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Forest County Jail Death a “Preventable Tragedy”

PHOTO: Jim Moeser with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says the state should rethink its policy of trying 17-year-olds as adults.
PHOTO: Jim Moeser with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says the state should rethink its policy of trying 17-year-olds as adults.
January 21, 2013

MADISON, Wis. - Two days before Christmas, in the Forest County Jail in Crandon, a 17-year-old girl from Lac du Flambeau took her own life. She was being held on charges relating to taking a vehicle without the owner's consent. Charged as an adult, she was awaiting trial housed with adult inmates. Forest County does not have a juvenile facility.

Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says the tragic death has raised two key issues.

"One is, should 17-year-olds be dealt with as adults at all? The second issue is, even if dealt with as adults in the court process, where should they be held or detained while that process is going forward?"

Since 1996, Wisconsin law has required that 17-year-olds be automatically sent to adult court.

Moeser says relatively little training is provided, other than on basic custodial and control issues, for law enforcement and jail staff who work with young people - despite the youths' tendency to do impulsive things. He calls the girl's death "a preventable tragedy."

"Kids who end up in adult facilities are at so much greater risk of self-harm, of being harmed by adults, that we really need to understand that treating kids as adults is a bad idea. It's not good for the kids - and, in the long run, is not good for our communities."

The girl's death in the jail is being investigated by Forest and Oneida County authorities, but Moeser says there's a decade of solid research showing that trying youths in adult court has a detrimental impact on community safety and on 17-year-olds, in particular.

The law should be changed, and much more public awareness on this topic is necessary, he says.

"There are legislators who have been around a long time who don't even know that 17-year-olds are in the adult system automatically. We need continued awareness and, really, raising of voices of parents and kids and concerned people around the state to say, 'We can do better.'"

More information is available at www.wccf.org.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI