October is Youth Justice Awareness Month!

October has been Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) since 2008. During YJAM, people across the country have organized events that have helped to raise awareness, strengthen coalitions, and build campaigns to keep children out of the adult criminal justice system. For the second straight year, President Obama has formalized October as Youth Justice Awareness Month with a Presidential Proclamation.

Throughout October, the CFSY will run a series of blogs and social media posts highlighting YJAM, our work within broader juvenile justice advocacy, and our conviction that “no child is born bad”. Stay tuned to this page for updates as they come!

October 6: Kicking off our YJAM blog series with commentary from CFSY Executive Director Jody Kent Lavy

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month – as proclaimed by President Obama — and we are celebrating and honoring all of the hard work of community leaders, advocates, coalition builders, legislative champions, judicial officials, defenders, and directly impacted individuals who seek to ensure that our country holds children accountable in age-appropriate ways that account for their experiences with trauma and their capacity to grow and change.

Our partners at the Campaign for Youth Justice started Youth Justice Awareness Month in 2008 to draw attention to the need to end the prosecution of youth in the adult criminal justice system. As awareness has grown, so have opportunities to create change, so the founders have decided to focus this year and in the future on transforming awareness into action. We are thrilled to join them in their efforts.

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October 13: Redeemed Juveniles Like Me Are Not the Exception from CFSY Youth Justice Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey

Today is special for me for several reasons.

For starters, I will have the honor of spending much of the day in a symposium at San Quentin State Prison in California. I especially look forward to sharing time with the members of KID C.A.T. (Creating Awareness Together), a group of individuals who were sentenced to life without parole when they were children. After years of incarceration, they created their own support group with a mission to organize acts of community service and goodwill.

During my first two visits to San Quentin earlier this year, I learned about the group’s  past activities, which have included conducting food and hygiene product drives for the homeless, fundraising to sponsor youth involvement in community programs, raising awareness and money for cancer research, and folding hundreds of origami hearts for kids at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. All these activities took place behind the walls of San Quentin and were facilitated by people once considered to be heartless, remorseless monsters as a result of the now-disproven “superpredator theory.”

I am not surprised by their efforts. I recognize that their actions are the reflections of an eternal apology that I, too, am living out. Fourteen years ago today, at age 26, I walked out of the prison gates with a remorseful heart and a mission to advocate on behalf of children who are exposed to violence and the justice system. After pleading guilty to murder, I had been incarcerated half of my life.

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