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Changes could come to Wisconsin juvenile incarceration laws

In our last post, we discussed how the state of Wisconsin treats juvenile crimes differently from adult crimes, yet still very seriously. In this post, we will discuss how state and federal laws on juvenile incarceration could change during the current legislative session.

In December, it was reported that advocates are fighting to repeal a 1996 Wisconsin law that requires 17-year-olds to be automatically charged for adult crimes rather than juvenile delinquency charges. The advocates hope that this legislative session they are able to convince the state Legislature and governor that the law isn’t working. 

The deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families advocacy group said that if lawmakers are receptive this spring, the law could be changed as early as next year. The director said there is plenty of information out there about dealing effectively with delinquent children, and locking them up isn’t the way to do it.

It was reported that a federal law could also help persuade Wisconsin to act. Congress is expected to take up the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act this legislative session, which would give states incentives for putting fewer minors in jail.

Ultimately, advocates say that research indicates that kids who commit illegal activities but are not incarcerated often grow out of the behavior if they are redirected. They say the priority should be to keep the juvenile with his or her family in his or her community, not to place the juvenile in an institution.

Hopefully state and federal lawmakers take the issue seriously this legislative session so that eventually fewer teenagers are robbed of their futures in Wisconsin and elsewhere. 

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