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Politics & Government

Bill to Return 17 Year-Olds to Juvenile Court has Some Opposition


Wisconsin is debating how to deal with certain 17-year-olds who break the law. For years, the criminal justice system has treated that age as adults. A bill is now making the rounds in the Legislature to send 17-year-olds to juvenile court, if they’re non-violent and non-repeat offenders. The bill has been gaining traction, but concerns over cost seem to stand in the way.

Wisconsin lawmakers have tried before to return 17-year- olds to juvenile court, where the state used to send them. Leaders changed the policy after some teens committed serious violent crimes. Jim Moser says the bill now before lawmakers makes a distinction.

“Separating the sort of violent and non violent offenders, and I think that’s a critical discussion as it relates to public discussion, and addresses concerns that some may have about returning 17 year olds,” Moser says.

Moser works for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 to 12 years about adolescent brain development and how kids think, which also helps us and has helped practitioners develop programs and interventions that are more responsive to that and helping kids think differently and behave differently,” Moser says.

Moser told a legislative committee Thursday that the majority of crimes 17-year-olds commit are lesser offenses and should not permanently mar futures.

Most who testified at the hearing agree - first time non-violent 17-year-olds deserve a second chance, yet the Wisconsin Counties Association opposes the legislation in its current form. Sarah Kasdorf is spokesperson. She says Wisconsin law requires counties to provide services for juveniles in the criminal justice system, and most communities cannot afford to treat more offenders.

“We cannot support this bill until the issue of funding is addressed. We think it makes sense to bring the juveniles back and that comes at a cost. And we need the resources to provide the services and treatment that is necessary,” Kasdorf says.

Kasdorf says counties would support the legislation only if the state covers the additional costs.

In recent years, a number of states have stopped charging children as adults. Those places include Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois.