Xavier McElrath-Bey named executive director of the CFSY


After going to prison at just 13 years of age, Xavier McElrath-Bey is now leading the fight to end extreme sentences for children 

October 20, 2023 – This week, Xavier McElrath-Bey began his tenure as sole Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) after serving three years as Co-Executive Director alongside CFSY co-founder Jody Kent Lavy.

Over almost a decade at CFSY, Xavier has established himself as a uniquely skilled and passionate leader in the movement to end extreme sentences for children. After going to prison at just 13 years of age, 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. He prepared himself for life outside of prison by earning multiple college degrees, earning an induction into the Franklin Honor Society for outstanding scholarship. After his release at the age of 26, he earned a Master’s Degree from Roosevelt University and worked in violence prevention in his Chicago community, as well as in clinical research at Northwestern University examining the mental health needs and outcomes of current and 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 his time at the CFSY, Xavier has played a key leadership role in every aspect of the organization’s work. In 2014, he co-founded the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), a first-of-its-kind national network of formerly incarcerated adults who served extreme sentences as children looking to create positive change. ICAN now has over 250 members across the country, including members serving their communities by founding nonprofit organizations, starting businesses, and advocating for youth justice reform. Xavier has been a key figure in the CFSY’s legislative advocacy efforts to end life without parole for children, and his advocacy was critical in abolishing JLWOP in places like Arkansas, Nevada, Utah, and the Dakotas. He is a prolific speaker and has shared his story all over the country, from the White House to TEDtalks to inside correctional facilities. 

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 Times, People Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Teen Vogue, PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, The 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. 

“As someone who was once deemed as ‘incorrigible’ by a juvenile court judge and sentenced as if I were an adult, it is one of the greatest honors of my life to lead an organization demanding a ban on life without parole and other extreme sentences for children”, says Xavier of his elevation. “It’s been a joy to work alongside and learn from my dear friend and mentor, Jody Kent Lavy, who, along with our team, has championed our equity journey over the years and made this moment possible.”

Today, 33 states have either formally abolished juvenile life without the possibility of parole or have no one serving this sentence and in the last decade, 1,000 people who were once sentenced to die in prison as children have returned home to become leaders in their communities. The CFSY is committed to building on this success under Xavier’s leadership, ending extreme sentences for children and working to ensure that survivors of youth violence, those incarcerated as children who are still serving and have been released, and their respective families and communities can heal and thrive.


For more information, or if you would like to arrange an interview, please contact Adam Kemerer at akemerer@cfsy.org | 412-728-2340

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is a nonprofit that leads efforts to ban life-without-parole and other extreme sentences for children, and supports those incarcerated as children who are released after serving long sentences to lead and thrive.