Day Two: John Jay Juvenile Justice Conference

NEW YORK – The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice is holding a two-day conference for journalists on its campus in New York Monday and Tuesday.

While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well.

JJIE/Youth Today’s John Fleming and Clay Duda are attending the conference and continue their reporting today. For Day One coverage head over to our post here.


Panel One:

Mike Bocain

Mike Bocian, provided the keynote address Tuesday morning. Bocian, is a founding partner at GBA Strategies, a public opinion research firm.

Bocian discussed recent findings showing that most of those polled accepted that young offenders could change and that there was widespread support among those polled for prevention and rehabilitation. He also pointed out that those polled seem to be much more willing to favor rehabilitation and prevention when it was clear the subject of the poll was juveniles.

The overwhelming majority of those polled felt that youth who committed both violent and non-violent crimes should be housed with other youth, not adults.

The public, Bocian said, cited public safety and reducing recidivism as the best reasons for juvenile justice reform. For the most part, however, they did not mention budgetary concerns as reasons for change. He noted, however, that many reform measures currently being undertaken are being driven by budgetary concerns.

More than 50 percent of those polled said they found former youth offenders one of the most trustworthy experts on juvenile justice issues. They were found to be more trustworthy than experts such as juvenile judges and prosecutors.

Bocian also spoke about the importance of language. He pointed out, for example, that 42 percent of those polled saw “juvenile” as a negative term, while 37 percent saw the word “youth” as a positive term.

Liz Ryan, the president of the Campaign for Youth Justice and R. Dwayne Betts, an author, commentator and former youth offender, discussed Bocian’s findings.

Liz Ryan

Ryan stressed to the journalists and policy experts assembled the importance of understanding how many young people are brought into the criminal justice system each year.

Some 250,000 children are prosecuted in adult criminal court each year, she said. She also pointed out that not just a handful of states, but every state tries kids as adults. “It is wrong when you hear that not many kids are tried as adults each year,” she said.

Ryan said that many people will say that kids are locked up for a reason and that they must have done something wrong. Yet, she insists, this is often wrong; often kids are tried for relatively minor offenses and there are many instances when young people are locked up and have not even been charged.

Ryan also pointed out that juvenile crime is actually going down, not up, but that juvenile violent crime is not going down because more people are being locked up.

Dwayne Betts spoke of his time in prison and his journey through life since his release.

Dwayne Betts

Referring to the poll’s findings, Betts said while he found it encouraging, it still reminds him that young people in the system are invisible.

Youth in prison have been ignored for decades, he said.

He pointed out that he was locked up for car jacking when he was 16 and is 31 today. He was tried as an adult and served eight years in prison.

One of his cellmates was serving a 63-year-sentence for a non-homcidal offense he committed at age 16.

Betts said that his first 10 days in detention were spent in solitary confinement. He had no mattress, he said, no pillow and no sheets. A brutal introduction, he said, to confinement.

Betts reminded the audience that people who go to prison are more than the statistics they represent.

“I was treated as a number from the beginning,” he said. “I was an honors student, but the prosecutor never saw that. The judge admitted to me, in front of my mother and my family, that he was under no illusion that prison would help me.”

Betts went on to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Maryland, authored A Question of Freedom, a memoir, was awarded a Soros Fellowship and is currently a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard.

Panel Two:

Judge Steve Teske, a juvenile court judge from Clayton County, Ga., and a frequent contributor to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, moderated a panel on the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Others on the panel included: Nancy Heitzeg, a professor of sociology & co-director of Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity at St. Catherine University; Elton Anglada of the Juvenile Defender’s Association of Pennsylvania and Joseph Gaudett, the chief of police of Bridgeport, Conn.

Professor Heitzeg explained that the school-to-prison pipeline is essentially a growing trend that involves tracking kids out of school and into the criminal justice system. There are, she argues, several reasons for this growing trend, including the re-segregation of schools, growing poverty rates, the over representation of kids of color in special education classes, the underrepresentation of kids in advanced classes and zero tolerance policies.

She said that zero tolerance policies being implemented in schools have increased, while at the same time, violence in schools has fallen across the nation.

Zero tolerance policies have resulted in some three million suspensions and 100,000 expulsions per year.

Heitzeg said there is a blurring of the lines between the educational and judicial systems. With police in the school and drug-sniffing dogs in the hallways, she asked, “how likely is it that you are going to go to school if school continually resembles jail?”

She also pointed out that racial disparity is the biggest issue in the school-to-prison pipeline. Endless studies, she said, show that African-American students are punished at much higher rates than non-minority students, though studies also show that white youth engage in the same kind of disruptive behavior at a similar rate.

