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Juvenile Justice: Restorative vs Punitive

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin defense lawyer, Wisconsin juvenile crimes attorneyTeenagers, who are still mentally and emotionally maturing, sometimes make poor decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. They may become pregnant or impregnate their girlfriend, drive recklessly and get in an accident, or – in the worst of circumstances – commit a crime that forever alters the path of their life. It does not have to, though. In fact, a recent study indicates that the outcomes for teen offenders can be drastically improved if the juvenile justice system takes a restorative approach instead of a punitive one. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is far from being a place of restoration for teen offenders.

The Sorry State of Wisconsin’s Juvenile Justice System

In most states, children under the age of 18 are criminally processed through the juvenile court system. There, the penalties are often less severe and the goal is usually rehabilitation. In contrast, Wisconsin sends most of its 16 and older teens to adult court. There are also certain conditions that can cause a child to be processed as an adult at a much younger age. For example, 14-year-olds who have been charged with manufacturing, distributing, or delivering any controlled substance could find themselves in an adult courtroom with adult-sized penalties, and a 10-year-old can be tried in an adult court for murder. Even more concerning is that, once they have been tried as an adult, they remain adults for future criminal offenses.

Wisconsin Is Doing Juvenile Justice All Wrong

Conducted between 2000 and 2005, the recent study analyzed the efficacy of several different restorative justice programs throughout the upper Midwest area. These teens did “serve time” for their crimes, but they also participated in certain restorative programs that focused on connecting the youths with their victims. In some cases, this meant one-on-one mediation with an individual victim. Other times, the teens faced a panel of community members that had been affected by their crimes – teachers, officers, and even community members who served as proxies for victims. Still others attended a single meeting with a restorative justice program staff manager who worked with the teen to help them understand how their actions had hurt others.

Overall, teens who went through even a minimal restorative program were 20 percent less likely to be reprocessed through the juvenile court system than non-participants. More specifically, teens who faced a community panel had a recidivism rate of just 24 percent, which was compared to an almost 50 percent recidivism rate for non-restorative program participants. Those that participated in direct or indirect mediation had recidivism rates of 27 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Clearly, Wisconsin is doing juvenile justice wrong, and in a system where teens typically go on to commit more serious crimes when they do reoffend, it is in ways that cannot be measured. Poverty, drug addiction, and long-term imprisonment are only the surface symptoms plaguing our youth. Self-esteem issues, lack of support, and a life limited by a criminal record are the psychological effects that are often overlooked. It is time that it stopped.

Protect Your Teen with Aggressive Criminal Defense

If your teen has recently been arrested and is at risk for facing charges in an adult court, it is critical that you contact Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP immediately. Our Milwaukee, Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers have more than 40 years of experience and we will take swift, aggressive action to protect your teen from the long-term effects of adult court. Schedule your initial consultation with us today to learn more. Call 414-271-1440.





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