After Iowa: Candidates’ Records on Juvenile Justice and Education Issues

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R)

The first leg of the 2012 presidential race ended in a virtual dead heat between Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with the former Massachusetts governor edging the former Pennsylvania senator by a mere eight votes in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses.

With several primaries scheduled for the month of January, the results of Iowa’s contest may be just the beginning of a long and potentially tumultuous road to establishing a Republican challenger to President Obama this November.

In regards to juvenile justice and education issues, both Romney and Santorum have figured prominently in establishing reform measures within their respective states.

Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, overseeing an overhaul of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee during his first year in office.

In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Massachusetts officials for failing to comply with the Disproportionate Minority Confinement provision of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Provision Act [JJDP] of 1974.  In response, the Romney administration outlined a complete reorganization of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee [JJAC], a State Advisory Group established by a 2002 addendum to the JJDP Act.

Shortly after the ACLU issued its report accusing the state of sending disproportionate numbers of minorities to juvenile detention centers, Romney appointed former Department of Youth Services Commissioner Robert Gittens to head the state’s JJAC. The state’s restructured JJAC required quarterly meetings, as opposed to two annual meetings prior to the Romney administration’s overhaul of the committee, with subcommittee hearings held eight times a year. Additionally, the Romney administration created a full-time staff within the JJAC that monitored the state’s juvenile justice issues, with several non-governmental reform advocates serving as committee members.

In 2003, an estimated 5,562 juveniles were held in Massachusetts’ detention centers. By 2006, the population numbers had dropped to 4,817, although youth of color still made up more than half of the state’s Department of Youth Services committed population.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R)

According to a Center for Juvenile Justice report, approximately a quarter of the state’s detained youth were 14 or younger in 2006.

In his 2010 book “No Apologies,” Romney wrote that the nation’s “current failure to educate our minority populations is the foremost civil-rights issue of our generation.” Continuing, he said that there is “no greater indictment of American government than the sorry state of American education,” which he cites as an “epic failure.”

As a former United States senator and congressman from Pennsylvania’s 18th district, Rick Santorum has remained mostly quiet regarding his stance on juvenile justice issues.

In 1993, Santorum voted in favor of HR 3351, The Youth Offenders Alternative Punishment Bill, a piece of legislation that supplemented funding for state programs that sought alternatives to juvenile incarceration or probation.

In 1999, Santorum voted in favor of S 254, the Juvenile Crime Bill, which prohibited the housing of juvenile offenders in the same facilities as adult inmates although authorizing minors 14 or older to be tried as adults in the case of serious violent or drug-related felonies.

Pertaining to educational issues, Santorum is a noted proponent of school voucher programs, voting in favor of the Education Savings Act and School Excellence Act of 1998 and the Affordable Education Act of 2000.

In a 2011 interview, Santorum said that the Department of Education was “unnecessary and overseeing a state bureaucracy which is already a big problem.” His rival Romney, while calling for the complete abolishment of the Department of Education in the early 1990s, praised the DOE in 2007, stating that the department “can actually make a difference” in the lives of America’s youth.

According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, as of 2010, Pennsylvania has more than 4,000 juvenile offenders in residential placement programs, whereas Massachusetts has fewer than 700 youths in such facilities. In both states, the numbers of youths in privately-held facilities are greater than those in public facilities, with Pennsylvania housing more than three times as many youth offenders in non-public residences than publicly-funded facilities.

The next Republican primary will be held Jan. 10 in New Hampshire, with subsequent primaries scheduled for South Carolina and Florida later this month.

One thought on “After Iowa: Candidates’ Records on Juvenile Justice and Education Issues

  1. Thanks for starting the conversation about the candidates’ records as they related to juvenile justice and education!

    I’d like to add some additional information about the reference to Rick Santorum’s vote for S. 254, the juvenile justice bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act, in 1999. This legislation would have gutted the requirement to address Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC). I’d recommend that you look at how Santorum voted on the Kennedy-Wellstone amendment to restore the DMC requirement to the JJDPA. The amendment failed to pass by 1 vote. Also, S. 254 never became law because the House and Senate never agreed on a final version of the bill.