"I'm not allowed out." by richard ross

I'm in a segregation cell. I've been here for one and a half months, out of a 6-month sentence. I came to visit my grandma here in town in the summer but I got in trouble. My parents live in different states. I've been in detention in other states three times now. I'm here for credit card theft, but I'm in segregation because they said I threatened intimidation against the staff. My mattress stays in the hall during the day, I can only bring it in at night. Staff might say I'm out for at least one hour a day, sometimes two hours. But I'm not allowed out. Only to use the bathroom.

—J., age 16



"My mom is deceased. Drug overdose." by richard ross

My mom is deceased. Drug overdose. I stayed with my auntie until I was 11.  She was abusive, verbally and physically. I went to maybe 15-20 foster homes. They were all ladies, no man in the home. My baby is one. His daddy’s family took him to see his daddy. He wouldn’t give my baby back. The baby was in the hospital with a lung problem. I asked my social worker if I could go to see my baby. She said I had to wait until my next court date in two months to see the judge. So I went AWOL to see my baby. They picked me up and now I am 241.1—dual custody between dependency and delinquency for going AWOL. I just wanted to see my baby.

I like Ms. Perez, one of the corrections officers. All the staff here just order you. Ms. Perez talks to me.

—T.L., age 16



"I lost my freedom in detention!" by richard ross

This week, Juvenile In Justice concludes the features on two adults who spent much of their childhood lives in detention.
Jose Vidrio shares his experience of being in and out of the juvenile justice system and the conditions of confinement, and touches on his achievements as an adult now.

by Jose Vidrio I was physically abused by my father. When I was young, my sister and I were always afraid of my father because we didn't know what mood he was going to come in. My Dad was this big macho guy that didn't like hugs and or kisses for his birthday or Father’s Day, especially coming from me. He thought that it was a gay gesture and if I attempted to do so, he would hit me of course. I can say that alcohol did play a big factor here; when my father was drinking his mood was unpredictable.

I started to get into trouble when I was 10 years of age. I did three months then because of tagging and refusing to give my name. I guess when my mother left my father I kinda took advantage and would leave the house a lot. When I was 12, I was arrested for armed robbery and did almost 2 years in Juvi. When I was 15, I was sentenced to 10 years and did 5 and 1/2. I came out when I was 21 years of age.

When I was in CYA, I was in isolation from 6AM to 10PM. They put me in a "cold room" with just my boxers on—there was no mattress, no sheets. All day I walked around the 8’x10’ room and did random workouts because the room was so cold. By the time that they put me back in my cell I was so tired that I just wanted to go to sleep. Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

I guess that I can say that there was no love at home. My mother was always yelling and screaming at us. We didn't understand and take into consideration that she was going through a hard time divorcing my dad and she hid us while doing it for a while.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it. I also gained some knowledge about my history, family, and also graduated high school in there as well as doing my first communion. As far as the food, if we ever had meat, it didn’t taste like meat. We called it mystery meat because it tasted funny. We joked and said that maybe it was gopher meat because they had a big problem in the yard.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it.

I was just approved for a Certificate of Rehabilitation on Oct 8th and I am very excited about that. I currently work for a radiology company processing insurance claims and reconciliation from complicated claims. In April 2016, I will be graduating with my Bachelors of Business in Health Care Management.

I talk to all of my family, including my father and we talk good. I am not going to say that we have the best relationship but he is in our lives. I talk to family that I have never spoke to before. I am married and have been with my wife for 13, going on 14 years. I have 5 children that keep me busy and love them to death. And yes, I give them all kisses and hugs, both my boys and my girls.

—Jose Vidrio

"I’ve been here four months. I’ve been in this room four months." by richard ross

I’m 17 years old. I’ve been here four months. I’ve been in this room four months. I’m wearing a smock to prevent me from hurting myself. I hurt myself. Why? I want to commit suicide. I don’t talk to a therapist. They aint doing no good. I spoke to her today for about 5 minutes. I’ve been in since I was 16. I was brought in for charges.

My Mom visits me. I don’t know how old she is. I don’t have a Dad. My Mom and my brothers live at home. There was emotional abuse at home. I was never in foster care. I say I am going to hurt myself so they put me in a smock and I have to wear a smock for 72 hours. Couple of times I been wearing it. It’s comfortable. I got a 18-36 month sentence. If I show good behavior I can get out in 18 months.

B.H., age 17-3

B.H., age 17-3

We go to school in the building. We go the whole day. I can’t have nothing. No books. I can’t have nothing. I pass the time by just sitting here. No friends. I talk to the girl across the way. They allow me to talk to her. I get out of here for a hour a day. I sit and look and stare at space when they let me out. Those red dots? They come from my head. I just banged my head against the wall. The blood is on the wall because I hit my head against the wall, a couple of times because I was mad at the staff. They wouldn’t get me out of this smock.

— B.H., age 17

B.H., age 17

B.H., age 17

"It’s easy to get in the system, but hard to get out of it." by richard ross

I go to education alternatives. I’m in 10th grade, I have been here a month now. The people I see are my mother, grandmother and probation officer. Since treatment, I have been in a Christian home and residential treatment center and shelter care for about a year. I was in YSCP—Youth Family Community Partnership—with my grandmother who was taking care of me. I live with my half brother and two cousins who live with me during the school week. My aunt has custody but the two girls stay with my grandmother during the week and go home on weekends. There are four kids at my house during the week. My mom is 35. My mom lost custody when I was nine months old. I was being neglected. My mom used to smoke weed and cigarettes. My mom now lives in Eastlake. She’s doing good right now. Mom is going to AA meetings.

