The number of kids entering the juvenile justice system has declined steadily in recent years, yet girls continue to represent an ever-growing share of those arrested, detained, and committed to custody. In his latest collection of photographs, Girls in Justice, Richard Ross—who has spent the past eight years documenting incarcerated kids—explores the lives of young women in custody. His haunting photos, taken across 250 different detention facilities, illuminate the difficult circumstances (absent caregivers, poverty, physical abuse, sexual violence, etc.) that drive girls into the system and in many cases keep them there.
BN, age 15
"We confine and often demonize a group of kids who have been abused and violated by the very people who should be protecting and loving them," writes Ross, who also won a 2012 National Magazine Award for a photo collection on juvenile justice, in the preface. "These girls in detention and commitment facilities are further abused by an organized system that can't recognize or respond to their history and their needs…Is this the only solution we can offer?"
In the book, for privacy reasons, the girls are identified only by their initials, and their faces are obscured. BN, the 15-year old at right, told Ross how she was forced into prostitution as a child—by her mom: "My mom's 32, a crack and meth addict," she explained. "I think I was in the fourth grade. Once you're in the game, it's hard to get out of it. And I like the money now. I had gonorrhea when I was 12. Nobody wanted to help me. I don't know what they are going to do with me. I would be a mother to my brother and sister. I would do things like pay all the house bills."
SG, age 17
BN also said she was a runaway—sort of: "I really didn't run away, but my mom kicked me out of the house."
Most of the girls Ross interviewed reported that their first arrest was either for running away or for larceny theft, which lines up with the statistics: Girls account for about 60 percent of arrests for running away from home.
Seventeen-year-old SG told Ross that she ended up in detention after being on house arrest; she left the house to go to church. "I was a meth baby," she said, noting that she's used meth too, but had been clean for a year. SG said her father beat her when she was little—he left the family when she was six. He later went to prison for child abuse and drug charges. When she was seven, SG said, she was abused by an adult that worked with kids at a local Boys and Girls Club. She waited six years to tell the police: "I don't think they did anything."
BW, age 18
Eighteen-year-old BW told Ross that her mother used to burn her with cigarettes when she and her siblings were young, and would hit them with extension cords if they got in trouble at school. She also recounted being sexually abused by her stepfather. "My aunt came in and said, 'Did you touch my babies? Did you touch them?' And he said, 'I didn't touch them goddamn kids.' Then he comes in with a gun. He got the gun to her head like, 'Don't you snitch on me, don't you tell the police.' So we're thinking 'My auntie is gonna lose her life right in front of our eyes.'"
These sorts of experiences are common among girls in juvenile facilities: According to the author of a 2009 Department of Justice-funded study of 100 South Carolina girls in detention, 35 of the girls had witnessed a murder, 44 had been sexually abused by an adult, 50 had been abused physically by a caregiver, 54 had a caregiver who served time, and 69 reported having "consensual" sex with an adult.
In the book, Ross points out that involvement in the system can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress for girls. The militarized climate of detention facilities is one contributing factor.
A lot of detention facilities have "a very paramilitary framework," he notes in an email. "Hands behind your back, eyes down, arms length." The guards typically come from a military or law-enforcement background. "They treat the kids as little adults, small soldiers. The long hallway and locked doors are typical: 8x10 cells, concrete bed, mattress too flat, bed too hard, pillow too flat, blanket too thin...Their shoes are parked outside the door, indicating 'There is a body inside the cell,' to quote the guard."
One young girl, 15-year-old KN, showed Ross her tattoos. At the time he photographed her, she had been in detention for two months. She said she'd been put in placement—a less restrictive detention option—after being charged with battery and assault of a girl at school, but she kept going AWOL and finally ended up in a lockup situation.
KN, age 15
After her four month stint in detention, she would most likely be sent back to placement. "But mostly, I want to go home," she told Ross. "I have a girlfriend here. And on the outs. My parents are real Catholic. They say God doesn't like you being with girls, but they're glad that I do because that way I won't get pregnant...God thinks I can do better with my life and He knows I will do better."
Name unknown, age 11
"Who tattoos this across their fingers? Where can this lifetime commitment to purge and reject love come from?" Ross asks his readers. "'Fuck Love' is the response to a familial trust shattered. A wish to announce that she rejects those that have rejected her."
One of the facilities that Ross visited is Maryvale, a Los Angeles residential treatment center for girls ages 8 to 17. It used to be an orphanage. One of the girls Ross photographed there was only 11. He doesn't know her name and was not allowed to interview her. "Some of them are too fragile," he writes. "They come from abusive homes and the results are the fragile world between dependency and detention." In this facility, the girls are in rooms with real bedspreads and lots of stuffed animals. Ross asked the director why there were so many stuffed animals, even for the older girls. "The response was, 'These kids have never had a real childhood, so we try and allow it at every age.'"
RT, age 16
Black, Native American, and Latina girls are all detained at higher rates than white girls. And the racial disparities in detention have an impact even after the girls leave. Ross cites a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics that shows that detention radically increases the likelihood of early mortality for Latinas. The study found that girls who have been in detention are five times more likely than the general population to die within 16 years of their detention. And for Latinas, the risk is nearly twice as high.
