juvenile justice system

Emily Files

Earlier this year, NPR's Education Team announced it was holding a podcast challenge for students. With help from teachers, middle and high schoolers from around the country submitted thousands of audio stories.

One podcast from the Milwaukee area stood out and was named a finalist. It came from three incarcerated teenagers at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. The students go by the pseudonyms JT, JC and Joe.

For the past year, a team of Columbia University researchers has been looking at a landmark juvenile justice initiative in New York City called Close to Home. The researchers presented their findings to law enforcement, youth justice advocacy groups and others in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

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Wisconsin is evolving in the way in which it treats its juvenile offenders in state run facilities. On Thursday, an assembly committee approved legislation that would close both Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in northern Wisconsin in favor of giving counties more control.

In recent years, the two facilities have been marred by lawsuits and a federal investigation into how kids there are treated. While some state lawmakers are singing the plans praises but counties have some concerns.

WisconsinEye

State lawmakers are considering a bill, they say, would help make schools safer -- for teachers. The bill would alert schools when students have a run-in with the law, but some teachers say the proposal would do more harm than good.

The Teacher Protection Act seeks to open juvenile criminal records to school officials. Currently, all juvenile records are confidential, but the proposal would allow teachers access the files. 

LaToya Dennis

A federal judge told Wisconsin on Friday that the way it treats incarcerated youth is unconstitutional. Of particular concern is the use of pepper spray, handcuffs and shackles – as well as solitary confinement. 

The ACLU of Wisconsin took the matter to court. The judge ordered the group and the state to submit a plan, in two weeks, to change practices. The Lincoln Hill School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls have been at the center of major investigations, over the treatment of youth.

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Juvenile incarceration has been in the news lately. Authorities are investigating allegations of abuse and assault at Lincoln Hills School for Boys, north of Wausau. As 2016 gets underway, there's another reason the incarceration of youth could make headlines.

Right now, the state tries 17-year-old offenders as adults. But a bill would send non-violent ones through the juvenile system.

When a girl was stabbed 19 times in a Waukesha park last May, the suspects were 12 years old, so under state law, they head directly to adult court. The judge will decide whether they belong there or in juvenile court.

The girls told police they stabbed a classmate to please a fictitious character named Slender Man. The victim survived.

Wisconsin changed its juvenile code in the 1990s, lowering the age at which a defendant goes to adult court, from 18 to 17. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske says attitudes had changed.

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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 new bill would reverse a 1996 law, that required the courts to treat all 17-year-olds as adults.