President Biden proclaimed October Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), recommitting his Administration’s support to “transforming the juvenile justice system by creating safer and more supportive communities where young people can thrive.”
Youth who enter the juvenile justice system—disproportionately young people of color and young people with disabilities—are often confined in unsafe environments, live with trauma and mental health conditions that go untreated, and serve adult sentences, according to the proclamation. To improve youth justice, the Administration is striving “to shift its focus from punishment to support and making our nation’s promise of equal justice a reality for all.” Efforts include investments to make local juvenile justice programs more equitable, expand access to lawyers, increase opportunities for diversion programs, and ease the transition for individuals returning to their communities following incarceration, the proclamation noted.
YJAM 2023 features both in-person events and online activities designed to raise awareness about young people impacted by the justice system and inspire action on their behalf. Cohosted by OJJDP, the National Juvenile Justice Network, and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the observance underscores OJJDP’s commitment to juvenile justice reform by highlighting the Office’s three priorities: treating children as children; serving children at home, with their families, and in their communities; and opening up opportunities for system-involved youth. Those priorities are strengthened by OJJDP’s overarching principles to center impacted children and families, and improve racial equity and fairness in juvenile justice.
“YJAM asks us all to recommit to actions that promote youth justice reform—to ensuring that all children get a fair shot at reaching their potential. We must recommit to offering system-involved kids support and services that steer them toward positive change, and we must sustain those supports when youth reenter their communities after incarceration.”
—OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan
YJAM began in 2008 as Youth Justice Awareness Month, when a grieving mother, Tracy McClard, sought meaningful system reform after her teenage son, Jonathan, died by suicide while locked in solitary confinement in an adult jail. Ms. McClard advocated for an end to the incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system—a goal OJJDP shares.
OJJDP envisions a juvenile justice system that emphasizes reform, support for youth, and opportunities. It begins with keeping children out of adult criminal court. Youth should never be housed in adult jails and prisons, where they are at heightened risk for suffering assault, sexual abuse, and other crimes. Adult facilities do not offer youth age-appropriate care, therapy, and educational and vocational training. Further, recent research shows that incarceration in an adult correctional facility before the age of 18 is associated with a 33 percent increase in the risk of mortality between the ages of 18 and 39.
Other key reforms embraced by OJJDP include:
- Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities at every level of the juvenile justice system.
- Ensuring all youth have legal counsel at delinquency court proceedings.
- Providing community-based alternatives to incarceration.
- Supporting system-involved youth during community reentry by providing educational and vocational opportunities, employment and housing assistance, mental and physical healthcare, and treatment for substance use.
YJAM events underscore the importance of listening to system-involved youth and their families when they share their visions for a transformed juvenile justice system. Many feature youth with lived experience in the juvenile justice system, including:
- The 2023 YJAM Kickoff Webinar on October 3—OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and presenters will highlight YJAM; discuss the new YJAM toolkit, a guide to hosting a YJAM youth policy roundtable; and provide an overview of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s Emerging Leaders Committee 2023 Youth Summit.
- Centering Impacted Youth and Families on October 26—OJJDP will host a stakeholders roundtable focused on the role youth and families can play to improve the juvenile justice system by sharing their experiences; panelists will recommend ways to effectively communicate and collaborate with policymakers, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and other relevant stakeholders.
- Administrator Ryan will announce fiscal year 2023 grant awards that highlight OJJDP’s efforts to transform the juvenile justice system. OJJDP will also publish blog posts by the Administrator addressing the Office’s commitment to racial equity and fairness, and its three priorities.
Visit OJJDP's Youth Justice Action Month webpage for more information about YJAM, upcoming events, and links to additional resources.