no matter what I had to do. So..."



[superquote]S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices.[/superquote]



"S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He had been in trouble once before. It was a fight with another gang member, in the court he told the judge “Fuck you,” and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp. It was after a month in there that the gang enforcement agents pulled him out and charged him with the murder. He had changed a lot in Los Prietos, he said it was a good program for him. That camp was probably the best thing that could have happened to him."

[superquote]He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different.[/superquote]

"What had happened was he was going to Vandenburg Middle School, he wasn't doing great. To make a long story short, a few detentions added up and then he and a friend made a hole the size of a quarter on the seat of school bus. Due to that he was expelled from the entire district. Forced him to to go El Puente School. I think that did it. He wasn't able to go to his school. He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different. Maybe it was “this is new, I'm curious.” I mean I am a single mom, but I raised him well. S.D was never out in the street, never out past curfew, once it was nighttime 7 or 8pm S.D was home. I've worked since he was a baby. I also made sure that every time I got a job it was Monday through Friday during day hours so I could be here at night. I was working at Michael's, I still work there. After three years of day shifts my manager had a fit, and the district manager forced me to work nights. That was it. I had to start working nights, I couldn't be home 'til 11:30, I had to work weekends. That and El Puente is when things started falling apart. He was here by himself, I 'm sure that had an effect on him... but as a single mom I had to work. Didn't have a choice, I had to raise him. I don't have any family. My mom and dad, his grandparents are passed away."








"He started being disrespectful at home. I would take his cell phone away and he would fight me for it. I would ground him and he would just fly out of the house. I thought “Whoa, S.D has always listened to me.” I could tell he was doing drugs when he was out on the street, with the gang members, it was altering him. He was drinking, smoking, popping pills, I think he tried meth a few times."

[superquote] I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. [/superquote]

"S.D has come a long way. He has an attitude and a temper. He got in one fight a couple years ago, it was his fault. Once he was rushed by another gang member who called him a snitch, and then he got in trouble for defending himself. Other than that... I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. 20 credits and he's done. I am very, very, very, very proud of him. He wasn't doing any school outside, all Fs."


"He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices. He was looking at 60 years to life. But... S.D's a good kid and he's always told the truth. I told him, “it's your decision. But I'm your mom and I don't want you to take the rap for something you didn't do.” I told him, “I understand you are in a gang, I get it. You might have a little bit of an initiative for his horrible crime but you need to speak up.” He was the youngest one out of all of them, so they expect him to take the rap. One day in juvie he said to me, “where are my friends? Why aren't they coming forward with the truth?” and I said exactly and we had a good conversation. It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now. According to his attorney, they did a crappy investigation, they had the kid who actually shot and killed the man and they let him go, now he is at large. If they catch him S.D will have to testify against him as well. But he won't be at juvenile hall. They'll be transporting him to YA, Youth Authority, which is basically a mini youth prison to my understanding. They don't know which one they'll transfer him to. I'm praying for Camarillo. I can file a hardship, because I'm a single parent and this is my only son, so I can request for him to stay near. If not, my understanding is that the next one is 6-8 hours away in Preston."

[superquote]It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now.[/superquote]

"S.D's never had an issue with my being gay. I've been with my current girlfriend Shady two years now, she writes to S.D. My ex and I had been together for 11 years. We were having relationship issues and S.D saw all of it. They'd known each other since he was 4. He used to call her dad. At the end he lost respect for me, having to watch our relationship crumble. I think it had a huge impact on S.D joining the gang. I blame myself. As a mom, I know it was up to him to make that choice, but I know that things at home weren't helping him to not make that decision. His father just barely came into his life. They met for the first time one day before he was locked up. So he's met him. He's not a great dad, that's all I can say. He visits him off and on. He might pop up and go with me faithfully to visit S.D for a few months, then disappear. He says he's been clean and sober and I think I believe him. He was a heroin addict. He was a gang member in Santa Barbara, he says no longer but sometimes I wonder."


"April 5th will be three years awaiting trial. There were so many co defendants. They were waiting for their trials to be through, which should finish up this month. After that, S.D will go back to court a couple times. Because he took the deal, S.D might be able to go back to juvenile court and he might be able to be charged as a juvenile. One of the facilities he might go to has fire camp, I'm really pushing for that. Encouraging him to take advantage of any and all opportunities he might have in there."

