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As the country heads into the 2020 presidential election year, with caucuses and primaries beginning in February with the Iowa caucus last night, we at National Crittenton feel it is imperative to highlight the many ways in which girls and gender-expansive young people are impacted by the positions and policies many of the candidates build their campaigns on. That’s why we’ve decided to issue a special series of the Centering Girls in Systems Change newsletter – a newsletter a week covering juvenile justice, gender-based violence, health and reproductive justice, education, child welfare and youth homelessness, and immigration. We will focus on the 13 candidates (11 Democrats and two Republicans, not including the President) running for office, taking a closer look at their stances and track records on issues that impact the health and livelihood of girls and gender-expansive young people across our country.

As the incumbent President, Donald Trump’s track record, positions, and policy-related plans are well-publicized, and specific policies of his administration have been remarked on in past editions of this newsletter. Many of these policies have the potential to have immediate and long-term negative effects on the lives of girls and gender-expansive young people. For these reasons, and given our public disagreement with the position of his administration on juvenile justice reform for girls, we feel that it would be a conflict of interest to include him in this series and have chosen to allow his and the administration’s written policies to stand on their own.


Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado

Current Policies/Positions: Senator Bennet has not released any criminal justice policy platforms as part of his campaign for President. However, his Senate page does say he “supports efforts to reform our criminal justice system, which disproportionately affects people of color, by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level offenses and increasing resources for individuals reentering their communities.”

Track Record: Aside from cosponsoring the First Step Act, Bennet does not have a track record on criminal justice reform or juvenile justice reform in particular.

Joe Biden, Former Vice President

Current Policies/Positions: One of the only candidates to explicitly mention girls and youth justice on his campaign site, Biden’s criminal justice policy platform includes: fully funding the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA); investing $1 billion a year to reform the juvenile justice system; creating a new grant program encouraging states to place non-violent youth in community-based alternatives to detention and repurpose empty prisons for community benefit; expand community programming, including after-school programs and community centers; ending the use of detention for status offenses; ending the school-to-prison pipeline by investing in mental health; protecting juvenile records; encouraging state data collection; providing for the unique needs of incarcerated women; addressing racial, gender, and income-based disparities; reinvesting in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Girls Initiative, and stopping corporations from profiting off of incarceration.

Track Record: Biden has been criticized for having “a long, punitive record on criminal justice.” During his 36-year-tenure in the Senate, he helped author and enact “tough on crime policies” that include the Comprehensive Control Act, Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, and the Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act–policies that have proven ineffective, and that writer Branko Marcetic argues contributed to “…countless lives ruined, families broken, and communities devastated.”

Michael Bloomberg, Former Mayor of New York City

Current Policies/Positions: Bloomberg’s criminal justice policy platform builds on his youth justice reforms as former Mayor of New York City, where his Juvenile Justice Initiative “cut the number of at-risk youths detained by half and reduced violent felony recidivism by 29%.” His efforts as President, if elected, would include launching a national initiative to reduce youth incarceration by half during his first term, eliminating youth incarceration for all non-violent offenses, and expanding federal grants to cities and states that implement effective alternative placement programs for youth as well as cities and states that adopt at-risk assessment tools to reduce detention of adolescents awaiting trial. While Bloomberg references the disproportionate impact incarceration has on communities of color, his current platform does not specifically outline any tools for combating this.

Track Record: Although he apologized for his harmful stop-and-frisk policing policies—which disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx people—prior to announcing his bid for President, advocates like Michael Sisitzky of the New York City Liberties Union say, “there is a lot in the record of former mayor Bloomberg that requires an apology.” This includes Bloomberg’s support of the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim Americans after 9/11, his “championing” of mandatory minimums for gun possession, inaction in the face of the increase in violent conditions at Rikers Island jails during his tenure—including “abuse perpetrated by corrections officers against young prisoners”—and his support of a private campus police force at Johns Hopkins University. Bloomberg recently dropped a call-center vendor following reports that they “hired a subcontractor, and that subcontractor had hired a company that used prison labor” to make campaign calls.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana:

