REASON 09: President Obama will create support for at-risk youth, addressing juvenile crime and
For most of our adult lives, we have seen up close the disastrous effects of the school-to-prison
pipeline that exists in so many of America’s economically disadvantaged communities. Sia sees
these affected young people as a lawyer who works in the often corrupted, racially charged legal
systems in a number of southern states. John sees them as part of his work as a mentor in the
Big Brother/Big Sisters of America program for the last quarter century. Over and over again,
we encounter children who don’t have access to basic opportunities, advantages, and programs
enjoyed by other kids who come from families with greater means. We see how poverty and
segregation can play a major role in determining the life chances of so many young people.
These children have no voting constituency. What the presidential candidates do or don’t do
for this population will have no impact on the election in November. But if you do believe
that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, and you believe a society should be measured by
how it treats its members who are in the weakest financial and educational positions, then it
should matter what giving President Obama another term would do to improve the lives of these
How these kids fare in the next four years is directly related to a fundamental philosophical
difference between President Obama and Governor Romney. President Obama believes in,
and is committed to, a government that has a central role in ensuring that all children have an
opportunity to enjoy the American Dream, irrespective of the financial circumstances of their
parents. As president, Obama therefore supports a slew of programs that have been constructed
on the basis of experimentation and trial and error social programming since the beginnings of
the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s. From all the rhetoric thus far, it appears a Romney
administration would cut a number of critical programs that support at-risk youth and their
families, whereas the Obama administration would work to maintain them and improve their
effectiveness and efficiency. Many of these critical programs would become unfundable if
Romney’s tax cuts for the wealthiest were enacted.
The legal system itself is a battleground for these different visions and ideologies, with profound
implications for at-risk youth in America. As Governor Romney’s connection to conservative
forces indicates, he would likely appoint ultra-right federal judges who will continue to expand
maximum, inflexible prison terms as the main response to and deterrence for juvenile crime.
These federal judges have historically looked for ways to restrict
the rights of criminal defendants, and they have been dismissive of rehabilitation, even for
people who committed crimes as young teenagers.
We’re voting for President Obama in November in part because he has displayed a governing
philosophy that sees the necessity for a comprehensive approach to providing opportunities
for at-risk youth that give them a real chance for a better life. Such an approach requires
better schools in poorer neighborhoods, more youth services and after-school programs, better
recreation opportunities, consistent support for rehabilitation, timely job programs for youth, and
more progressive judges.
Doing this and doing it better in a second term probably won’t win him many votes, but the
impact on young people all throughout these United States will be profound.
New York, New York