[Family-in-Justice] Cheryle and her grandson Anthony Part 2 by richard ross

[Read Part 1 HERE] 

Anthony at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   Cheryle:   Sometimes I wish we had left the country. We had that weekend, we could have run away. But we had no idea. We knew he was innocent. We went on vacation. We were so naïve. I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen. Looking back, there were so many things I would have done differently. But you can’t go back. It was the first time we’d been involved in the juvenile justice system. We hired a lawyer we heard was very good. We paid a fortune. My daughter sold her house to pay for him. He let us down immensely.” [superquote]I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen.[/superquote] One of my biggest regrets, since we were all going to testify as witnesses, we couldn’t be in the court during Anthony’s proceedings. We waited in the hall every day, waiting to go in, waiting to hear news. Since we weren’t in the room, we couldn’t know exactly how bad our lawyer was.   The juror selection was completely unjust: how was it that when I looked across the room at the jury pool I recognized so many faces? Lake County is HUGE, why couldn’t they pull a more diverse selection of jurors? One of the jurors was from our little community. He was an Elk’s Club member. His wife and the prosecutor’s mother knew each other. This juror gave another juror a ride home to Whiting each day, discussing the case in the car. The trouble with this juror began when he was first selected. He was a neighbor of a niece; it was not a friendly relationship. We knew that it would be wrong for him to be on the jury. My daughter wrote a note during jury selection and asked our lawyer not to allow this juror on the jury. The Judge saw the note being passed to the lawyer and called him to the bench she asked him if there was a problem with the juror and he said, “we already picked him.” A witness came to us during the trial and said they had seen yet another juror hugging a member of the dead boy’s family. We were told by our lawyer, “don’t bring these things up it will anger the Judge.” An alternate juror was so outraged by what had taken place in the jury deliberation, she called our lawyer crying. She told us how jurors were convinced to change their votes to guilty. How the evidence that was used to convict Anthony was that he wore a school uniform and there was someone seen in the area wearing a uniform. The school was a couple blocks way; there must have been many kids in the area in uniform. The other so-called evidence was that he was not on the phone for 17 minutes that afternoon. The prosecutor said in his closing arguments that the murder took 17 minutes. How would he know how long it took to murder this poor boy? There were other times throughout the day that Anthony had not been on the phone. When he came to my house I made him get off the phone to talk to the family. This was not evidence; this had nothing to do with the murder. The DNA is not Anthony’s. The eye witness said it wasn’t Anthony.   Anthony and his sister as children. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   [superquote]Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now.[/superquote] Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now. My granddaughter, Anthony’s little sister, hasn’t been getting enough attention from us. She got lost in all of this. She told one of her friends at school about the whole thing and the parents of the friend forbid their friendship. So she just holds it in, doesn’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal. I have started homeschooling her. She was being bullied. I woke up one morning and realized that whatever energy I had left needed to go towards helping her. She sees a counselor now. At first she didn’t want to visit Anthony, she was scared and so young. But now she visits. We bring in all the kids: the cousins, my 3-year-old grandson, Anthony loves him. Some people question why we bring them in. But they have a right to know each other. He didn’t do anything wrong. Grace [Bauer, of Justice For Families] says you have to do things however you see fit, whatever works for your family. Anthony loves the kids. He talks about driving a car and having kids of his own someday.”   After The Sentencing   “We had a Writ of Cert that was reviewed and denied by the Supreme Court on November 30th. Getting the Writ cost us $8,500.00. My daughter already sold her house, so she sold her car. This should be a right for EVERYONE. It should not be this cost-prohibitive. At least we have these things to sell. It is a sad truth in this system that if you have money, you have a better chance. If you have money and connections you might fare better. There are so many people who can’t afford to take the system on, on any level.”   [superquote]My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime.[/superquote] My organization, Indiana Families United for Juvenile Justice, had a panel discussion at Purdue University on February 28th, 2013. Grace Bauer of Families For Justice was there, and Karen Grau, Producer of MSNBC’s Young Kids Hard Time, attended. She has met Anthony and she has said how much she likes him. She said he is quiet, and very nice. Those words mean the world to my family. Mark Clemens from Chicago attended. He spoke about being in prison since the age of 16, 28 years for a crime he did not commit. His strength gives us strength. In April I will be attending the JDAI National Inter-site conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Attending will be 180 sites from 39 states and over 700 Juvenile Justice System folks. I am doing what I can to help other families. To be for them what I didn’t have when we started this. Grace has been and is always there for me. I wouldn’t have made it without her. She keeps me hanging on. She tells me, “You can’t let em’ beat you down.” We want to make a manual for other parents and families that are going through this. It’s a complex, often shadowy thing, the juvenile justice system. For many of those involved it’s basically inaccessible. If you don’t have a computer, don’t have internet, you can’t look things up or communicate with others in your position. Having a network is key. Every time something changes in Anthony’s case I email and text everyone to get more advice and information. There is so much I don’t understand.”   Anthony's girlfriend Erika, Anthony, Cheryle, and Anthony's cousin Hunter Abul-Husn at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime. These are children. They cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot make adult decisions but they can be tried as adults and can receive sometimes even longer sentences than adults for the same type of offences. When we used to visit, Anthony would sit there and say, just tell them I didn’t do it. He tells us he will do whatever it takes; he just wants to come home. Before this, Anthony was beginning 9th grade. In December he celebrated his 5th birthday in prison.   [superquote]He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?[/superquote] He tells me I feel like I’m 15. I don’t feel like I’m any older. How could he not feel this way? He’s frozen in time and hasn’t been in the world since he was 15. Anthony is in a good program at his prison. He earned his GED and is starting college classes. Because of this program he was able to order rotisserie chicken last week. He told us his tears just came rolling down his face when he bit into the chicken. It breaks my heart that he has lost so much. He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?  

