Current co-director Xavier McElrath-Bey, who has lived experience with youth incarceration, will head up the organization.
Jody Kent Lavy, who co-founded the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth and has served as co-executive director for 14 years, is stepping down this fall. Her counterpart, Xavier McElrath-Bey will remain as the organization’s sole executive director upon her departure.
McElrath-Bey, who has lived experience with youth incarceration, joined the organization in 2014 and became co-executive director alongside Kent Lavy in 2020.
“Over the past few years, Jody and Xavier have led us toward a vision that centers the expertise of those directly impacted by the legal system,” an announcement from the organization said. “This step honors this vision and we are so incredibly proud that Xavier will be one out of a small but growing number of national nonprofit executives who were formerly incarcerated. People closest to this issue have immeasurably valuable perspectives on how to lead and create change.”
The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth was founded in 2009 with the goals of banning life without parole and “other extreme sentences” for youth convicted of crimes, as well as promoting alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitative opportunities.
Perceptions and policies around these issues have seen seismic shifts nationwide in recent years. A number of states have passed or are considering “second look” laws that create pathways to early release for incarcerated people who received lengthy sentences for crimes committed in their youth. A recent Imprint investigation dives into these laws, following the case of a man who was sentenced to life in prison as a teen.
Even more states have seen “raise the age” initiatives to prevent or strictly limit the practice of prosecuting minors in adult court. The idea is that staying in the juvenile court system generally provides for greater access to diversion programs, and for those who are sentenced to detention, shorter sentences and a greater focus on rehabilitation.
Kent Lavy has served as executive director since the organization’s 2009 launch. She came to the role following five years working with the ACLU on prison and jail initiatives. McElrath-Bey started as the campaign’s senior advisor and national advocate 8 years ago. In that role, she founded the organization’s Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network, which brings together people who have lived experience with youth incarceration to advocate for sentencing reform.
McElrath-Bey received a 25-year sentence when he was 13 years old, according to his bio on the organization’s website. He was released from prison in 2002, after serving 13 years.
McElrath-Bey completed extensive schooling while incarcerated, earning multiple degrees and being inducted into an academic honor society. He spent several years doing direct service work with at-risk youth in the Chicago area before working as a researcher with Northwestern University, looking into the experiences and needs of formerly incarcerated youth. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the 2018 Justice Roundtable Excellence Award, the 2019 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Award, and Bright Promises Foundation’s 2021 Champion for Children Award.