WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — “These photographs depict juveniles in various stages of incarceration and it draws attention to what’s really happening across the nation,” Luzerne County Court Manager David Pedri said.
Over a decade after the now infamous ‘Kids for Cash’ scandal, powerful art is lining the halls of the Luzerne County courthouse. These photographs, created by Richard Ross, are a part of an event called Juvenile Justice Week.
“Juvenile justice week is extremely important for Luzerne County for a lot of different reasons. We know where we were in the past with juvenile justice in Luzerne County and we’ve made some major major changes here so it’s always important to show where we’re going and what the next steps are,” Pedri said.
It’s a five day period of collaboration that gives experts a chance to discuss strategies in an effort to promote reformation among juvenile offenders.
“These people need to understand what a juvenile really sees. And is incarceration really the right idea? Or is it some sort of alternative treatment?” Pedri said.
The photography exhibit brings into question how the state treats this vulnerable group. The art serves as a talking point for employees of the system.
“What I think it does illustrate is just the general isolation of kids that are placed at facilities. When they’re placed, especially in secure facilities, they are restricted, removed from the community, removed from their schools, taken away from their parents, taken away from their siblings,”
Wojcie Jankowski said.
Angela Zera, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer of Luzerne County says that placement of juveniles in the system revolves around assessments. These assessments give officials a sense of if a child could benefit from being in a facility or benefit from being released into alternative treatments.
“An argument to keep a child in a facility is because they would be a risk to themself, they would be a risk to the community. In other words, committing new crime,” Zera said.
According to the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania spends $160,000 a year for each juvenile in placement, with only $15,000 a year on education per student. Jamie Smith, Director of the Social Fabric Collective which presented the photography exhibit, says that is a discrepancy that needs to change.
“The project that we’re doing this fall is called changing the narrative it’s a collaborative project and the photo exhibit kicks off discussing these ideas of our return on investment for what we spend on juvenile justice and what are the outcomes and same thing on education,” Smith said.
Although none of the photographs in Ross’s collection show facilities in Northeast Pennsylvania, they depict a similar situation.
“Unfortunately some of the facilities that are depicted in the photographs do look like those I visited, my clients in pennsylvania with cinder block walls, and concrete floors, and the kids have to wear you know prison garb and shower shoes,” Cheryl Sobeski-Reedy said.
The photography exhibit in the Luzerne County courthouse is open to the public until October 17th. Juvenile justice week runs until October 11th.