Current Policies/Positions: Mayor Buttigieg’s criminal justice reform plan includes supporting state efforts to abolish youth prisons and replace them with community-based alternatives through a new $100 million competitive federal grant program; moving the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to the Administration for Children and Family Services Division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); raising the age at which a child can be tried as an adult and establishing a minimum age of criminal responsibility of at least 14; fully funding the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act; ensuring youth are removed from all adult settings by incentivizing states to fully implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Youthful Inmate Standard; ending the school-to-prison pipeline; enforcing the ban on juvenile mandatory life without parole sentences by ensuring prompt hearings for retroactive applications of the ban; encouraging states to drop life without parole sentences for children in all instances; removing barriers to justice-involved youth participating in federally-funded programs; initiating a “Families of Incarcerated Children” program in the Children’s Bureau of the Administration of Children and Families within the HHS which would include facility guidelines on placing parents within reasonable distance from their children and ensuring they do not lose parental rights simply because they are incarcerated; ensuring fairness and equity for system-involved youth by promoting reforms that address disproportionate minority contact; enacting the Eliminating Debtor’s Prisons for Kids Act, and ending the automatic transfer of immigrant youth in HHS custody to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on their 18th birthdays.

Track Record: In South Bend, Buttigieg has been criticized for his handling of the police shooting of a black man in June 2019 and the city’s increasing violent crime. While he has enacted requirements for officers to undergo sensitivity, implicit bias, and civil rights training, updated the department’s use of force policy, and established a body camera program, “residents and officers within the police department have said that the reforms–however well-intentioned–have not mended strained relationships in the city.”

Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawai’i

Current Policies/Positions: Despite having a page on her campaign website dedicated to criminal justice and reform, Congresswoman Gabbard does not appear to have a published policy platform outside of her track record and statements on the matter. In statements published on her campaign site, Gabbard says she supports implementing alternatives to incarceration, ending the “failed war on drugs,” ending cash bail, and banning private prisons.

Track Record: As a member of the House of Representatives, Gabbard has supported the First Step Act, and helped introduce the Tracking Survivors Relief Act, which would “provide for the vacating of certain convictions and expungement of certain arrests of victims of human trafficking.” Her congressional website also mentions juvenile justice explicitly, highlighting Hawai’i’s Ho’opono Mamo Civil Citation Initiative, which diverts young people away from the justice system and connects them to community-based alternatives.

Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota

Current Policies/Positions: Although Senator Klobuchar does not explicitly include criminal justice reform as an issue area or list it within her campaign policy areas, she does include elements of reform within plans for her first 100 days in office, if elected. Among them: creating a clemency advisory board in the White House to advise the President outside of the Department of Justice; providing incentives for states and localities to adopt sentencing and prison reforms; reversing Attorney General Jeff Session’s memo directing federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties in all cases; restoring the Smart on Crime initiative; reopening and expanding the Office for Access to Justice, and phasing out the use of private prisons. In an op-ed for CNN, Klobuchar also discusses expanding drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services and “eliminating obstacles to re-entering and participating fully in society.”

Track Record: In her former position as a prosecutor for Hennepin County, Minnesota, Klobuchar “embraced ‘tough on crime’ policies” including pursuing harsher penalties for repeat offenses ranging from drunk driving to failure to pay child support and other nonviolent offenses, seeking out increased prosecutions and harsher penalties for drug dealers, encouraging increased prosecution of school truancy, and supporting “tougher” prison sentences for violent crimes.

