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Photography Exhibit Sheds Light on Youth Incarceration

Kerwin Hall visitors peruse Juvenile in Justice exhibit

A photography exhibit by award-winning photographer and author Richard Ross, Juvenile in Justice, opened on February 6 in AU School of Public Affairs' Kerwin Hall. The exhibit, which runs through March 5, includes more than 90 images of youth incarcerated in the juvenile system and accompanying audio of those young people speaking to their experiences.  

On any given day, more than 45,000 youth are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States. In every state, confining young people – cutting them off from their families, disrupting their educations, and often exposing them to further trauma and violence – harms their development and has lifelong negative consequences.

“This photo exhibit reframes how we perceive young people in the juvenile justice system,” said Kim Ball, director SPA's Justice Programs Office. “It confirms the need to reduce the reliance on incarceration as a default sanction.”

Ross, a celebrated artist and a professor, spent four years traveling to hundreds of juvenile detainment facilities and photographing thousands of young people. Though he's represented by a commercial gallery which sells his photographs as fine-art, Ross regularly licenses his pictures to nonprofits for free or at a nominal charge. And he has made a deliberate effort to exhibit his work at universities.

"Where better to share the work but with a younger generation who are learning about sociology, education, race and gender studies, journalism, political science, social work and law," Ross said.

Ultimately, the exchanges he has had with his subjects has haunted Ross. These encounters can be emotionally draining and prompt a feeling of powerlessness, but Ross, who is one of the few to share their stories, will continue to advocate for justice reform through his art.

“I hope this work inspires as well as depresses, and that this day leads to a forum and a path to engagement,” said Ross.

For more about Richard Ross's Juvenile In Justice project, visit his website.