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    State Bar, Past President Fiedler Urge Legislature to Give Green Light on Juvenile Justice Bill

    Ms. Katharine Stenz

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    Oct. 8, 2015 – The state Legislature will once again be considering a bill that would return s​ome 17-year-olds to juvenile court jurisdiction. The Second Chance bill, SB 280​, was introduced in the senate late last week by lead author, Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon).

    This time around, the bill boasts 70 bipartisan co-sponsors, an increase to the 54 who lent their support last session.

    Returning nonviolent, first time 17-year-old offenders to the juvenile court system has been a key initiative of the State Bar of Wisconsin since 2007. And, Past President Patrick J. Fiedler, one of the State Bar’s primary supporters of this initiative, believes that the bill deserves consideration and action by legislators.

    “In my nearly two decades as a Dane County Circuit Court judge, I witnessed many upstanding teens get placed in adult court because they made one foolish mistake,” Fiedler said. “For these teens, an adult record means they’ll face barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities.”

    If passed, SB 280 would reverse portions of a 1996 law which requires that every 17-year-old who is alleged to have committed a crime be treated as an adult.

    “The current law was enacted at a time when the national trend was to be ‘tough on crime,’ since then we’ve learned a lot and know that the juvenile system is very effective at providing opportunities for restitution, community service and dialogue between offenders and their victims,” Fiedler said.

    Two former governors agree. Former Governor Tommy Thompson, who signed the current law into place, and former Governor Jim Doyle, who was attorney general when the law was passed, published opinion pieces during the 2013-14 legislative session in favor of the legislative initiative.

    Katie StenzFor more information contact Katie Stenz, public relations coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org kstenz wisbar wisbar kstenz org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.

    Both governors 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.

    Data compiled by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families suggests that even though juvenile arrests peaked in Wisconsin in 1994, they have steadily declined since the enactment of the current law. Today, only 2 percent of 17-year-olds are arrested for violent crimes.  

    “By signing on to the Second Chance bill, our state’s leaders have an opportunity to make a positive impact on our communities,” Fiedler said. “Treating these youth in the juvenile system helps reduce recidivism, and provides teens the tools they need to be contributing members of society.”

    Currently, Wisconsin is one of only nine states that treat all 17-year-olds as adults.

    Help us! Talk to Your Legislators About the Bill 

    Here’s how you can help us get the Second Chance bill moving in the Legislature this session:

    Call and/or email your state representative and senator and encourage them to support SB 280 and ask them to express that support to house leadership, e.g. the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. Members of the senate and assembly leadership should be urged by their colleagues to move this bill through the appropriate committee and then schedule it for a vote by the full Legislature.

    ·         Find your state legislator

    ·         Read the Bill (SB 280)

    ·         Use language from the State Bar Public Policy Position

    For additional information, contact State Bar Government Affairs Coordinators Cale Battles at (608) 250-6077 or cbattles@wisbar.org or Lynne Davis at (608) 250-6045 or ldavis@wisbar.org