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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Panel reviews law for teen criminals

At a time when two studies question the validity of a state law that placed all 17-year-old criminal offenders in adult court, a committee of state legislators and other stakeholders has begun reviewing whether the law should be changed.

The Wisconsin Legislative Council’s Special Committee on High-Risk Juvenile Offenders, headed by Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) and vice chairman Rep. Rich Zipperer (R-City of Pewaukee), is studying what the best practices would be for decreasing recidivism among juvenile offenders, including a review of current law.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who is a committee member, said everything is on the table for discussion, including changing the law for 17-year-olds who commit minor offenses and an automatic waiver into adult court for any juvenile who commits a felony offense.

“We are looking at our juvenile justice system and assessing whether it’s useful,” Schimel said.

Two recent studies have called the state’s 1995 decision to send all 17-year-olds through adult court a failed experiment that only increases the likelihood the teens will commit more crimes. Results of a study by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families are consistent with a report issued this month by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Schimel was a prosecutor in juvenile court when the law changed and admitted he has reservations about sending all 17-year-olds through adult court. Convicted teens were not changing their behavior if just a fine was issued, and yet there are some teens younger than 17 who are in juvenile detention for serious offenses such as armed robbery. [Mark Godsey]

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