She cautioned the assembled journalists that while the individual story may be compelling, that it is important to explain the larger context of the school-to-prison pipeline. It does not exist in a vacuum, she said. It is complicated, and it is about deeply entrenched racial stereotypes.

In a question and answer session, Chief Gaudett, talked about his department’s philosophy in dealing with children. He said his officers are trained to engage with children in an attempt to humanize the officer and to build trust with the kids.

After a lively discussion with Teske, almost a courtroom exchange, Anglada spoke about the lack of due process in public schools.

He pointed out that when a child is arrested in school, the kid is expelled or suspended without legal representation, that he or she is already thrown out of the school without due process.

He also spoke of the reality of family court. It is a place that is seen by many as “kiddy court,” it is not, he said, “taken seriously. It is where many attorneys cut their teeth. It’s not a bad idea, it is good experience, but it is not good for juveniles.”

He added that juvenile court is incentivized to plea kids out. It pays low-paid attorneys more, he said, to plea than to carry the case forward.

Anglada spoke at length about a recent scandal in Luzerne County, Pa., that involved kickbacks paid to juvenile judges in exchange for sending juveniles to detention.

It was, he said, a big and important story. But it only became a story after the judges in the case were indicted. When it became “Kids for Cash,” Anglada said, it was a big story. But few though it was a story when his organization was trying to get anyone’s attention, including the state’s Supreme Court, to the fact that some 7,000 kids had gone through juvenile court in Luzerne County without legal representation.

“Why wasn’t ‘7,000 kids without an attorney’ not a story?” he asked.

For Day One coverage head over to our post here.

Photos by Clay Duda |

A Juvenile Justice System in Flux: Updates from John Jay Symposium

NEW YORK – The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice is holding a two-day conference for journalists on its campus in New York Monday and Tuesday.

JJIE/Youth Today’s John Fleming and Clay Duda are attending the conference and will be reporting some highlights throughout.

While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well.

Speakers on Monday include: Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law & Policy; Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation; Ricardo Martinez, co-director, Padres & Jovenes Unidos and David Utter, director of policy, the Florida office of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gail Garinger, a former juvenile court judge, who is now the Child Advocate of Massachusetts’ Office of the Child Advocate, will deliver the keynote address.

The Tow Foundation is sponsoring the conference.

For coverage of Day Two head to our post here.


Panel One:

Mark Soler

In her keynote address Gail Garinger spoke about the now discounted superpredator theory from the 1990s and role of the press in giving life to the myth through screaming headlines and sensational stories. The theory was posited by John DiIulio of Princeton, James Fox of Northeastern and others in the early 1990s.

It was, Garinger said, an unfortunate time that led to changes in laws in most states that resulted in many more juveniles being tried as adults.

The wolf pack of the superpredatory youth, however, never materialized she said, causing the very social scientists who brought up this theory to discount it.

But the highly punitive laws are still on the books in most states. Though change is coming, it is slow.

One big problem, Garinger told the more than 100 journalists and policy-makers assembled, is a disconnect that exists between lawmakers and good law. Garinger mentioned instances when she would urge lawmakers in Massachusetts to consider existing laws before implementing often-counterproductive laws because of press and public pressure.

Garinger spoke a bit from her own experience, telling the audience that she had three kids come into their teenage years within 17 months.

“I can’t believe the stupid things kids do”, she said. Sometimes, she added, they even film themselves on videotape, smoking pot in the basement and so on.

That towering stupidity, she stressed, is just another reason why we need to pay attention to the importance of brain science.

In recent years scientists have determined the human brain does not reach full maturity until well past the teen years.

She added this is one of the key issues of juvenile justice today. Other include coordination of the players involved in kids lives; risk assessment tools including evidence-based practices; diversion; what programs work for special populations; sex offenders; mental health needs; racial disparities; confidentiality of court records and the availability of data.

In response to a question about mentoring, Garinger said if a kid has a meaningful involvement with a caring adult, it could make a world of difference, that one significant person can make a difference, she said.

She also stood up for those seeking more aggregate data on juvenile offenders from state agencies.

Journalists have often battled state departments of juvenile justice for such data. State DJJs often site privacy as a reason for withholding data even when only aggregate data is asked for.

Mark Solar chaired a panel following Garinger’s talk that focused on lessons learned from the superpredator years and the falling crime rates the nation has witnessed in recent years.

David Utter, left, and Ricardo Martinez, right, speaking at the John Jay conference

Ricardo Martinez, the co-director of Padres & Jovenes, spoke about teen stupidity as well.

Authorities, he said, take simple stupid behavior and find a law to fit it. Martinez, who is based in Denver, said the current policies used by many schools, including some in Denver, are part of a factory to create a nation with the highest incarceration of youth on the planet.