Deval Patrick, Former Governor of Massachusetts

Current Policies/Positions: Patrick’s criminal justice reform plan does not specifically highlight youth justice. However, his plan includes: building on the First Step Act to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing, expanding efforts to divert first-time nonviolent offenders to restorative justice programs, accelerating efforts at the Department of Justice to exercise clemency and pardon power, eliminating the death penalty, reforming plea bargaining, canceling federal contracts with private prisons and making efforts to ban them, reducing reliance on private vendors in incarceration, restoring voting rights to citizens convicted of crimes upon completion of their sentence, restoring Pell Grant access to those who’ve completed their sentences, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, supporting state-level reforms through competitive grants, ensuring criminal justice reforms are evidence-based, incentivizing states to address young adult crime in a way that aligns with brain science, separating youth from adults in detention settings, investing in diversion and treatment programs for those in need of mental health and addiction treatment services, investing in community centers and early intervention programs, investing in rehabiliation and reentry programs, banning the box on employment applications, ending the practice of detaining peeople because of their inability to pay court fines and fees, and creating a new Presidential Commission on Criminal Justice Reform.

Track Record: Patrick’s track record on criminal justice includes introducing legislation to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses, passing a 2012 crime bill as Governor of Massachusetts, signing Raise the Age legislation, reducing the “look back period” for expunging criminal records in Massachusetts and banning the box on employment applications.

Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont

Current Policies/Positions: A long-time critic of mass incarceration, Senator Sanders is a proponent of “treating children like children,” according to his criminal justice reform plan. His juvenile justice reform efforts include: ending the school-to-prison pipeline, banning the prosecution of children under the age of 18 in adult courts, ensuring juvenile facilities are designed for rehabilitation, ensuring young people are not incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses, removing youth from adult prisons, ending the solitary confinement of youth, abolishing mandatory minimums and life-without-parole sentences for young people, eliminating criminal charges for school-based disciplinary behavior, removing fees from the juvenile system, decriminalizing truancy, and investing in community-based diversion programs as alternatives to incarceration. Other criminal justice plans include: banning for-profit prisons, making prison calls and communications free, incentivizing states and localities to end reliance on fines and fees for revenue, removing for-profit motives in re-entry and diversion programs, ending cash bail, creating a federally managed database of police use of deadly force, establishing federal standards for the use of body cameras, banning the use of facial recognition software, creating a non-law enforcement alternative response system, ending excessive sentencing, stopping the criminalization of the homeless, ending the war on drugs and criminalization of addiction, making prisons and jails more humane, supporting re-entry, increasing funding for programs that address cycles of violence, and ending the criminalization of disability. Sanders voted for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, but criticized it extensively, saying he voted in favor because he supported provisions such as the Violence Against Women Act.;

Track Record: Sander’s criminal justice reform record includes: voting against ending Pell Grants for people who are incarcerated, voting to amend the 1994 crime law to ban the death penalty, and voting against the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Sanders also supported some “tough-on-crime legislation” in the 90s, including funding for police and anti-drug programs, support for the COPS program, and support for strong penalties for crimes against children.

Tom Steyer, Philanthropist

Current Policies/Positions: Steyer’s proposed criminal justice reform policy leads with juvenile justice and includes: creating a bureau of juvenile justice within the Department of Justice “to oversee criminal justice issues impacting youth,” providing $600 million to the Bureau of Juvenile Justice to implement reforms and reduce youth incarceration, and coordinating with other federal agencies (Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, etc.) to address the factors that drive youth into the system, “including healthcare, mental health, hunger, foster care, and child abuse.” On the state and local level, Steyer plans to incentivize local jurisdictions to end the prosecution of youth in adult courts, keeping youth under age 12 out of the criminal justice system, ending detention and fees for truancy, assigning a social worker to help youth and their families navigate their adjudicatory hearing, investing in restorative justice and diversion programs, end the practice of placing youth in adult prisons, end the practice of solitary confinement for all youth, encourage states to implement regular and early parole review for those committed to the adult system as youth, and connect young people to necessary mental health services.

Track Record: Steyer does not have a criminal justice track record because he has not been involved in government or activism prior to his campaign.

