Parents and guardians of juveniles remaining in the community can be required to participate in therapy with the juvenile and can be actively pursued to get involved with the troubled youth. Evidence-based studies throughout the United States have shown that certain models of community-based juvenile reform, specifically those revolving around existing support systems, can be quite successful for juvenile offenders:. These programs not only produce results far better than does incarceration; they also save vast amounts of money. It should also be noted that any given juvenile charged with an offense might actually receive more intensive treatment than a similarly situated adult offender.
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For example, an adult criminal charge of disorderly conduct, without a domestic violence enhancer, might bring little more than a fine or, perhaps, a few days in the county jail. Although this seems to be a rather light sentence, the adult system is often unwilling to devote significant resources to such offenses. In juvenile court, in contrast, such charges often entail an extensive counseling regime with family involvement.
Clearly, this is a more difficult road to travel for the offender but it is more likely to affect future behavior than would a fine or a few days in jail. At the same time, more restrictive efforts may be needed for juveniles. The programming offered at these specific facilities is geared toward youth offenders and the ways in which such offenders can cope, once reintegrated into the community, with the issues faced by all young people.
Society in general, and the courts in particular, believe that children should be treated differently for purposes of sentencing.
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These services, of course, are different from the adult correctional facilities. Seventeen year olds do not need the same type of correctional and therapeutic regime that a 50 year old needs. They simply have different life experiences and, thus, different needs. Until approximately 10 years ago, juveniles accused of a crime had a right to a jury trial.
That changed in , when the legislature eliminated that procedure for the juvenile court system. This elimination of jury trials for juveniles was approved by the U. Supreme Court in McKeiver v. Community members must set aside their business for a day or more and come to court to resolve the delinquency matter.
They must participate in the jury-selection process, the jury-instruction process, and final deliberation, none of which is required in a court trial. Thus, the public cost and additional time for public servants is reduced with the elimination of the jury trial. At the same time, however, the juvenile loses the right to have his or her case heard by a jury. Whether that dilutes the right to trial or makes it a more stable process is a matter of conjecture.
It certainly expedites the process and eliminates the possibility that information about a confidential case might be revealed, via the jury panel that hears the case. It is against the background of these main differences between the adult and juvenile systems that the decision regarding placement of 17 year olds must be evaluated. Placing 17 year olds in the juvenile court will have a major impact on what that group of offenders experiences and how the system processes their cases.
When looking at the question of the propriety of year-old offenders being tried in adult court, the first question that must be addressed is, what difference does it make?
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That is, why should the average Wisconsin resident care which process and set of solutions applies to 17 year olds? The answer to this question lies in the fact that society in general, and the courts in particular, believe that children should be treated differently for purposes of sentencing. The U. Supreme Court has recognized this same notion by listing three broad distinctions between juveniles and adults:. These distinctions are supported by the current neuroscience findings regarding brain development and adolescence.
It is on these policies and on current scientific research that the way forward should be based.
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The Way Forward. Although it seems well settled that juveniles must be treated differently than adults, selecting a specific age at which that transition should occur is problematic. By the same token, some under 18 have already attained the level of maturity some adults will never reach. To a great extent, these lines are simply arbitrary.
It is completely unclear if any given person is sufficiently capable of operating an automobile at age 17, but incapable of voting at that age. Similarly, drinking a beer is not legal for a 20 year old, but that same individual could be placed in the middle of a hostile battlefield where the lives of others hang in the balance.
When considered from this perspective, placing someone in the juvenile or adult justice system at a given age might seem random. Yet, the random nature of some of the ages selected by legislatures should not prevent them from making the effort in this situation.
It is simply too important an issue. The lower bound of the age range is probably somewhere around 15, and the upper bound is probably somewhere around Therefore, viewing the transition from juvenile to adult as a process during a range of years, rather than as a bright-line age, seems to comport with scientific research. Alternative Solutions. While framing the issue of adult court versus juvenile court as one of age ranges seems to be the correct approach, it does not assist in answering the question of the appropriate age at which someone should be placed in adult court.
In light of the above, there seem to be four possible solutions to this question.
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The first option is to pick a mid-point of the range between ages 15 and The third possibility is to shift from the two-tiered approach to a three-tiered approach. That is, there would be one court system for child offenders, one court system for adolescent offenders, and a third for adult offenders. The final alternative, similar to the second, is to avoid treating juveniles as a separate class of offenders. All these options seem to have some positive attributes as well as certain drawbacks.
There is no specific alternative that brings solutions to all aspects of the problem. Flexibility as the Solution. Other than the first option, all the alternatives above appear to be characterized by the concept of flexibility: more individualized assessment, case-by-case review, or increasing the number of systems needed to address various age groups.
Flexibility seems to be exactly what is required if the issue is framed as one of age ranges rather than one of pinpointing a specific age. Nevertheless, by virtue of Senate Bill and Assembly Bill , Wisconsin appears to be leaning toward option one, a specific age of 18, albeit neither version has yet been signed into law. Yet, given the specific system we have in Wisconsin, this is a sound approach. Under the proposed revisions, the trial courts are offered a more sound starting point than they currently have, that is, offenders age 17 or younger start in juvenile court.
In addition, the current proposals maintain some current-law elements that provide the flexibility suggested by the other options above. That is, while most 17 year olds will start in juvenile court, they will be charged in adult courts if they are being charged with committing certain violent offenses, if they previously have been convicted of a crime, or if they previously have been adjudged delinquent. Other than these specific sets of circumstances, current proposals would have 17 year olds start off in a court system that offers maximum rehabilitation efforts through the use of existing support structures and appropriate services with the least long-term negative impact on offenders.
The confidentiality and privacy will be maintained, helping to ensure the greatest chance of moving beyond the offense and securing things such as an advanced education, reasonable housing, and employment. The ability of trial courts to waive offenders into adult court remains and, thus, serious offenders can still be addressed in a forum wherein a jury trial is available. Trial courts will still be able to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether the circumstances of the case are such that an individual should be tried in adult court. The answer to the question regarding the appropriate age at which to try a person as an adult is not clear cut.
What is very clear is that consensus exists in Wisconsin, and the United States as a whole, that juvenile offenders should be afforded remedial assistance to help correct their course in life rather than simply punishing them. That record essentially follows a person for the rest of his or her life and affects everything from employment to housing. It can be discovered by anyone seeking to find it, and it is routinely held against the person who has such a record.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with society attaching a stigma to criminal offenders.
It is exactly that stigma that helps deter criminal behavior. But society needs people who can move past their youthful mistakes and become successful and stable members of the community. Without that ability, we will have a growing class of people who probably did not have a great deal of mobility to start with weighed down by the past and having a more difficult time moving forward. Starting year-old offenders in the juvenile system will assist society in achieving this goal. The neuroscience research suggests there might be less compelling reasons to deny an 18 or 19 year old some of the opportunities offered to similar offenders who are younger, but affording those opportunities to 17 year olds is an appropriate step.