I used to smoke weed and drink and hung out with the wrong peer group. Sad as that. They say I have the social age of a 17-18 year old and the mental age of five or six year old. I am here for grand theft auto and misuse of a credit card….and I had a firearm. I got picked up with my friends, and with ¼ ounce of weed and a gun. They were all trying to blame it on me. They have it as a conspiracy case. The police charged us all with the same thing. I am not gang affiliated. My dad is deceased. He died in Las Vegas. He came to see me when I was born. He was stabbed, involved with cocaine, and other stuff.

I didn’t use my head before I acted. I just go with the flow. The first time I was here I was 13 or 14. I had a home detention violation. I was in House Four then. I was 13 when I had a theft. Some kids at that time would steal stuff at home depot and they would blame it on me because I was the youngest. My mom works as a maid. I did have a job as a busboy, but I guess I don’t have a job no more. I usually do better when I am working. I am a hands-on type of person. They have me on drugs here. Vivance 70s and 30s, Filoxogene (Prozac), and Hydroxalene for anxiety. The others are for ADHD. Oh, and Intuniv.

— D.T., age 16-2

— D.T., age 16-2

I am here because I got into an altercation. He punched me and another inmate two days ago. He’s on my Pod. Pod C. So, he was written up as the aggressor. We have behavior management. They have levels and privileges. We need to have additional staff and training. To get more staff we have an interviewpalooza. We don’t have any Masie Evaluations. They give me Tylenol for my lip. The kid that hit me is Hispanic.

My dad was African American, and my mom white. I want to be a Blue Angel or a commercial pilot. I think I can because although I was charged, I was never convicted with a felony. I am not sure if my juvenile record can be expunged. My brother was charged with spray painting a bike. He got yelled at, but that was it. It’s easy to get in the system, but hard to get out of it. I see the judge in a month. I spoke to the public defender. I did 14 months before on past cases. They might release me at home.

— D.T., age 16

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.

"No one could see that I was suffocating." by richard ross

I’ve been coming here since I was 11. I am in for a DV with my mom. I thought when I first came here that jails were like I saw on TV. But this place they are not here to hurt us but to help us. It’s really cool. I first came here when I took some of my brother’s coke and he got mad and told my mom. She was tired from work so she burned me with cigarettes and hit me with an extension cord. I was seven years old. I can’t talk about it without getting angry. I haven’t seen her is eight years. She’s married now and fixing to get her RN. She was 16 when I was born, 14 when my brother was born. I didn’t know anything about protective services. My dad dropped out of the family completely. He was on crack cocaine.

People have to realize we are not bad kids just because we come from bad homes.

I was six years old when I was molested by my auntie’s boyfriend. He put his finger in my vagina and my cousin’s at the same time. I was so young I didn’t even know what the word vagina was. He told my cousin that we couldn’t tell anybody or he wouldn’t give us candy. It was both the candy and something wrong that we didn’t tell anybody for a while. It was my cousin’s stepdad. When we told my auntie she wanted to tell the police but he said he would kill her if she did. We saw him with a gun and knew he would kill her. We went with my mom and she asked if everything went well and we told her that C touched us. Later after he served five years, they took him in and expected everything to be normal. But I am still angry. I have been here five weeks now. They sent me here from Shelby County Tennessee—Memphis. Whenever I am out I guess my life is always in jeopardy. The only thing I know how to do is sell my body. I was arrested in December in a Tennessee hotel. I was with a friend who was 21 and helping me. They took me to Tennessee detention. There you sleep all day. The only time out you get from it is to wash dishes. The staff talks about things they shouldn’t been talking about with kids.



I had to be willing to come to Tuscaloosa or else they would not be sending me here. My dad tried to help me but he was on crack. My grandmother can’t help. Her life is messy. No one could see that I was suffocating. I don’t have a pimp. I am doing it on my own. It’s a rough world. I was having sex with police officers in Birmingham. I want to get out of here, get an apartment and get a singing career.The staff here, they are a blessing to me. They basically raised me. Last time I was in school I was 14. A lot of people know me as being a bad person…but it’s because I have so much anger. I know that’s no excuse. I want to go to Shelton State Community College. They are all okay here. They know that they are here to help kids not hurt them. You don’t have to punish kids to in order to help them. The other kids here…sometimes we bump heads here but at the end of the day we look out for each other.

My dad tried to help me but he was on crack.

My grandmother can’t help. Her life is messy.

When kids have the attitude “I will never make it in life because of what happened to me,” they will never make it. I hope I can go to WELL House. They teach you survival skills. Not a lock down. It is an adult facility. People have to realize we are not bad kids just because we come from bad homes. We have made a bad decision somewhere along the way.I had one abortion when I was younger. My friend’s mom had to sign off on it. I was 16 and my baby daddy was in and out of prison. I started prostitution because I needed some place to stay to simply lay down my head. If I was still on probation I might still come back here…but I am an adult now.

-B.W., Age 18

**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.

[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.

[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]  

"Uncles" vs. "Officers" by richard ross

Honolulu “uncles” (left) and Chicago “officers” (right)

Detention centers are defined by differing language and uniforms nation-wide. Aunties and uncles staff Honolulu’s Hale Ho'omalu Juvenile Hall (now moved to a new facility) and dress in flip-flops, shorts and casual shirts. Officers staff Cook County Juvenile Detention in Chicago, Illinois and dress in quasi-military standardized uniforms.  Cook County is the largest juvenile detention facility in the country, capable of detaining 498 kids. In 2010 the average population was 325 kids, the vast majority African-American. Many are in for violating parole or drug possession – a bad urine analysis. The average length of stay is 30 days, but ranges from 72 hours to 2 years. Hale Ho'omalu Juvenile Hall was built in the 1950s, a new facility was under construction at the time this was image was taken and was occupied in early 2010.

click here for more images of  Hale Ho'omalu Juvenile Hall 

click here for more images of Cook County Juvenile Detention Center



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