Girls in Justice


Recorded February 2, 2021


Richard Ross

Kasie Lee

Michelle DeYoung

Patricia Lee

If you would like to ask a question of any of the panelists, go to their bio page and click on Start a Conversation

Artist, activist, and photographer Richard Ross sits down with Assistant District Attorney Kasie Lee and social worker Michelle De Young to talk about Ross’ Juvenile-in-Justice project, new legal approaches to helping sexually exploited girls, and a day in the life of a social worker. This panel is moderated by Patricia Lee, Managing Attorney for the Juvenile Division of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Ross started the Juvenile-in-Justice project to help the public put a face to the youth incarcerated in the United States. His Juvenile-in-Justice project draws on interviews with over a thousand incarcerated youth in more than 300 facilities nationwide. Ross’ work emboldens the horrifying statistics behind juvenile justice in the United States through photographs and testimonials. His presentation touches on the important part art can play in advocacy and the need to engage policy makers and each other to effect lasting change. 

As Assistant District Attorney for the San Francisco Juvenile Unit, Kasie Lee has informed experience with at-risk youth and girls. She speaks about the pervasiveness of sexual abuse as a precursor to incarceration for girls. Her presentation also discusses new ordinances that are meant to target the root causes of the sexual exploitation of minors. She also talks about new measures that treat sexually exploited youth as survivors, not criminals.

Michelle De Young is a social worker with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Juvenile Unit. She describes a typical day of social work, changing the names and details of her clients, but communicating the stress and conflict that so many girls within the juvenile justice system face. Her presentation emphasizes the difficulty girls face trying to negotiate physical and emotional abuse and a justice system that seems them as delinquents or worse.

All three speakers emphasize the importance of art: to depict these struggles, to articulate gross injustice, to move lawmakers to action, and, for youth in conflict with the law, to express themselves to a world that seems to have turned its back on them.

View selected images from Girls in Justice Gallery.

Here are some takeaways from the event:

“Basically, I feel like I am a conduit telling these kids stories, but the story that you have to tell essentially is: when you can predict that an infant boy of color in a particular zip code is more likely to go to prison than to college, you have to be able to accept that it’s our fault more than his.” – Richard Ross

“What we see with a lot of the girls that come into the delinquency system later on in their lives is that there is this history of being foster children in the child welfare system, a history of being abused, severe neglect, and abandonment.” 

– Kasie Lee

“First, we have to acknowledge that this system was created from racist institutions because right now, 99% of my clients are young people of color. Second, we have to invest in the social capital of communities.” – Michelle DeYoung


Juvenile In Justice: Richard Ross in Conversation
CSEC: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
Annotated Bibliography: Girls in Conflict with the Law