Wisconsin proposal would try some 17-year-olds as juveniles

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Nonviolent, first-time offenders that are 17-years-old may be able to remain in juvenile court rather than the adult court system if a proposed bill is passed.

Sen. Gerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) introduced on the so-called "Second Chance Bill."

Currently Wisconsin is one of nine states that automatically treats 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system which the Eau Claire County District Attorney’s Office says may not always be the best option.

District attorney Gary King said, “If there is research out there that supports the fact that they will not reoffend if they are prosecuted as juveniles versus being traditionally prosecuted as adults that's something we need to look at and need to study.”

King says a diversion program has been set up in Eau Claire County since 2012. The goal is to allow first-time, nonviolent offenders of all ages to stay out of the criminal justice system. So far he says it's shown a lot of success.

“Our data analyst has put together 1,2, and 3 year recidivism studies for our diversion program and what those studies show is that people who are properly identified and diverted reoffend about half as much as people who are traditionally prosecuted,” explained King.

The office says it criminally prosecutes around 3,400 cases a year with at least a few dozen being juveniles so it's important to look at legislation that may give prosecutors better tools to implement best practices.

“We hear it from victims on almost a daily basis, ‘We don't want what happened to us to happen to anybody else.’ So, there's kind of a dual responsibility to hold someone accountable for what they've done but also looking forward, making sure we do everything as a system we can to make sure an individual doesn't reoffend going forward,” said King.

The D.A.’s office also says the reason why first-time, nonviolent offends may be less likely to reoffend when treated as juveniles is because higher risk individuals are more likely to have a negative influence on the lower risk offender.

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