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Policy advocate Jody Kent Lavy ‘02
Inside the doorway to Jody Kent Lavy’s small office near K Street in Washington, D.C., hangs an aluminum letterbox, the kind with a narrow slot on top. The front has been torn off; insert a letter, and it will flutter to the floor. Lavy is the director and national coordinator of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), a coalition advocating age-appropriate sentences for children and teenagers. She encountered the letterbox nearly a decade ago, at a men’s jail in Los Angeles, while investigating conditions there for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Inmates were supposed to put their complaints in it,” she says. “It was useless.”
Lavy speaks quickly and with passion. She joined CFSY in 2009 with the assignment to generate a national strategy for abolishing end-life sentences for minors. On her eight-person team are a litigation specialist and a state strategist, in addition to development and communication managers. Her collaborators have included Human Rights Watch and the American Bar Association, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that imprisoning juveniles for life without parole on the basis of mandatory sentencing rules (and absent consideration of what the Court called the “hallmark features” of youth, such as immaturity and impulsivity) violated the Eighth Amendment. Now, lower courts wrestle with whether or not this decision applies retroactively (Pennsylvania’s top court, for instance, says no.) So Lavy has gained another task: persuading governors directly, and the public through radio interviews and op-eds in major newspapers, to support re-sentencing hearings for 2,000-plus prisoners who were incarcerated for life as juveniles.
A communication major in college, with a minor in faith, peace, and justice, Lavy’s dedication to these issues grew out of a post-graduation year spent in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working at a homeless advocacy agency in Los Angeles. During her free time she volunteered with teens in a residential detention center, which led to three years with the ACLU of Southern California filing complaints with prison officials on behalf of inmates.
When Lavy moved to D.C. in 2006 to become a policy coordinator for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, a sheriff’s deputy gave her the broken mailbox—as a keepsake, perhaps, and reminder, she says, that “the work is never, ever done.”
Haley Edwards is a writer in Washington, D.C.