All of this starts with discipline in the schools, he said. Existing policies, he said, push the students out of the schools onto the streets and into trouble.

The thought by many school administrators, he said, is to throw out the bad kids so the good kids can learn. But, he said, his organization has yet to find a school that is throwing kids out and doing well academically.

Martinez also spent some time on what he sees as a concerted effort by the system to disenfranchise entire segments of society.

It is no accident, he explained, that zero tolerance has coincided with a change in demographics in the United States. “It is not an accident, it is a question of changing demographics,” he said.

David Utter, of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), spoke of the important role the media can play in exposing problems in the system. He referred to reports that have been done by Human Rights Watch and the SPLC in past years documenting abuses in youth detention centers that eventually got the notice of public and the Justice Department, in part, because of the work of the media.

Utter also spoke about racial disparity in the juvenile and adult correctional systems. It is across the board, Utter said, in every facility minority kids are overrepresented and the deeper you get into the system the more disparity you see.

Conference attendees, including JJIE editor John Fleming, center

Mark Soler closed by asking all the attendees to go visit the youth detention center in their area and meet the kids and “you will see that most of them have dark skin.

Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation, talked about the history of juvenile incarceration, saying that it has from the beginning been a disaster.

We should ask what’s wrong with the model we are using, he said.

He talked about New York City’s effort to take its incarcerated youth out of the state’s mechanism. This is a big deal, Schiraldi said, when the biggest city in the nation chooses to do this. And he added, New York is not alone, referring to realignment in California and experiments in Texas, Detroit and Chicago.

He closed by pointing out that there is a lot of evidence to show that kids sent into big facilities are more prone to reoffend, to have poor education and employment outcomes and for their mental health condition to worsen and in some instances be the reason for an onset of mental illness.

Panel Two:

Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott, a professor of law at Columbia University Law School, moderated a panel on juvenile justice reforms and politics. The main question she and other panelists asked was: Will deinstitutionalization and other reforms last?

The other panelists included: Gladys Carrion, the Commissioner of New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services; Marc Levin, director of Center for Effective Justice, Texas Policy Foundation and Daniel Chaney, director of the Juvenile Services Division of the Department of Children and Family Services in Wayne County, Mich.

Scott said knowledge of adolescent behavior tends to make for better policy, adding that there is little question that detention is a potentially toxic environment for juveniles. Alternatives to detention, she said, have been shown to be more effective in many instances.

Progress is being made, changes are being implemented, but the next time we see a high profile crime, a school shooting or something similar, will we see another wave of moral panic, she asked.

If a moral panic sets in, then those reforms are likely to be rolled back. What distinguishes a moral panic from a rational response, she said, is not that the threat is not real, but through a dynamic process among politicians and media and the public, the perception of how serious the threat is will become exaggerated. This is what unfolded in the 1990s. Crime is not a hot button issue now, but if it is something the politicians see as a hot button, they will reengage with the issue.

Scott went onto say that the media helped sustain the moral panic in the 1990s. What happens, the shooting, the teen crime, might be rare, but it is elevated in the public’s mind. These vivid stories contributed to a distorted image of what the larger picture is.

School violence, for example, was vastly blown out of proportion.  The media can be faulted for not covering the issue but for also not providing context.

But, the media has been very influential in recent years in pointing out the need for reforms.

Gladys Carrion

Gladys Carrion spoke about reform efforts in New York. There was a realization in the state several years ago, she said, that the system “was broken.”

It hasn’t been easy, Carrion said. There have been many challenges in closing 18 detention facilities. Many of these facilities are in small, up state communities. Their closure has had negative economic impacts on those communities. Unions have also been opposed to the closings.

There were, however, many practical reasons for closing the facilities, including costs which including more than $200,000 a year per child per year. More closings will be announced in the future.

If you want change, she said, you must have a lot of people on board, including parents, the media, the judges, young people, politicians and the public.

She also pointed out that the Department of Justice was of help too. The DOJ issued a report that found New York was not providing key support to detained youth and that the facilities were in poor condition.

This DOJ report and the order that followed served to move many decision-makers in the direction of reform.

Daniel Chaney, of Wayne County, Mich., spoke about how Detroit youth offenders were integrated into the county’s system. Before this was undertaken at the invitation of the city, however, one of the basic questions asked was, are the right kids coming into this system?

Administrators in Wayne County discovered that most kids could be put into non-detention programs.

Daniel Chaney

Cheney spoke of how of the changes were driven by budget challenges. Detroit was in financial trouble, but Wayne County was also in jeopardy of having its bond ratings lowered. So changes had to be made and because of those changes, better ways of doing things were discovered.