RT, a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, told Ross that she was working at a packing plant when Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the place. She was one of many minors working there, she said. "They deported most of the people, but kept some of us to go to court against the owners...All of us were from the same village in Guatemala. We live in houses that the company owns. I think they let me stay because of my baby."
For Americans who like to eat out occasionally, the full-service restaurant industry is full of relatively affordable options—think Olive Garden, Applebees, or Chili's. But these spots aren't exactly a bargain once a hefty hidden cost is factored in: The amount of taxpayer assistance that goes to workers earning little pay.
Food service workers have more than twice the poverty rate of the overall workforce, and thus more often seek out public benefits. A new report published last week by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a restaurant workers' advocacy and assistance group, calculated the tab and found that from 2009 to 2013, regular Americans subsidized the industry's low wages with nearly $9.5 billion in tax money each year. That number includes spending from roughly 10 different assistance programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, and low-income housing programs like Section 8.
Here's the breakdown per program:
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
The amounts were calculated by combining Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the programs' cost and enrollments with the number of Americans working in full-service restaurants.
ROC also found that employees at the five largest full-service restaurant companies alone cost taxpayers about $1.4 billion per year. According to the report, these five companies employ more than half a million of the sector's more than 4 million workers.
Here's another striking statistic: If you add up these five companies' profits, CEO pay, distributed dividends, and stock buy-backs, the total comes to a bit more than $1.48 billion—almost exactly what taxpayers spend on these five companies' workers, $1.42 billion.
ROC's report notes another key point: Polling shows that most Americans want a tax system that requires Corporate America to pull its weight. If customers start realizing that their meal costs a lot more than the check says, they just might lose their appetite.
On Tuesday morning, Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, published a full front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new bill that has incited national furor because it allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, citing their religious beliefs.
Tuesday's Indianapolis Star. @markalesia/Twitter
By the end of the day, the paper received a heartbreaking letter from Nick Crews of Plainfield. Crews writes about walking his dogs to the local market that morning to pick up two copies of the day's Star, something he never does. He continues:
With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.
At the grave I opened the Star. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.
And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to the Star. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.
Ellen Pao near the courthouse where her lawsuit has been on trial since February.
This is a breaking news story. We'll be updating this post regularly.
Ellen Pao's $16 million lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, has captivated Silicon Valley for the past month. Pao, now the interim CEO of Reddit, sued her former employer on charges of gender discrimination and retaliation. Manyhave called the trial Silicon Valley's version of the Anita Hill hearings, in part because it offers a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by women at the Valley's elite companies, where cases of this rank usually settle rather than go public. At 2 PM pacific today, the jury returned a verdict, voting no on all four counts of alleged gender discrimination and retaliation by Kleiner Perkins.
But the official verdict barely lasted a half hour, thanks to an error in basic math: The judge asked each juror to list their individual verdict for the court. This revealed that on the fourth count—which alleges that Pao's termination was retaliation for raising concerns about gender discrimination and filing her lawsuit—4 of the 12 jurors, two men and two women, voted yes. The judge ruled that 8-4 was an insufficient majority—a consensus among nine jurors is needed—and asked the jurors to return to the deliberation room for further discussion. That means that there hasn't yet been an official verdict. We'll keep updating this post as news unfolds.
Update, Friday, 7:45 p.m. EDT: After the first jury miscount, an official verdict is in and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has prevailed on all counts. The jury returned to the courtroom after several hours of additional deliberations to deliver the verdict. Juror 3, one of the four original "yes" votes on the retaliation count, flipped his vote. With a consensus of nine jurors or more on all counts, the case is over. Ellen Pao gave a brief statement to the press, thanking her family and friends for their support throughout the trial. "I have told my story and thousands of people have heard me," she said. "If I've helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it."
On Monday, President Obama made his annual rounds at the White House Science Fair. The event is a breeding ground for adorable interactions with kid-nerds (See 2012's marshmallow-shooting air cannon), but his chat yesterday with five cape-wearing Girl Scouts from Oklahoma was especially magical.
The 6-year-olds from Tulsa's Girl Scout Troup 411 were the youngest inventors selected to present at this year's fair. Inspired by conversations with a librarian and one of the girls' grandmas, they built a mechanical Lego contraption that can turn pages, to help patients with mobility issues read books.
The group of first graders and kindergartners explain to Obama that the device is a "prototype" that they came up with in a "brainstorming session." One of the girls asks Obama if he's ever had his own brainstorming session.
"I have had a couple brainstorming sessions," replies an amused Obama. "But I didn't come up with anything this good!"
Another girls asks what he came up with:
"I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care. It turned out ok, but it started off with some prototypes," the president says.
And then they all go in for a group hug. GOLD.
Suzanne Dodson, the coach of the Lego team and the mom of one of the scouts, told Tulsa World that she's glad the girls are getting such positive attention for their project: "It really is a problem with girls, when they get to middle school, they lose confidence in their own ability to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)" she said. "Having this experience at young age really gives them a confidence boost."