State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
Let’s focus on the 17-year old. Under current Wisconsin law, 1995 Wisconsin Act 27, 17-year olds alleged to have violated criminal law are subject to prosecution as adults. Certainly the 17-year old charged in connection with the murder of the Miller executive should be tried in adult court. Yet there are some in the Legislature that want to change the age of criminal court jurisdiction to 18, and return 17-year olds to the jurisdiction of juvenile courts.
Proponents of what would be a major and horrible change in our justice system point to a recent audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau. The audit found that 17-year olds were more likely to re-offend than juveniles or older adults, and that fewer than half of 17-year old offenders successfully completed probation.
Neither of those findings, that offenders often commit more crime and that probation can fail, is surprising.
What the proponents of sending 17-year olds back to juvenile court don’t mention is another key finding in the audit:
“If the age of criminal court jurisdiction is returned to 18, which it was before the enactment of 1995 Wisconsin Act 27, 17-year-olds would return to the juvenile justice system, which is primarily operated by counties. The fiscal effect for the counties is likely to be significant. We estimate returning 17-year-olds to the juvenile system could cost $53.5 million to $82.4 million annually.”
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said in his “State of the County” address last month, “While juveniles who are not a public safety threat can be connected to people within the community, those who commit serious crimes must continue to be waived into adult court. State legislation that would raise the age in adult court from 17 to 18 would be a serious blow to fighting crime and it could cost our county (at least) $23 million.”
Should 17-year olds who are committing adult-like crimes be tried in juvenile courts? Does anyone truly believe that will make a significant difference in crimes committed by that age group? Tell that to the family of the Miller executive.
I am unconvinced changing Wisconsin law to try 17-year olds in juvenile court is a positive step. It would be extremely costly, and even worse, quite dangerous.