A recent story published by Frontline highlights that in the last seven years, five states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Mississippi, and New Hampshire) have raised the age at which youth can be tried as adults. South Carolina and Louisiana have also recently passed legislation, expected to be signed into law soon that will raise their age to 18. Legislation in Michigan has passed one “house”, and the fate of legislation in New York is still in doubt. The bottom line is that this leaves Wisconsin as one of a dwindling number of states that has not had the courage to take a step that reduces crime and victimization, saves money, and ensures that thousands of 17 year olds do not end up unnecessarily with adult records that create a barrier to future employment and economic success.
Fortunately, here in Wisconsin, in the last legislative session, a proposal to raise the age was sponsored by over on-half the legislature (74 co-sponsors) on a bi-partisan basis (37 from each side of the aisle). Yet, the legislation was not even granted a committee hearing, in large part derailed by fiscal concerns that now could be addressed in the next budget cycle.
For every year this legislation is delayed, another 8,000-10,000 17-year-olds are needlessly arrested as adults. Where will those youth be when “the music stops”, when nearly every other state has found a way to make this change – when nearly every other state’s leadership has reached the conclusion that this is the right thing to do and found the will to make a change that will benefit everyone – a change that makes our communities safer and removes barriers to employment and/or education for those youth? Let’s hope we are not the last!
By Jim Moeser