Joe Walsh, Former Congressman from Illinois

Current Policies/Positions: Walsh does not include any information related to criminal justice on his campaign website

Track Record: According to his legislative record on GovTracks, it does not appear that Walsh sponsored or co-sponsored any bills related to criminal justice in his time in the House of Representatives. However, a 2019 Tweet he posted states: “Criminal justice reform is an issue I’m passionate abt [sic]”

Bill Weld, Former Governor of Massachusetts

Current Policies/Positions: While Weld does have a criminal justice reform plan on his campaign website, it does not explicitly mention youth justice. His reform plans include: addressing prison overcrowding, reviewing nutrition and sanitation standards in prisons, addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in prisons, ending mandatory minimum sentencing, addressing drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a status crime, releasing 17,000 non-violent people convicted of minor possession of marijuana from prison, addressing racially disparate outcomes, encouraging bail reform, ending the militarization of police, enforcing federal civil rights laws, and encouraging community policing.

Track Record: A former prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department, Weld’s track record reflects a “tough-on-crime” approach, including pushing for mandatory minimums during his stay as Governor of Massachusetts. However, in 2016 Weld delivered remarks in which he said, “the United States in undergoing a reexamination of that,” [referring to the tough-on-crime approach of the 90s]. He has also said, “I used to be a hard-boiled prosecutor, but this has got to stop.”

Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts

Current Policies/Platforms: In Senator Warren’s criminal justice reform plan juvenile justice reforms are weaved within broader system plans but include: breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, investing in evidence-based interruption programs that prevent violence, decriminalizing mental health crises, investing in diversion programs for substance abuse disorder, ending the criminalization of homelessness and poverty, improving data collection and reporting in law enforcement, establishing a national standard for the use of force, ending racially discriminatory policing, separating law enforcement from immigration enforcement, protecting the rights of survivors, establishing an advisory board of survivors of violence and formerly incarcerated individuals, raising the age of criminal liability to 18, eliminating life-without-parole sentences for minors, diverting youth to rehabilitative programs whenever possible, reducing mandatory minimums, removing the clemency process from the DOJ and empowering the clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House, ensuring incarceration meets basic human rights standards, protecting pregnant women, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals who are incarcerated, eliminating private prisons, supporting reentry, and ensuring reform at the state and local level.

Track Record: Warren’s track record on criminal justice issues is fairly nonexistent, as a Vox article notes, she has “spent much of her career on issues unrelated to criminal justice.” According to GovTrack, the issue of crime and law enforcement constitutes roughly 4% of the areas addressed by bills Warren has sponsored as a Senator.

Andrew Yang, Entrepreneur

Current Policies/Positions: Yang’s criminal justice reform plan does not include any elements specific to the youth population. However, his plan does include: ending the use of private prisons at the federal level, shifting drug policy away from punishment and towards treatment, investing in programs that decrease recidivism and support reentry, identifying non-violent drug offenders for probation and potential early release, decreasing states’ reliance on cash bail, implementing a program of pretrial services for states, restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals, decriminalizing small quantities of opioids, and increasing the use of body cameras for law enforcement.

Track Record: Yang does not have a criminal justice track record because he has not previously been involved in government or activism.

Thanks for Tuning In

The issue areas highlighted in this series are particularly and uniquely important to the lives and opportunities afforded to girls and gender-expansive youth and were identified through an assessment of various advocate resources, news reports, and research. Information presented here on the candidates’ current positions was gathered from what they have committed to in writing on their respective websites–primarily focused on their published policy platforms rather than their interviews with the news media, social media posts, or debate responses. Information about candidates’ track records was compiled via the sources linked within this newsletter. Candidate’s platforms and records are listed in alphabetical order. This is by no means an exhaustive compilation of any candidates’ platform or track record, and we encourage folx to explore these issues further, as this is neither a full assessment nor an endorsement of any political party or candidate. Next week’s edition will focus on a different issue area and will be released on Tuesday.

Please feel free to reach out to Natalia Orozco with any corrections, questions, or suggestions for improvement at

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