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Advocate: WI Law on 17-Year-Olds in Justice System Could Change

PHOTO: A jail cell is no place for a juvenile, says Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. He says the state law that mandates 17-year-olds be handled in adult court is not working and could be changed this spring. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: A jail cell is no place for a juvenile, says Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. He says the state law that mandates 17-year-olds be handled in adult court is not working and could be changed this spring. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
December 11, 2014

MADISON, Wis. – Since 1996, Wisconsin law has required that 17-year-olds be automatically sent to the adult justice system rather than the juvenile justice system.

Advocates for these teens, including Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, say the law hasn't worked well and should be repealed.

"We're hoping to convince the governor and the Legislature to include it in the budget this coming year and provide some additional funds to counties to invest,” Moeser says. “We know that it's an investment that pays off in the long run, so we're hoping that through the process this spring, we can get that change made, to probably take effect in 2016."

Moeser points out part of the problem is Wisconsin's 72 counties all have separate corrections systems, in addition to the state system, and that should change.

"Get more coordinated and more best-practice information out there and really just sort of improve the on-the-ground work that's being done by people interacting with kids,” he stresses. “I think we know a lot. We know a lot about what works. It's really a matter of getting it going and providing incentives for that to happen."

Moeser says treating 17-year-olds as adults isn't good for the youth, or for Wisconsin communities.

He says each year there is more research about how to deal effectively with delinquent children.

"We know more than ever about what works,” he says. “Juvenile arrest rates continue to go down, which is good news – the community is as safe as it's been, by and large.

“I think we're improving and getting better, and seeing some positive results, and just need to keep that on track."

Moeser, who has worked for decades in the area of juvenile justice in Wisconsin, senses there's change in the wind.

"There's just a growing sort of bipartisan sense that the a whole notion of building prisons and locking people up is not a great investment, and we're starting to see that more and more on both sides of the aisle,” he states. “There's a receptivity to some reforms that I think could be positive for young adults as well as juveniles."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI