Major Associated Press series on life without parole for youth

The Associated Press published a major series on sentencing children to life without parole. Read some of the coverage below.

AP Investigation: A patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

AP: Juvenile life ruling affects some with parole option

After Life Without Parole, Two Held for Decades Savor Freedom

A Victim, a Lawmaker, a Judge: Voices in Juvie Reform Debate

A victim turns reformer

The soon-to-be parolee

No life without parole in Hawaii for those younger than 18

Ruling on minors’ life sentences has little Kansas impact

North Carolina
Dozens in North Carolina await review of no-parole sentences

5 former teen offenders free in Nevada after changes in law

Pennsylvania grapples with new sentences for juvenile lifers

Vermont law already prohibits juvenile life without parole

New Washington D.C. law provides review opportunities!

Legislation recently passed by the D.C. Council will provide review opportunities to hundreds of people sentenced as children in Washington, D.C. to extreme prison terms. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth worked closely with the Council and a coalition of local organizations to pass this legislation.

Because the District of Columbia does not maintain a prison system, these individuals are serving in federal facilities throughout the country. Incarcerated individuals must undertake specific actions in order to take advantage of this review opportunity.

Overview of and eligibility information for the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 (“the Act”)
Request an attorney for representation during resentencing
Read the full text of the bill

CFSY attends 100,000 Opportunities Initiative Opportunity Fair in Dallas

CFSY staff members Xavier McElrath-Bey (left), Eric Alexander (second from right) and Jody Kent Lavy (right) pose with former US Attorney General Eric Holder and panelist Kimberly Pham (more about her here) at the Dallas Opportunity Fair in May 2017. Put on by the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative and sponsored by Starbucks, FedEx and JC Penney, the fair resulted in 700 job offers being made to opportunity youth (ages 16-24) on the spot. This initiative will travel to Washington, DC in the fall.

North Dakota bans life-without-parole prison sentences for children

Bismarck, North Dakota, April 20, 2017 – North Dakota Governor Burgum, (R), has signed into law HB 1195, making North Dakota the 19th state to ban these death-in-prison sentences for children. The sentences also are not allowed in the District of Columbia.


HB 1195 ensures that no child in North Dakota will be sentenced to die in prison without hope of a second chance. The bill provides individuals who were convicted of serious crimes as children the opportunity to petition the court for judicial sentencing review to demonstrate they are deserving of a second chance after they have served 20 years.  Staff from the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) worked closely with State Representative Klemin (R), the bill’s sponsor, and other legislators to ensure HB1195 passed the North Dakota state legislature unanimously with broad bi-partisan support.


“HB 1195 is about hope, redemption, and holding our children accountable for serious crimes they commit in more fair and age-appropriate ways, while protecting public safety,” said Representative Lawrence R. Klemin, (R-Bismarck).  “This bill reflects our understanding that even children who commit serious crimes are capable of change.  I introduced this bill to give hope to those children who do change, so that they may have the opportunity to demonstrate to a judge that they are deserving of a second chance.”


Influenced by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions grounded in adolescent development research holding that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to the country’s harshest penalties, the nation has increasingly moved away from life-without-parole sentences for children. In five years, the number of states that ban sentences of life in prison without the possibility of release for children has nearly quadrupled to a total of 19 plus the District of Columbia. This includes North Dakota’s neighboring states of Montana and Wyoming. An additional four states ban life-without-parole sentences for children in most cases. North Dakota and Arkansas both passed legislation on the issue this year.


“This victory in North Dakota reflects the recent groundswell of support for abolishing death-in-prison sentences for children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Most importantly, it brings hope to those told as children they were worth nothing more than dying in prison.”


Research by the Sentencing Project has shown that most children sentenced to life without parole have suffered extreme trauma and abuse. More than 80 percent of these youth witnessed violence in their homes and neighborhoods on a regular basis. More than 50 percent of boys and 80 percent of girls were physically abused; More than 20 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls were sexually abused.


“Like many of the people serving these sentences, I experienced severe abuse and neglect as a child, and I eventually joined a gang for a sense of family,” said Xavier McElrath-Bey, who was incarcerated as a child and now serves as senior advisor and national advocate at CFSY.  “At age 13, I was responsible for the tragic death of another child.  I spent 13 years in prison.  I learned my lesson and grew into a remorseful adult. Today, at age 41, I am living proof that no child is beyond redemption, which is why youth should never be sentenced to die in prison.”


“Every day within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation we see people who turn their lives around in prison, in spite of the obstacle of incarceration,” said Leann Bertsch, director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Kids can and do grow up; and as they develop, they change. None of us are the same at 50 as we were at 16. Providing the possibility for judicial sentencing review decreases the likelihood of continued violent behavior behind bars and provides incentives to engage in meaningful rehabilitative programs so as to be considered more favorably by the sentencing court.”


In addition to giving people sentenced to life without parole the ability to have their sentences reviewed, the North Dakota bill will allow any child sentenced to more than 20 years the opportunity for a possible sentence reduction. As a result, all North Dakota children who commit crimes will now have the opportunity to prove their capacity for change and that they are deserving to re-enter and live in free society.


District of Columbia Abolishes Life Without Parole for Children

The Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act, which was sponsored by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, is now in effect after passing the D.C. Council unanimously on November 1st, 2016 and passing a 60-day period of Congressional review. At least 100 people serving extreme sentences for crimes committed as children will now have the opportunity for sentencing review as a result of this legislation. 

The District of Columbia joins Arkansas in banning life-in-prison-sentences for children this year. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now ban the sentence. The bill also ensures that every youth currently serving sentences longer than 20 years will receive the opportunity for review by either a judge or the parole board. In addition, this bill contains important provisions to reduce over-incarceration of youth, improve conditions for youth in the juvenile justice system, and promote restorative justice practices.

