Richard Ross spent a lot of time sitting, writing, getting permission, and listening to the stories of teens (as well as children aged 12 years old) of what life is like inside the bars of juvenile detention centers throughout the nation. It isn't pretty...
The first thing the reader will see are statistics: Juvenile courts process about 4,600 delinquency cases per day; juvenile incarceration is unique among the world's developed nations; the cost (from 66k-88k) it takes to pay for a young person in the system for 9-12 months. These aren't the only facts scattered throughout this book. There are many more...
Stories about told and re-told. You see the plight of a twelve-year old who was thrown in juvenile detention for fighting in school, just waiting until his mom can pick him up after work. You also see the 16 year old who has multiple counts of rape, murder and assault on his record. It shows incarcerated teens visiting their babies as well as the creativity these teens possess in a new environment that is much more restricted that life outside. Pages are filled with different stories, some saying their innocent, some saying they've changed, some saying they're guilty....
Ross also spends time in his book to get a holistic view of what the Youth Offender System looks like from solitary confinement to regular cells, from the cafeteria to the guard's observation room. Nothing is left out, and readers get face-time through stunning photos of what life looks like on the inside. Ross also takes the reader into facilities that aren't all bars and concrete. They look more like rehabilitation centers than prison cells. But it's always the same kids in every facility there is.
This book will definitely get different reactions from different readers. But what's most important is the story that's told throughout the book. It's a quick read because of the pictorial nature of this non-fiction, but it's powerful. The saying, "A picture tells a thousand words" is true in this instance. It has taken a lot of perseverance and a keen eye to capture the beauty in a world where not much beauty can be found. This is one non-fiction novel that should be in all YA libraries. Recommended.
Fiction book pair: Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Rikers High by Paul Volponi
Ages 12 and up 978-0985510602 192 pages
Recommended by: Naomi Bates, Librarian, Texas USA
See more of her recommendations: Naomibates.blogspot.com