Marc Levin, from the Texas Policy Foundation, said the media played a role in bringing about reform in Texas because of a series of scandals in the youth detention facilities.

To the question, will reforms be sustainable, both in Texas and elsewhere, Levin said he believes the public is in front of the politicians on many of he key issues and that this provides an advantage. “The public is more lenient than the prosecutors and the politicians in some instances,” he said.

He also said that there is a role for media in demanding transparency, in looking at missing data such as adults who were on juvenile probation. However, he said, there is a bigger lack of transparency in the public school system and in the child welfare system.

Levin stressed that the issue of solitary confinement has not been covered adequately by the media. He noted documented instances in the adult system when adults had been released directory from solitary confinement into the community. He added that there is very little emphasis on reentry of juveniles back into society.

For coverage of Day Two head to our post here.

Photos by Clay Duda |

From the Editor: Art and Vandalism, Under the Bridge

Virginia Highlands, Atlanta. John Fleming/JJIE

I was in Johannesburg in 1993, before the rise of the anti-apartheid government, when the streets throbbed with uncertainty about the future.

The political leadership was trying to decide if the fall of apartheid would be peaceful or bloody. The ambiguity hanging in the air made it hard to get a bead on the general direction of things.

But you could find clues. You just had to search for them among the people of that huge industrial city, in their voices, their writings and especially, in their art.

And that’s what the graffiti I saw off a dingy street in the heart of the city was; stark, explosive, powerful, art.

They were three together, aligned as cartoon panels, projecting the power that was the oppressed majority.

The first, a landscape dominated by smokestacks, belching smoke into the sky, with the caption, “We are The Economy...”

In the second panel the smokestacks begin to fold downward, taking on the look of fingers, with the caption, “...We can...”

In the third panel, the stacks have turned into a fist, and the caption simply reads, “...Shut it Down...”

“We are The Economy, We can, Shut it Down,” captured pretty much everything you needed to know about who, ultimately, was going to win the struggle for the new South Africa and how they, the victors, were going to do it.

That’s what graffiti can do. As effectively as a particular Dali of the late 1930s, a mural of the streets can capture the moment.

Then again, it can also be garbage, blight on public and private property, a disgusting reminder of the shortcomings of a society.

We’ve got some of both in my part of downtown Atlanta -- a nice in-town neighborhood called Virginia Highlands -- the well-done works of graffiti, those renditions worthy of a show somewhere (if you could just haul the slab of concrete into a gallery) and the stuff barely passing as doodles that, if anything, qualifies as the idiots stuff that sadly defaces... well, graffiti.

Two clusters come to mind in my neighborhood. One is aside rail tracks just off a Kroger parking lot, and the other under an ornate bridge near one of our city’s parks.

Of course, these are just snapshots of one corner of one neighborhood of one big city. There are endless examples, good and bad, in your city as well.

Know some good examples? Send them to us at But, please, we only want to see the good stuff, the best of the best. No doodles, please. Keep the profanity, the nudies, the stuff in bad taste, to yourself and the wall it defaces. We want art. Please include where the graffiti is located, the city and the neighborhood if possible, the date and time of day would be cool, as well as your name, if you want the photo credit.

And, if you know the artists of any of these, or if you are an artist, please let us know. Or better yet, have them get in contact. We would love to talk to them.

Although we are hoping for some works with the power of an anti-apartheid mural, we are content just to celebrate in the artistry.

Related articles:

African Children in Prison: An Introduction

Officer in the Registration Room. Pademba Central Prison, Sierra Leone. 2010.

There is no qualifying the corners of human suffering around the globe. It is all bad, from massacre sites, to famine zones.

Still, if you consider just how dark the outlook for a human can be on God’s green Earth, observe the work in West Africa of the Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres.

Few places in the world hold the level of hopelessness of an African prison, for the most part vortexes that may release a human but never the human spirit. Now imagine a prison in a failed state in Africa. Now imagine a prison in a failed state in Africa that holds children.

This is the nightmare Moleres has found. No, it is not the worst place on Earth and yes there is human suffering that far surpasses what one finds in the Pademba Road Prison in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. But his work in this place, the images of the young and the hopeless, the squalor, the confines, the emotion, the dark cells streaked with precious sunlight, are a testament to how frightfully low a society can sink. And yet, it is also a reminder that the lack of amenities, if you will, are about the only thing that separates the misery of the Pedemba Prison from any given youth detention center in the United States.

If only Moleres’ work were about confinement and nothing else. There are wrongful convictions in this nation and other parts of the developed world, and structural deficiencies that put the poor at a disadvantage, to that question there is no doubt. But it is an understatement to say there is towering injustice in Sierra Leone, in Pademba Road and in Makeni Prison the decrepit provincial “facility” Moleres also visited.

