Jan. 17, 2014 – A State Bar of Wisconsin-backed bill that would return nonviolent 17-year-olds to juvenile court jurisdiction is making headway in the legislature and the political sphere with newly announced supporters and a unanimous vote of passage out of a senate committee.
The bill would reverse portions of the current law, which was enacted in 1996. The current law provides that every 17-year-old who is alleged to have committed a crime be treated as an adult.
Senate Bill 308 was moved out of Sen. Jerry Petrowski’s (R-Marathon) Committee on Transportation, Public Safety, and Veterans and Military Affairs by a vote of 5-0 on Wednesday. Sen. Petrowski is also a co-author of the bill.
“It is no surprise to me that the Second Chance Bill is gaining traction,” said State Bar President Patrick J. Fiedler. “It is a bipartisan bill with a laudable goal.”
Fiedler has been a champion of the bill since its introduction into the legislature last fall.
“Having spent 18 years as a sitting judge, I have come to believe that certain offenders deserve a second chance,” Fiedler said. “The vast majority of 17-year-old arrests are for relatively minor, nonviolent offenses, and this bill provides a way to hold these youth accountable while giving them an opportunity to grow into responsible adults.”
Fiedler also expressed his gratitude to former Governors Tommy Thompson and Jim Doyle for their recent endorsements of the Second Chance Bill. Thompson, who signed the current law into place in 1996, and Doyle, who was attorney general when the law was enacted, both published op-eds in favor of the bill.
“I’m very pleased that the governors were willing to lend their support to our cause,” Fiedler said. “The juvenile system has experienced some dramatic changes over the past few decades, changes that I believe warrant a reversal of the law.”
Thompson and Doyle have both cited new research and studies of the juvenile court system as being instrumental in altering their opinion on the subject of 17-year-old offenders.
Much of Wisconsin’s concern over juvenile offenders stems from a peak in violent juvenile crime in the early 90’s. At that time, several states made changes to their juvenile laws, but Wisconsin was the only state to place an entire group of youth in the adult system.
“I commend the former governors for coming forward and sharing their views with the public,” Fiedler said. “It’s encouraging to know that two proponents of the 1996 legislation are ready to support our proposal because of the significant shift in juvenile data.”
Katie Stenz is the public affairs coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org kstenz wisbar wisbar kstenz org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
Research compiled by the Wisconsin Second Chance Alliance shows that even though juvenile arrests peaked in Wisconsin in 1994, they have steadily declined since the enactment of the law. Today, only 2 percent of 17-year-olds are arrested for violent crimes.
Both the Senate and Assembly bills have been voted out of committee and are ready to be taken up by the full legislature.
For more information on Senate Bill 308/Assembly Bill 387, click here.