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When I first walked into the exhibition space, I saw a colorful parade of photographs encircling a white isolation cell in the center of a vast hall. I was immediately drawn to the superb photographs. Looking more closely, however, I discovered all kinds of ugly subject matter, particularly disturbing in contrast to the beautiful way these images have been crafted. Children in solitary confinement appeared desperate “without voices, from families without resources, in communities without power” (Richard Ross, Juvenile In Justice, 2012).
Ross shot pictures of the restraint equipment used by institutions — creepy straitjackets and execution-style chairs. These devices are often used to strap down youths who bite and cut themselves in last desperate displays of control and will. Among the portraits of the females, most probably victims of rape, Ross included one image of a girl who scarred herself with the words “fuck me.”
Without a doubt, Juvenile In Justice sends out a powerful call for reform. From an economic standpoint the message is clear: Our outrageously expensive system is counterproductive. In terms of human values, our country’s heavy reliance on incarceration is particularly unsuccessful because no opportunity is provided for the young people in these institutions to learn or live in a decent community. They are scarred for life.
Juvenile In Justice, Wednesday – Saturday, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., November 8 – December 12 at the Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American Street. More information here.
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