Gov. Evers looks to return 17 year-olds to juvenile justice system. Currently, they’re charged as adults

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 11:22 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - Since 1996, 17 year-olds in Wisconsin are classified as adults—but only when it comes to criminal court proceedings.

Gov. Tony Evers is looking to change that. Tuesday night during his budget address he pushed for 17 year-olds to again be classified as children, not adults.

“We’re once again proposing that our juvenile justice system treat youth under 18, with some limited exceptions, as kids, not adults. We are one of the only states in the nation that has not made this evidence-based change in ensuring that youth are treated as youth, and that needs to change now.”

The ACLU is applauding the idea. They issued a statement Wednesday morning.

“As a 17-year-old kid who was pushed into the adult system, I can say firsthand that forcing teens into an environment designed for adults is immoral, it does not enhance public safety, and imperils the safety and wellbeing of those sent there,” said Sean Wilson, Smart Justice Campaign Manager of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “A growing body of evidence has revealed that the brains of teenagers are not yet fully developed, making adolescents especially susceptible to poor decision-making and lapses in judgment, a fact that even the Supreme Court has recognized. While this doesn’t excuse young people taking part in criminal activity, it does speak to the fact that children and adults are different in fundamental ways, and that our criminal legal system should acknowledge those distinctions during the adjudication process. "

Alyssa Mauk, ACLU of Wisconsin communications director issued a statement that said people under the age of 25 who are sentenced as adults have been found to have worse outcomes and are put in far greater danger than those processed in the juvenile system. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, a child is five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison than in a juvenile facility and 9 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Wisconsin is one of only three states in the nation in which all 17 year-olds are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Marcy Mistrett, Senior Fellow at The Sentencing Project said the other two are Georgia and Texas. Wisconsin law also requires that first-degree homicide charges initially be brought in adult court if the accused is age 10-years or older. However, the case is sometimes transferred to juvenile court.

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