Mass Incarcaration Under Scrutiny of Art, Activism

Photo: Korina Rojo


Photo: Korina Rojo
Photo: Korina Rojo

Five-hundred thousand juveniles are forced into the Juvenile Corrections System each year. Half a million children under the age of 18 face judgement every day for crimes violent and non-violent alike.

Sept. 2 launched the Juvenile Corrections exhibit at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, which is sponsored by the CU Denver Communication department. The exhibition includes stunning photographs by Zora Murff and Richard Ross portraying incarcerated youth in the United States, and the exhibit successfully opens up a dialogue about American youth in the court systems.

The photograph series offers a glimpse into a taboo subject. Many people are uncomfortable talking about the state of the US penitentiary system, let alone willing to discuss the minors who are currently serving time. Walking through the exhibit evokes an overwhelming sense of sadness and empathy for the human beings who are currently serving time.

The living conditions are more than difficult to comprehend. Small dorm-sized jail cells and less-than appealing food is photographed through manual angles. Although these children all committed crimes, the living conditions seem disproportionately cruel.

One photograph that stood out was of a boy in his jail uniform laying his head down on a table in the meal hall. This photograph makes the viewer wonder, Why isn’t he eating? Is he upset and is unable to eat because he is stricken with depression? Does he miss his family and friends? It strikes the viewer with an overwhelming sense of emotion trying to understand the person in the photo.

It’s hard to grasp the circumstances that lead to these individuals spending their life behind bars at such a young age. What was their home life like before this? It sparks a conversation about cause and effect and how to resolve crime. Law enforcement in the US has a duty to look into socio-economic factors, graduation rates, death rates, drug sales, and other factors that can lead to a young minority child being interned in a jail.

Another striking photograph is that of a basketball with a ratty net wrapped around the back of the hoop, leaving only the metal outline of a circle the place to aim for a basketball. The viewer begins to see that even simple things that take place outside of jail are taken for granted. The boys and girls in the juvenile corrections system are unable to have a functional basketball net to play a simple game.

The work of photographers Richard Ross and Zora Murff not only display their immense talent in capturing the lives and living conditions of minors behind bars, but their exhibit brings a taboo subject into the forefront of thought. After seeing these photographs, citizens of the US are forced to question the system as it stands now.

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