Approximately 30,000 17-year-olds are arrested in Wisconsin each year. If they are charged with a crime, they are charged as adults. Wisconsin is just one of 12 states that currently charge each and every 17-year-old as an adult. Opponents of this policy believe it is unfair to punish a 17-year-old in the same manner that older, more mature wrongdoers are punished.
Our criminal justice system is designed to prevent crime, punish crime and rehabilitate those who commit crimes. Few would argue that a 17-year-old person found guilty of a crime should not be punished in some way to achieve the goals of the criminal justice system. What price was paid, however, when the Wisconsin Legislature decided to punish 17-year-olds in the same manner as adults?
Wisconsin Department of Corrections Review
A recent review by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections revealed some telling statistics in this regard. It appears that two of the three goals of criminal justice, prevention and rehabilitation, are not achieved when a 17-year-old is punished as an adult.
Almost one-half of the teens go on to become repeat offenders, a much higher proportion than convicted adults. In addition, the young offenders treated as adults are 36 times as likely to commit suicide when compared to young offenders who are punished in a juvenile criminal system. Even when compared to adults, the teens charged as adults are 19 times as likely to commit suicide.
Legislators attempting to change the law argue that the higher rates of recidivism and suicide stem from the natural immaturity of a person who has only reached 17 years of age. Also, by being charged and convicted as adults, they are stigmatized forever by employers, landlords and others as being criminals.
If and until Wisconsin law is changed, it seem as though 17-year-olds will continue to face a difficult time making up for their mistakes and finding success in their adult lives.