In efforts to focus on rehabilitation, many US states have put Raise the Age laws into practice. These laws focus on setting a higher age requirement for an individual to go through the adult court system and be given sentences associated with being tried as an adult. The purpose behind this law helps to ensure that youth are treated as youth and that the consequences of their actions focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. The implementation of these laws is a win for criminal justice reform and combating mass incarceration. Unfortunately, these laws have not taken hold in all 50 states. Wisconsin is joined by Georgia and Texas in neglecting to pass legislation to protect at-risk youth.
According to the Wisconsin DOC’s 2019 data, law enforcement made about 35,000 arrests of minors that year. Specifically, 17-year-old youth are the group most impacted by a lack of Raise the Age laws. In 2019, 9,000 17-year-olds went through the adult legal system and received sentencing that regarded their comprehension and decision-making capacity to be equivalent to a person 10 or 25 years their senior. Even though science shows that youth are far more influenced by peers, more impulsive, and less apt to consider the consequences of their actions.
The argument against raising the age of adult prosecution touts that it would require additional funding to develop rehabilitation-focused facilities and the funds are simply not available. However, this argument does not hold water. States with Raise the Age laws in place have seen youth served most often in pre-existing community-based programs. (Programs that look much like Orion’s Community Integrated Services program!) Further alleviating the need to use the existing more expensive, adult incarceration facilities.
Raise The Age – Wisconsin, a coalition dedicated to protecting youth in our state’s legal system has raised the point above, amongst several other arguments which support the fight for justice reform. Their organization’s website provides direct links to contact state legislature, facts that support the movement, and several advocacy resources. If you would like to join the push to end juvenile prosecution or learn more, you can visit their website here.