Second Chance for Juveniles

Rachel Pukall

The Second Chance Bill was recently approved, allowing first- time nonviolent 17-year-olds to be put in juvenile court instead of being tried as adults for criminal offenses.

In 1995, Wisconsin lawmakers ruled that 17-year-olds should be treated as adults and tried in adult courts. The criminal justice system, however is not accustomed to how young offenders think, so they have changed their decision.

Jim Moeser, the deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says that over the past eight years there has been a lot of information discovered about young offenders.

“We’ve learned a lot in the area of brain development, adolescent development and about how kids think,” Moeser said on a Wausau radio station. “We’ve learned a lot about the sort of strategies that they can address, and using what we’ve learned about how they think really lets us better intervene with them and get them to make better decisions, and we’ve done a lot of work in Wisconsin on improving practices at the local level.”

17-year-olds who are charged with violent or multiple offenses will still be charged in the adult court, but the Second Chance bill could help as many as 2,000 teenagers who are currently in the system return to the juvenile justice system.

“I feel that this bill would certainly give a second chance to some 17-year- olds who simply screwed up,” said University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student Connor Falk. “As long as the bill still mandates that violent offenses by 17-year-olds will still be tried in adult court, then I’d say I support it. We were all 17 once and capable of doing some pretty stupid, but harmless things.”

Wisconsin is one of 10 states that have tried 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases.

“It’s not a system that has the kinds of services or staffing aligned to really meet adolescent needs in terms of assessing them; it does not work with families,” Moesner said on Public Radio WSAU. “For instance, we know that these kids still live with their families for the most part, at 17, 18, and even beyond that now.”

The Wisconsin Counties Association has a different outlook on the bill because of what it will cost local counties.

“We cannot support this bill until the issue of funding is addressed,” said Sarah Kasdorf, the spokesperson for The Wisconsin Counties Association, according to Milwaukee WUWM. “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 said. 

The bill currently remains at the committee level and needs to pass both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Walker’s approval before it becomes law. 

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