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Changing Confinement Culture in Olathe, Kansas


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Text and Photographs by Richard Ross

Olathe, Kansas is a suburb of Kansas City, but with its own unique issues. The Juvenile Detention center is divided into two parts, the older institution and a newer, LEED platinum certified facility across the street. I visited Olathe last month and photographed at both facilities.

The older facility is divided into pods, two levels, with architecture you would expect after viewing any recent TV movie with punishment as a subject. Cells with metal doors, some with pass through traps, small windows, concrete floors, cot-like beds, steel sinks and toilets. The cells are eight feet by 10 feet. The day room has round steel tables with four or six round fixed stools. You can close you eyes and you know these spaces. You have seen them.

The director of the center is a former warden of an adult facility. He put in 25 years dealing with adults before he was brought into the world of juveniles–- which he describes as finding his true calling. The director is faced with the fact that he “doesn’t control his front door.” His responsibility is making sure the kids are safe and secure and available when called by the judicial or law enforcement system. He must protect the kids from themselves, others and make sure they are not damaged by their stay. The director claims that while you can change architecture rather quickly, it takes far more time to change a culture…

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Juvenile In Justice is a Guggenheim award winning project by world renowned photographer Richard Ross to photograph and interview youth in juvenile detention centers across the U.S. Installments from the project appear bi-monthly on Bokeh.

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