“The bill is incredibly important because it recognizes that young people must fundamentally be treated differently from adults – that they have a capacity to change and be rehabilitated. In that vein, adults who committed crimes much earlier in their lives as youth should have an opportunity for judicial review of their sentences after a certain period of time,” said Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

The CFSY worked closely with Councilmember McDuffie, partners at Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, the Campaign for Youth Justice, D.C. Lawyers for Youth, and other advocates to provide education and information about the need for reform. In addition, Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) members Andre Williams and Eddie Ellis provided testimony to the Council. Their personal stories powerfully illustrated that children have a unique capacity for change and should never be discarded for life.

For more information on the bill and its application, including resources for if you or your loved one is eligible for review, please see the document linked below:

More Information about the D.C. Comprehensive Youth Justice Act

We are making progress, and your partnership makes this work possible. Thank you!


Conservative States Giving Juveniles a Second Chance

When Arkansas last week became the 18th state — and first in the Deep South — to ban life-without-parole sentences for children, it joined a series of traditionally red states to end the practice in recent years. One need only look at a map of the issue to see states like Utah, South Dakota, and West Virginia among those who no longer sentence children to die in prison.

CFSY Executive Director Jody Kent Lavy, along with Jessica Jackson Sloan of the DreamCorps #cut50 initiative, spoke to this trend among conservative states in an op-ed published in the U.S. News and World Report, and emphasized that the possibility second chances and redemption — ignored by extreme sentences handed down to teenagers — are fundamental ideals for all Americans, liberal and conservative:

Last week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law SB 294, or the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act, making Arkansas the 18th state to ban life without parole sentences for children. At first glance, this move may seem uncharacteristic for a historically conservative state known for harsh sentencing policies. But a closer look reveals a commitment to the fundamental belief that giving children who have done wrong a second chance is not only a legal imperative, but a moral obligation.

Read the full op-ed at U.S. News and World Report

Arkansas Abolishes Life Without Parole for Children!

CFSY Senior Advisor & National Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey, Arkansas Representative Rebecca Petty, and Linda White

Dear friends,

Amazing news! Arkansas, a state that ranks sixth for sentencing the most youth to life without parole, has abolished the sentence for youth under the age of 18! It becomes the first state in the Deep South to abolish this inhumane sentence for young people.

More than 100 people sentenced to die in prison for crimes committed as children now have hope of a second chance at life outside of prison.

After two years of our efforts led by Advocacy Director & Chief Strategy Officer James Dold, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 294 yesterday. Efforts failed two years ago when a legislator whose daughter had been murdered opposed the bill. It wasn’t until meeting with Campaign Senior Advisor & National Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey and Linda White, a longtime CFSY partner who advocates for an end to life without parole for youth despite losing her daughter Cathy to youth violence, that the legislator not only dropped her opposition, but became a lead sponsor, championing the measure in the House to ensure its passage. Bipartisan support followed, and the bill passed overwhelmingly.

Please join me in celebrating this monumental win, not just for the people in Arkansas who now have a second chance at life, but for the opportunity it creates to spread reforms to other states across the country. With this win, the number of states banning life without parole for youth has nearly quadrupled since 2012.

As ever, I am confident we will end life without parole for youth once and for all.

Thank you for helping to make victories like these possible.


Jody Kent Lavy
Executive Director

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Xavier McElrath-Bey shares his story on air in Arkansas

“It didn’t really dawn on me, what he meant, until many years later, while I was serving a 25 year sentence.”

Earlier this month, our Senior Advisor and National Youth Justice Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey was featured on Speak up, Arkansas, a radio program in Little Rock. Xavier shared his story and spoke of children’s unique ability to change. Through Xavier’s powerful story, he was able to change the views of one listener who took the time to call into the show to express his new support for age-appropriate accountability.

New hope of freedom for those given mandatory life sentences as juveniles

Today, the Chicago Tribune published a comprehensive and thoughtful article covering the resentencing hearings in Illinois following the Supreme Court decisions in Miller and Montgomery. The article, featuring our very own Legal Director Heather Renwick, discusses the lives of two individuals resentenced after receiving life-without-parole as a child. Their stories exemplify children’s unique capacity for change and that no child should have their lives defined by their worst mistake.

“‘I think there’s a growing recognition that children are different and that given the opportunity to grow and change, individuals who commit crimes as children can still contribute in significant and positive ways to the community if given a chance,’ said Heather Renwick, legal director of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that aims to end sentences of life without parole for juveniles.”


In Memoriam

In the past several months, our community lost three beloved individuals: Grace Warren, Timothy “TJ” Spytma, and Glen Mitchell. Each of them represented the power and strength of our community. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth sends our condolences to the friends and families of these three passionate advocates for youth justice and dedicate our advocacy this year to their memory.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth would like to thank the friends and family of TJ Spytma who have graciously donated to our efforts in his honor. 

“Grace, I thank you for making me a stronger, better advocate for justice. But I am most grateful for the model you set for me, and all who knew you, of how to serve as an unconditionally loving, devoted mother.” – Jody Kent Lavy

“After serving four decades in prison TJ Spytma became a free man in 2014. In the past two years, since his release, he had been an asset to his community; a wonderful family member and friend to those in his life; and an ICAN member who had an extraordinary voice for children serving extreme sentences in the American criminal justice system. Rest in peace TJ.” – Xavier McElrath Bey
“Glen Mitchell personified grace, mercy and forgiveness. One of my most treasured and humbling experiences is when I interviewed him at length alongside Ellis Curry. Glen demonstrated warmth and genuine care for Ellis. He had no desire for retribution. His focus then and whenever I spoke with him was on creating a better world. Glen was a class act and a true warrior in our movement. He will be greatly missed.” – James Ross