Candidates Light on Children’s Issues

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“The truth is that no one has yet invented or discovered a mode of measurement for the intensity of human belief. Hence there can be yet no successful method of communicating intelligibly a sound method of self-analysis for one’s belief.”       –Professor John Henry Wigmore, regarding legal burden of proof

Jurist John Henry Wigmore described the efforts made by courts to define the threshold at which one is convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a disposition of guilt. What Professor Wigmore observes is that human belief is not a hard science, and that the factfinder of a case cannot know for certain what has transpired in a given case. Human belief is then difficult to measure, define, and is virtually untellable. As we weigh the policy statements of the presidential candidates, watch the debates, and pour over election analysis, this quote continues to ricochet around in my brain. One must ask oneself, what will convince me that this candidate can assume the role of American president?

Much is at stake this election cycle: a nomination to the Supreme Court, and with it, our political legitimacy, criminal justice reform, possibly a thoughtful re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), as well as the health of our economy and our country. While as adults we are able to vote for the candidate who best represents our values, political orientation and convictions, children have little agency or rights within our political system and are largely affected by our political choices. As child advocates, it is then important to understand where the candidates stand on issues of education and juvenile justice, among others.

Super Tuesday swiftly approaches. With Donald Trump firmly in the lead after the Nevada GOP primary, his website is absent of content on issues of juvenile justice reform and education, or positions related to children’s rights and welfare. While Marco Rubio also does not address juvenile justice, his education platform includes the prohibition of federally mandated Common Core curriculum, promotes local choice surrounding curriculum, and advocates for charter schools and greater parental choice to better, and innovate within, the American public education system. He also promotes paid leave for new parents, strongly defends heterosexual marriage, and supports anti-poverty programs that prioritize traditional marriage and family values. Ted Cruz holds similar positions to Rubio on marriage and family values.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic candidates reclaim family values. Bernie Sanders asserts the need for paid family leave, sick leave, and vacation time. He supports free college tuition at public institutions and refinancing of student loan debt at current interest rates. Hillary Clinton proposes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and has called for increased access to early childhood education and doubled federal investment in programs like Head Start. She supports debt-free college and also refinancing of student loan debt at current interest rates. It is unclear how either candidate will ensure state cooperation with their plans for free or reduced tuition.

Both Democratic candidates offer well-outlined proposals for criminal justice reform, largely mirroring one another and without specific mention of juvenile justice. Shared initiatives include ending privatized prisons, better training of law enforcement, sentencing reform, curbing militarization of police, and investment in rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. Sanders takes these initiatives a step further by calling for “taking marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs,” in his website’s section on Racial Justice. Clinton announced that she would put $2 billion towards behavioral health support staff to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

There are undoubtedly many other areas of policy which directly affect children — immigration, healthcare, and so forth, and all candidates’ platforms warrant thorough perusal. In the agora of American politics, posterity is largely kicked around for rhetorical exigence, however, our future generations are being, or not being, enrolled in pre-K now. They exist in environments that either increase or reduce their risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline now, in schools that may have outsourced discipline to School Resource Officers and local law enforcement. These are exigent issues, and certainly, before we head to the polls, if we don’t have the information that we need, we need to press the candidates and the media with our questions.

Former Supreme Court Justice Harlan included Professor Wigmore’s quote in his concurrence to the majority opinion in In re Winship, which set the beyond a reasonable doubt standard as the legal burden of proof for juvenile delinquency cases. Surely, the American presidency should require our highest standard, however subjective, and our most resolute convictions. Before we vote, we may just need more information.

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