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Wisconsin bill would expand access to juvenile records

The Wisconsin legislature recently passed a flurry of legislation as their 2011-2012 floor session came to an end in March. Among the measures passed by both the Assembly and Senate was SB 173, which is directed at various issues related to juvenile crime.

The bill was authored in response to substantial media focus on what information is and is not readily available to those who are charged with investigating juvenile offenders. Specifically, the legislation alters the circumstances by which prosecutors, law enforcement and litigants may access the records of juveniles involved in criminal proceedings.

Advocates on behalf of law enforcement insist that without access to juvenile records, they cannot anticipate escalating dangers or spot parole and probation violations.

However, many criminal justice advocates are concerned about the practical privacy implications which stem from the bill's provisions. At the request of the State Bar of Wisconsin's Children and the Law Section, access to records related to mental and physical health would be limited for privacy reasons.

The bill provides that prosecutors may obtain juvenile court records without first obtaining a court order. It also allows greater access to these records for law enforcement and child welfare agencies who are investigating possible criminal activity, delinquency of minors or child welfare issues.

Though the bill requires that those who are granted access to juvenile records keep them confidential, the privacy concerns voiced by juvenile justice advocates are real. Governor Walker must sign or veto the bill before April 12 or it will become law automatically. Only when the bill is acted upon or automatically instated will justice advocates in Wisconsin be able to fully explore how the bill's provisions will affect the rights of juveniles within the justice system.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, "Juvenile law: Crime sparks expanded access to juvenile records," Mary M. Sowinski, Apr. 4, 2012

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