Know this is not an easy journey for the viewer to take. Witness them though, because Moleres handles this horror with skill, grace and caring in a way that makes you understand the way of grotesque jurisprudence in another world. It is a strange soul indeed that would refuse to be stirred to outrage over these photographs.

So see it for what it is.

See a menacing guard with mirrored glasses, a necklace of handcuffs dangling around his neck, an image that foreshadows what is to come in Moleres’ essay. This power figure in uniform stands on the back end of a freight car, or more accurately a cargo of human beings. Then there is the more personal; a small boy named Abdul, in court, then the shock of him literally behind bars. Such a cliché shot is hard to get in the States these days, but here it is, in all its stomach-churning glory.

But perhaps the most telling image isn’t of prison bars or even an inmate, but of a clerk, seemingly asleep on his desk, a paralyzed and rotting bureaucracy showering down around him.

Farther down Pademba Road, into its hallways and inner cells you see the prison-scape that comes about when 1,100 men and boys are crammed into a space meant for 300.

The photography of this has been done before. It has even been done here, in this sprawling cage in Freetown. But Moleres somehow has found a deeper hopelessness, something that brings to mind slaving ships, the forgoing of freedom altogether.

He has managed to burrow so deeply into this subject because he cares so about what is going on here, the naked injustice of it all.

In a September 2011 interview with the British Journal of Photography, his frustration with the NGO community rose to the surface and exploded into the atmosphere. No one, not the United Nations, not the Red Cross, not Medecins du Monde, cared enough about the situation at Pademba Road Prison to do anything about it.

“When I was in Sierra Leone,” he told the Journal, a representative from the [United Nations] came to the prison to visit the detainees. I went with him. He talked with a few dealers, the guards, etc. But when other detainees came to see him to denounce the injustice of the entire system, his answer was: ‘I'm not here to solve your personal problems.’ This man, whose name is Antonio Maria Costa [was the former head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], has access to the country's vice president and home affairs minister. He could have done something about it, but he chose not to.”

Cantankerous? You bet he is. Then again, he’s got a right to be. Fernando Moleres is a one-man advocate for the children in this prison, so much so that he’s set his own structure in place to bail them out before they are lost, forever. He calls it, Free Minor Africa and in time he may just shame the mighty NGOs of the world into funding it.

This is not a passing fancy for Moleres. He’s been working the Pademba Road Prison project since 2007 and he’s been at photography for half his life, winning numerous top honors in international photography, including the the Luis Valtuena International Humanitarian Photography Award for his work in Sierra Leone.

He’ll take the accolades but he’ll also use his stage to call out the unwilling and scream to high heaven the injustice of Pademba Road and beyond.


The Editors managed an email exchange with Moleres recently when he was briefly at home in Barcelona (he's on the road a lot) and took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

Question: Has the attitude of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations, international relief groups, non-profits) changed in Sierra Leone? Are they so still so insensitive?

Fernando Moleres: Not all the NGOs are the same, not all the people inside them function the same way. My experience with the NGOs is that they are slow to act, all their decisions have to be made by consensus and within a bureaucratic process. The big NGOs have inflexible structures where it is very difficult to contact the person in charge of making decisions. Plans have to be made years before they will be carried out and an enormous amount of energy is spent in the administration.

When I asked the NGOs in Sierra Leona if I could help the prisoners, young or old, no one could offer me any help, suggestion nor interest for my request for what I was telling them.

Question: What is the status of Free Minor Africa? Are you getting support, contributions, from organizations and individuals?

FM: No, the project FMA, at this moment has no support. I have been getting some money by selling my pictures, ...or selling some photos or videos to some small magazines interested in this subject. All the money, 100%, goes to the project. Up to this moment only two persons have donated a total of $80. In total, FMA has $4,000 and there is a volunteer who will go to Sierra Leona. She will be paying her own way.

Question: How can people help?

FM: Go to the web page where you can find information on how to help directly or you may buy a photo to help Free Minor Africa. If someone wants to travel to Sierra Leone put them in contact with me.

Translated from the Spanish by Rosana Ayala.

For the remainder of this year, Fernando Moleres and the children of Sierra Leone will have a voice in this space.

Heading to Court. Pademba Central Prison. Freetown, Sierre Leone.

Focus on Youth: The Naked Truth of Portland Through the Eyes of Teenagers

Click to view more.
Photo by Carlos, Focus on Youth

In the nation’s consciousness the Pacific Northwest stands out there on the edge of the ocean, crisp, wet, clean and green. It is our better half, poking us to a cleaner lifestyle, forcing us to look to the outdoors, to the natural beauty around us, reminding us of the things we need to do for our inner selves.

