Xavier McElrath-Bey

Xavier McElrath-Bey serves as Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) and is a co-founder of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN).During his many years at the CFSY, Xavier has fought to abolish life without parole for children in America, and has played a role in ending this practice in several states including Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota.  At age 13, after accumulating 19 arrests and seven convictions, Xavier was arrested, charged with a gang-related murder, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.  
While growing up in prison, Xavier became increasingly remorseful for his past actions and decided to change for the better. Hopeful of someday living a “normal life,” Xavier prepared himself by earning an Associate’s degree in Arts and an Associate’s in General Education from Carl Sandburg College, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Roosevelt University, and a certificate in Computer Technology. Xavier was also inducted into the Franklin Honor Society for outstanding scholarship. He began to envision a better life where he would be able to put his remorse into action — what he has referred to as his “eternal apology” to the victim in his case, Pedro Martinez, and his family.
In 2002, Xavier was released at age 26 after serving 13 years. 
While volunteering as a YMCA youth boxing coach, Xavier landed his first job as a Starbucks barista and decided to pursue a Master’s degree from Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services Program. He graduated with honors in 2006, and since then, he has worked in various fields including violence prevention, youth counseling, clinical research, youth advocacy, and sentencing reform. Prior to his current employment at the CFSY, Xavier worked for Northwestern University’s Health Disparities & Public Policy program, where he conducted over 800 clinical research interviews with formerly incarcerated youth. In 2016, he met Pedro’s family in a restorative justice healing circle. That day, they forgave him and forged a relationship that continues to this day.
In addition to leading the CFSY, Xavier currently serves as a Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) Advisory Council Member at MacArthur Foundation, an Advisory Council Member at Eighth Amendment Project, an Ambassador Alumni with Represent Justice, and an Advisory Council Member at Fair Chance Institute (FCI). He’s also served as a board member at the Community Justice for Youth Institute (CJYI) and as a member of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force (PATF) working group on community & police relations.
Outlets including the New York TimesPeople MagazineChicago TribuneTeen VoguePBS NewsHourThe GuardianThe Marshall Project, and others have shared Xavier’s story and advocacy efforts, and in recent years, he received the Justice Roundtable Excellence Award, the JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Award, the Bright Promises Foundation Champion for Children Award, and the 2023 Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize in recognition of his visionary leadership and groundbreaking advocacy efforts at the CFSY.In his powerful TEDx Talk titled “No Child is Born Bad,” Xavier reminds all of us that no child should ever receive a “death in prison” sentence and that all children, including those who have made horrible mistakes, have the capacity for positive change.