In 2014, CFSY partnered with leaders who were formerly incarcerated for murder and/or sentenced to life without parole as children to launch a first-of-its-kind national network called ICAN, the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network. These individuals are experts who demonstrate through their advocacy that children, even those convicted of serious crimes, can mature and become rehabilitated. ICAN identifies, mobilizes, and amplifies the experiences of individuals incarcerated as youth to inform the public debate about children’s capacity for positive change and to debunk racially charged and dehumanizing narratives that seek to justify extreme sentencing of youth.
ICAN is woven into every aspect of the CFSY’s efforts. ICAN members write op-eds and editorials; speak at conferences and events; meet with legislators and testify before committees; shape CFSY programmatic strategies; and, ultimately, demonstrate with their lives the imperative need to overhaul accountability measures for children in the U.S. justice system—particularly for children of color who disproportionately receive life without parole and other extreme sentences. Because of successful reforms made possible by CFSY and its partners, ICAN now serves as a guiding light and resource to individuals returning home after decades in prison since childhood. Currently, three members of ICAN are full-time CFSY staffers.
- Speaking publicly to provide living examples of positive change
- Educating stakeholders and other strategic audiences about the impacts of extreme sentences upon individuals, families, and communities
- Highlighting in the media and in amicus briefs stories of individual change that demonstrate the potential of formerly incarcerated youth to become positive and productive members of society
- Advocating for reforms to justice policies at the state and federal levels that fail to reflect the fundamental differences between adolescents and adults
- Supporting campaign partners and other organizations and initiatives that advocate for age-appropriate and trauma-informed consequences for children
- Sharing our unique insights gained from experience to inform institutional policies and practices in working with youth
- Connecting and collaborating with other advocacy organizations and initiatives that are headed by, are staffed by, and/or are informed by formerly incarcerated leaders
ICAN Self-Care Convening
Now in it’s second iteration, the ICAN Self-Care COnvening seeks to help ICAN members recognize and heal from trauma. These gatherings create an opportunity for formerly life-sentenced children to engage in conversations about self-forgiveness with the assistance of fellow ICAN members, licensed clinical social workers, CFSY staff members, and spiritual guides. These discussions focus on creating personal wholeness and retaining a sense of personal accountability while overcoming the shame they bear for the harm they have caused.
To learn more, check out past ICAN self-care retreats in Michigan and Pennsylvania!
We Are the Formerly Incarcerated Youth
Steve Austin, ICAN Member
Xavier McElrath-Bey, Dolphy Jordan, and Vance Webster