We know it’s so, there is too much out there reverberates with the truth of it all. Healthy people, pristine forests, water, water everywhere. Fill your lungs with some fresh air and live a good life.

And yet we know it’s not the whole truth. That’s what you call reality, and to have a smidgen of that cut into your recipe of sweet living – stunning geography, happy people, your pick of blood-pumping outside dos – is to make the cake of being taste even better.

Portland is one of those Northwest ideal places. But it is also a big city, complete with all the beauty and imperfections of any other. To see it for what it really is, not a postcard, but naked and being itself is to hold a deeper appreciation of the place.

See some of Portland at its homely best in the work of a few dozen youth from the city that are part of an effort called Focus on Youth. These are what director Donna Lee Holmes calls low-income, high risk youth. The project uses professional photographers to give them the “creative outlets to make positive changes in their lives.”

While the focus of Focus on Youth is on at-risk kids, a good many of them are also immigrants.

It is that immigrant eye, then, that so often seems to catch the city being herself. There is: A tilted view of the skyline, with steel-grey sky as backdrop; A close up of a grate and then many grates, catching and leaving behind that inevitability of any congregation of humans -- garbage; A shot of that other inevitability of  human settlement, graffiti; A clutch of grimy newspaper boxes huddled on a street corner and finally the images of a playground, in a dull black and white, empty and lonely, a sad place, but you know only for a day or until recess when the life of it will return abundant.

We see many barriers in these photos -- fences, steel barricades, the Columbia River keeping Portland to one side and away from the photographer and viewer. So it is hard not to read into these and other images the promise of what is there across the river or beyond the fence for the immigrant who is also being held back by current or past circumstances.

But that authentic city and all the promise it holds, isn’t so far away, not so unattainable.

And as the good people and the good work at Focus on Youth proves, one vehicle for getting there is that creative outlet of photography the program offers.

You can see some of that creativity on our Bokeh companion site at

Have a look at these images. They are likely to stir a deeper appreciation of the Northwest and for the people who make these kinds of projects possible.

The Best of JJIE in 2011

This holiday season, before you are reach for the eggnog, after you rip open the presents, when you’ve finished gearing up for visits from the family and friends, take a few minutes to look over some of the best work JJIE has generated this year.

Starting tomorrow and continuing throughout the week we are posting compelling pieces that ran in 2011. These stories are rich with details about some of the most important issues dealing with youth today, from homelessness, to drug abuse, to sexuality, to juvenile crime.

They are a sampling of our best work; which means they are not only well written, they get to the heart of what we do here at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. They, in short, are stories of young people and the challenges, heartbreaks and joys they face every day.

We strive to bring you good journalism on meaningful topics. We’ve done that in the past and we’ll keep pushing it in the future.  And that begins next week, when you’ll read some frank and honest New Year’s resolutions from a group of teens in drug court. We all hope their resolutions are obvious.  But nothing in the lives of our young people is obvious.

So it is a mistake to think that an accurate portrayal of juveniles or the juvenile justice system across the country can be accomplished by shallow stories that take a glimpse of an incident here or a problem there. The true picture of youth in our nation today will only come with a deeper engagement with them and, the people in their lives and the organizations and entities that define and better their being.

In the coming year, then, we’ll bring you data-driven stories on the effectiveness of certain detention policies, analysis of the school-to-prison-pipeline, a comprehensive look at one state’s juvenile court system, why some groups of kids are more prone to commit certain crimes as well as dozens of feature and news stories.

We can’t cover every story of every young person in this nation. But we’ll do our best to give you the most complete picture of juvenile justice as we can.

Happy Holidays.

Teske to be Guest Today on National Radio Program

Judge Steven Teske, the chief judge of juvenile court in Clayton County, Ga., and a frequent contributor to the JJIE, will appear on Talk of the Nation, a live nation-wide radio program today.

Teske, who was also the subject of a Washington Post story in mid-October, will speak on issues involving juvenile justice, including zero tolerance policies.

"Zero tolerance is zero intelligence," Teske says in the Post story.

Teske says zero tolerance policies have resulted in too many kids entering the juvenile justice system. In Teske’s opinion, “zero tolerance often means overpunishment for low-level misdeeds,” according to The Post. Because of that, he helped bring reforms to his home community of Clayton County, Ga., where Teske is chief juvenile court judge. Since implementing the changes, juvenile crime has dropped, recidivism is down and graduation rates are up.