We’ve been contacting a several of the Innocence Project organizations. One recently wrote Anthony to say that they’d received his case and were processing it. I can only hope… and keep trying. I won’t stop telling his story. His mom, his step-dad, his aunts and cousins and I will never give up. If nothing changes I’ll be dead before he comes home. Please don’t let that happen. I know there are other families who cry every night. If I can leave you with one thought, just imagine Anthony is your child. He is good and kind and loving. He just wants to come home to be with his family who love him so much. He is innocent.”   Written in collaboration with the author.   ------------------



If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please contact Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system. Another excellent resource is the Campaign for Youth Justice's Family Resource Center, which offers guidance, valuable information, and opportunities for advocacy.


If you are a family that would like to share your story on the blog, please email us at: blogdirector@juvenile-in-justice.com 


[Family-in-Justice] Tarsha Jackson Part 1 by richard ross



Part 1:


Tarsha Jackson had her first encounter with the juvenile justice system when her son Marquieth was just 10 years old. In his special education classroom in Harris County, Texas Marquieth received a ticket for classroom disruption. It was his first day of school and marked the beginning of what would be a decade-long struggle with the juvenile justice system. By age 16, Marquieth had spent a total of five years in juvenile prisons.


School was a struggle for Marquieth. In his special education classroom, his teachers were not sensitive to Marquieth’s needs and they dealt with behavioral disruptions poorly. Tarsha recalls that few issues were handled internally, with teachers frequently bringing the police in. When he was 10, Marquieth was charged with assault for accidentally kicking a teacher while being restrained. He was placed on 6 months’ probation. After several school conduct violations and two probation violations Marquieth was referred to detention with no expected release date. During his confinement, Tarsha was not allowed to see or speak to her son for 30 days. It was horrifying. Tarsha paid a local advocate $50 dollars to check on Marquieth’s case; he was released from detention 1 week after the advocates’ inquiry.


At age 11, Marquieth received his third violation for allegedly breaking a window at a neighborhood pool. Knowing that what he had “done” did not warrant his being locked up, Tarsha launched a fierce campaign to keep her son out of prison. She recruited her son’s doctors to write letters about his condition, she created a plan of treatment, and brought her family in to advocate. Before her son’s court date, unbeknownst to Tarsha, the court attorney and the probation officer went before a visiting judge with no knowledge of the case. Afterwards, they called Tarsha to inform her that Marquieth had been sentenced to nine months in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.


The experience of the Jackson family is a tragic example of the school-to-prison pipeline in Texas. To provide some background, in 1995 school discipline laws in Texas were overhauled with the intent of reducing potential violence on campuses. Zero tolerance policies were adopted statewide, which allowed administrators to use suspension, referral to alternative education programs, and law enforcement at their own discretion—which has in many cases resulted in a criminalization of normal student misbehavior. According to the NAACP from their site, “Rather than employ traditional disciplinary measures, such as counseling or detention, when students misbehave, schools are becoming increasingly dependent on suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement to punish students.” Disproportionally affected by these zero-tolerance policies are students of color and those with developmental disabilities.


Things were bad as soon as Marquieth was committed to the Texas Youths Commission. According to Tarsha, her son, who had been medicated since he was three, was immediately taken off his medications and put in an isolation cell. Also according to Tarsha, a scuffle with the guards, who were armed with shields, resulted in a ½ inch chin laceration and impacted wisdom teeth for Marquieth (see hospital records below). Tarsha says that while he was in TYC, her son received virtually no mental health treatment. For the next 3 1/2 years he bounced around between institutions in the Texas Youth Commission.



Tune in for part 2 tomorrow morning. (and consider subscribing to the blog HERE to receive posts in your email inbox)



For Tarsha and other parents out there fighting against a system employing punitive practices and unjust punishment, share this article with friends and family and encourage them to share to their circles. Spreading awareness is the first step in taking action. Then, visit our Take Action page to find out what else you can do.






If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please get in contact with Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system. Another excellent resource is the Campaign for Youth Justice's Family Resource Center, which offers guidance, valuable information, and opportunities for advocacy.


If you are a family that would like to share your story with us, please email us at: info AT juvenile-in-justice.com


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

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