Bill would return 17-year-olds to juvenile system

By: Olga Michail Email
By: Olga Michail Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Some 17-year-olds would not be prosecuted as adults under a proposal that's up for a hearing in the state legislature.

The change would affect non-violent offenders who are 17-years-old.
It would reverse a 1996 law that requires all 17-year-olds, regardless of the offense, to be treated as adults.

The bill is in the assembly's Corrections Committee. The Badger State's Sheriff's Association spoke against the change Thursday.
Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer says it would bring little difference to the county.

“80% of 17-year-olds that are in our jail currently have already been in the juvenile justice system, and have run a gamut,” said Cramer.

The proposal would not affect those charged with violent crimes such as homicide, rape or battery. It also wouldn't affect repeat offenders.

“Out of 4000 bookings last year we had about 28 17-years-olds in our facility. But there were here for major traffic violation which this law doesn't do anything about that,” explained Cramer.

He says not every juvenile picked up is put into jail. Many 17-year-olds with non-violent, low-profile crimes often see deferred prosecution or tickets in Eau Claire County right now.

“The ordinance ticket wouldn’t show up on that 17-year-old’s record for the purposes of employment or education down the road,” said Cramer.

“17-year-old is not an adult. We have the capacity to move the 17-year-old into the adult system of we need to,” said Director of Children's Court Services Rob Fadness.

Fadness says he support the change because it will benefit those few 17-year-olds it affects.

“To me the things that makes the most sense is that you set the age at 18 and that you can continue to allow judges to make the decision where the juveniles should be handled,” explained Fadness.

Fadness says juvenile detention centers have more people dedicated to the juveniles unlike the adult system that he calls overloaded and overworked.

“We have a better opportunity to identify the needs of the kid and family, and then provide those services to a better degree,” added Fadness.

Wisconsin is one of only 11 states where children under the age of 18 are automatically treated as adults.

Cramer says some 17-year-olds are close to turning 18 and entering the n adult system anyway.

Fadness says pushing the age up to 18 for non-violent juveniles will give them an extra year to turn their life around.

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