Talk of the Nation is an NPR program that runs for two hours Monday through Thursday. It is hosted by long-time journalist Neal Conan. The program airs at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Series Explores the Bully on the Playground and in our Lives

Who hasn’t been part of, or witness to, an ugly incident on the playground? You know the scene. Recess is going well, everyone is having great fun, then a disagreement ensues, over who knows what. Before you know it, there’s a torrent of threatening words, a flurry of shoves and finally a knee to the gut or a punch in the face.

It can be a rough place, the playground.

If only that were the sum of the unpleasantness our kids had to endure at school.

The truth is, for a lot of school children, the bloody nose is a small matter. The much deeper pain comes from a kind of constant harassment that can push them into isolation, depression and even suicide.

Bullying takes them there, into that dark place that makes a child feel helpless and vulnerable.

The good thing is, the nation is beginning to understand that bullying can no longer simply be dismissed as a way of life, as something that children do and have to go through. Now, there is an understanding that it can and should be combated.

Over the next few days, JJIE and the Southern Education Desk (SED) will be examining the problem of bullying. You will be able to read the stories on both websites, but you will also be able to listen to them thanks to our partnership with the SED.

The SED is a consortium of public radio stations clustered in the Southeast with a collective journalistic mission to explore “the challenges and opportunities confronting education” in the South.

Bullying is, indeed, a challenge. But in the struggle to understand and curtail it, there is also opportunity. In our effort to make our schools a safer, more tolerant, more understanding place we are making our society safer, more tolerant and more understanding.

In this series, the focus is on Georgia. We do that not only because JJIE and SED are located here, but also because the state has recently put some punch in its anti-bully law, broadening it to include the younger and, therefore, often the more at-risk of the school population.

One of those vulnerable kids was 11-year-old  Jaheen Herrera, who took his life in 2009 after a long period of being harassed at his school in suburban Atlanta. It was a staggering tragedy that sparked lawmakers in Georgia to implement a stronger anti-bully law.

Georgia, then, has made some progress in protecting its school children, but there’s still a lone way to go. And that journey is complicated, emotional and sometimes difficult.

Beginning tomorrow, JJIE’s Chandra Thomas and SED’s Maura Walz, however, bring clarity to this issue with compelling stories of parents, children and administrators grappling with it every day.

We hope you will take a few minutes to read and listen to what they have to say.

Celebrating the Power of the Still: Juvenile-In-Justice Series Premieres on JJIE

Richard RossRichard Ross is a busy guy. Catch him, if you can, dashing to, through or from, an airport. He’s always on the go.

But then again, if you plan on visiting 300 youth detention facilities across the nation, taking photos of more than 1,000 young people and administrators, then you don’t really have time to stand around and chat, for long anyhow.

One’s photography does not appear in more publications than you can shake a Canon 5D at -- from Harpers to Architectural Digest -- by being lazy. You don’t sit on your butt on the way to having your photos shown at galleries from The Tate Modern in London, to the High Museum in Atlanta. You don’t loaf around and end up publishing books, such as the Architecture of Authority and Waiting for the End of the World and get them introduced by the likes of John MacArthur and Sarah Vowell, by slacking.

And in between, if you are Ross, well you don’t really have down time, because there’s that class you have to teach at U.C. Santa Barbara.

It’s a good thing he approaches his work with the energy of a teenager, but it’s a better thing that he does it with the practiced eye and maturity of his 64 years. With that combination, comes not only care for his art and what’s in it, but the subjects and subject beyond the images. See it across his body of work.

His latest, and the object of his profound care for the past five years, is a project he calls Juvenile-In-Justice. This is what has taken him to those many detention centers scattered across 30 states. After 40 years of working in photography, he’s turning his attention, and his lens, he says, to the juvenile justice system.

The point of this exercise? He does not even attempt to blur his motivation. It is, quite simply, to “instigate policy reform.”

With his stunning photos it is hard to see how he will fail:

Ross’ work begins appearing this week on this page as well as our new arts page, Bokeh. Twice a week, you’ll see new images of his work on the JJIE site, where a link will take you to a larger body of his work on the Bokeh site. The images, all of youth inside detention centers, will include cutlines telling you enough about the teen for you to get a feel of their, and Ross’, humanity.

Busy in his Santa Barbara studio, Richard Ross took a few minutes last week to field a few JJIE questions, putting some juvenile justice questions sharply in focus.

JJIE: Can you explain what motivated you to spend five years working on a project that took you to juvenile detention centers across the country?

RR: I wanted to give a voice to the people that I thought had the least voice in our society. I had done a project Architecture of Authority--it was met with some success-- and doing the sequel "son of..." seemed a natural. The more I looked at the system, the more compelling and unrecognized it became. I never thought I would get this involved.

JJIE: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while working on the project? Biggest triumphs?

