It has been more than a decade and a half since Wisconsin passed a law requiring all 17-year-olds be treated as adults in the justice system. The "Second Chance" Bill could reverse that.
Under the second chance bill, first-time nonviolent 17-year-old offenders would no longer be treated as adults in Wisconsin.
The La Crosse County Juvenile Justice Unit is currently serving about 150 kids.
While that number has steadily decreased in the last decade, the bill could soon change that, and the unit's supervisor, Mandy Bisek said it’s a good thing.
“I think it would be worth it, to have the opportunity to serve these kids, and that's what they are,” said Bisek.
The bill would would also make them eligible for the same rehabilitative services as any other juvenile.
“It's giving them that second chance of being served by a juvenile system, which can look into all the different risk areas that might make them more at risk for becoming a criminal,” said Bisek.
La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said there aren't many 17-year-olds currently coming through the county court system. For the ones that do, this bill gives them a chance to avoid a permanent criminal record.
“When someone has a criminal record, it can affect their employment, even though it’s not supposed to, it might follow them into things like military (or) other careers, it might show up in certain places,” said Gruenke.
Gruenke said the change could come at a price to taxpayers.
“It's a bad thing in that I'm sure the state's not going to be providing money for those services, so it's a little bit of a burden on the county system,” said Gruenke.
If the bill passes, Bisek said she'd expect to serve about 80 more kids. With a tight budget and a big workload, she said it won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
“It's incredibly busy right now,” said Bisek. “Our case workers are working very hard right now with the caseloads.”
The bill has until next Thursday to gain enough support in order to be referred to a committee. So far, the bill has at least a dozen backers.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he doesn't support the bill because judges already have discretion in how they handle young offenders.
Wisconsin is one of 11 states where 17-year-olds are treated as adults.