RR: It is always a challenge getting into any of these facilities. It takes endless approaches, pleas, emails and phone calls. It seems never ending.

JJIE: Was there a particular correctional facility or a particular inmate or a particular incident in all those years that sticks out in your memory?

RR: Missouri has so many great examples of humane institutions that seem to allow kids to be kids and not totally treat them like dirt. So it’s nice to have an example that sticks out positively. There are many that are non-descript. The endless repetition of the isolation rooms and lock down rooms is unnerving not by any particular example, but by the fact that the same "angry" architecture is repeated in so many facilities. The absolutely worst places in terms of facility and architecture would not let me in. I am surprised at how many places did allow me access.

JJIE: Your work in this project was supported by both the Guggenheim and the Annie E. Casey foundations. Is it possible for work like yours to be done these days without foundational funding? What advice would you give other photographers who are thinking about tackling a project of similar size or of overlooked subject matters?

RR: I received support from the Guggenheim for "career" work with an emphasis on Architecture of Authority. So in 2006 as that project was ending, I was allowed the latitude of working on the next logical step, an extension of the A of A project. The University of California was generous enough to support the research with a year off with pay, to assist the Guggenheim. This helped tremendously. Annie E. Casey has been great to allow me their good name for gaining access as well as two grants for flights, transportation/hotel etc—but no stipend, so I wasn't getting rich off this. Most of the project has been done on my own dime and with a compulsive need to do it. I know how to make beautiful pictures; I felt a need to make work that-- rather than being in the arena of pretentious art speak morons—operated in the realm of public policy makers. A realm where you can really impact people’s lives. I looked for a publisher and was told by several major presses, "books on social injustices don't make money." I feel this is a terribly realistic truth. Younger photographers have to find non-traditional ways to disseminate and make people aware and it is certainly not easy.
I recall the quote by Booker T Washington, "The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little." I think these are important words to use as a moral compass.

JJIE: Tell us about your project Juvenile-In-Justice. What do you hope people take home after seeing the body of work?

RR: I want people to look at these juveniles as people. Consider that most of them are here due to a collapsed economic, social, educational and family system. You have to look at society as a whole and use that to contextualize what these kids did to get into these institutions.

JJIE: Anything else you'd like to add? What else should the world know about Richard Ross and his photography?

RR: For the past 10 years or so people have asked if I work with film or digital... without realizing that the medium is a conscience.

Celebrating the Power of the Still: Photography and its Place in Our Lives

Not too many years ago, the still photo was the domain of the professional and the dedicated hobbyist. Today, when school children routinely have iPhones at the ready, we’ve reached the point where the world is our collective subject, caught from a billion different angles.

And what a glorious addition to our gallery of life’s great riches it is, this daily chronicle of human life, the capture of otherwise forgotten moments, the tally of the small order of life's minutiae as well as the dramatic breaths in time that bring about outcries of emotion, the sparking of movements, the fall of governments.

With so many photos taken by so many photographers, though, the prevailing opinion may be that the art form has been eroded, that the cascade of mostly mediocre images pummels the viewer into disinterest. The riveting scene from a few years ago now ranges from mildly interesting to old hat.

But the truth is, stunningly wonderful photography exists at the top of the populace’s current body of work. These are the images produced by those who know the science of the trade and practice it with a passion, every day. You see their work in the giant metro papers, but also in galleries. The composition, if you will, is there. A nice picture, that on closer inspection tells a story that demands your attention and stirs your emotions.

Today, JJIE introduces Bokeh, what you might call our fine arts site. Here is a place where some very strong still images will reside, along with photo essays and written essays on the art of photography.

Some of this work will include those at top of the field. On Monday, we begin publishing photographer Richard Ross’ work. The Santa Barbara-based Ross spent five years photographing and interviewing some 1,000 inmates in youth detention centers all across the country. His project, Juvenile-In-Justice, was supported in part by the Guggenheim Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Other work on Bokeh (the name roughly means, ‘the aesthetic quality of the blur in that part of the unfocused image’) includes our own. Today, a photo essay, “Saturday in the Park,” by JJIE photographer Clay Duda runs on the site. This is our attempt to capture the voices and thoughts of kids on common, but important, questions of the day. (Click here or see the introduction to the essay below.)

And finally, through our partnerships with groups such as VOX Teen Communications, you’ll see the work of young photographers, the way they see the world and the issues dominant in their lives.

Youth as its subject and the quality of the work are the common threads in the photography of the professionals, the up-and-coming photojournalists and the dedicated beginners congregating on Bokeh.

What you see on Bokeh is meant to be craft, strong and compelling, a home for the best work on the issues of juvenile justice.

We hope you enjoy it.