Second Chance for Juveniles: Raising the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction in Wisconsin

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Under current Wisconsin law, an individual charged with a crime is under the jurisdiction of juvenile court only if he or she is younger than 17. For several years, legislation intended to increase this age to 18 has been introduced, but has not been passed by the legislature . . . yet.

This legislative session, a new effort is underway to treat children under 18 as juveniles if they have not been previously adjudicated delinquent, they have not been convicted of a crime, or they are presently charged with a non-violent offense. Research and experience has shown that harsher criminal sanctions do not break the cycle of recidivism and that the consequences of a criminal record are detrimental to the future development and success of children. Returning 17-year-olds to the juvenile justice system is more likely to have a better outcome for both the child and our society as a whole.

The biggest impediment to making this change has been the fiscal impact to counties, which pay the costs of juvenile detention. The current draft legislation seeks to mitigate the fiscal impact while beginning the process of more appropriately treating juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Continue reading “Second Chance for Juveniles: Raising the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction in Wisconsin”

Putting a Face on Wisconsin Treatment Courts

Posted on Categories Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System2 Comments on Putting a Face on Wisconsin Treatment Courts

RehabilitationMy blog post several weeks ago discussed the increase in the number of treatment courts in Wisconsin (see The Continued Expansion of Treatment Courts in Wisconsin). My goal was to outline the issue from a policy standpoint. As a follow up, I would like to offer a more personal perspective on treatment courts, one that most members of the public do not have an opportunity to see: the “face” of an individual successfully completing treatment court.

One major author of each story is a dedicated and collaborative treatment court team. Although the composition of each team may vary, membership generally includes a judge and representatives from the District Attorney, State Public Defender, Department of Corrections, and local treatment provider. Depending on the court, law enforcement, human services, and others may be represented as well.

K’s Story.  Prior to court, K had been in and out of mental hospitals and jails. For the first three weeks that K was in the mental health treatment court, his odor permeated through the courtroom. He would keep his head down and would often wear sunglasses in court. He did not respond to his defense attorney. All members of the team stepped beyond their traditional roles to work together to find solutions for K’s individual needs. After four months of participation in the treatment court, he was living in a new apartment. He showers, holds his head up, and plays guitar at open-mic night. He is just finalizing the requirements for earning his GED. Continue reading “Putting a Face on Wisconsin Treatment Courts”

The Role of Specialized Practice Groups in a Public Law Firm

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Wis State Public Defender TorchThe Wisconsin State Public Defender (SPD) has dual responsibilities: we are a large law firm and a state agency. Although there is overlap, each function has its own set of expectations and stakeholders, and we strive to achieve harmony between both roles. In this blog post, I am going to discuss an area where we achieve congruence by developing specialty practice groups.

From the beginning of the SPD, we organized ourselves based on specializing in appellate and trial work. The agency continues to maintain both of these general areas of practice, and we have identified additional specific practice areas: juvenile, forensics, termination of parental rights, racial disparity, immigration, and sexually violent persons (Ch. 980).

The SPD benefits in several ways. From a state agency perspective, specialty practice groups allow us to share specialized knowledge and expertise efficiently, lessening the need for staff and private attorneys to “reinvent the wheel” in these complex practice areas. From a law firm perspective, specialization allows us to enhance the quality of legal representation provided to our clients statewide.

Each practice group is led by a coordinator. That person stays abreast of the latest developments in the practice area and shares this expertise as an advisor, mentor, and educator to other SPD practitioners. Coordinators serve as a clearinghouse of sorts as they assist others in quickly changing areas of legal practice. Staff contact them as needed when they are preparing a client’s case or have a question in a new or undeveloped area of the law.

Each coordinator pulls together practice materials, including motions, briefs, transcripts, case outlines, and research/articles/studies to share with practitioners. Coordinators keep track of the legal nuances and mundane details in their practice areas and catalog them for easy dissemination to attorneys when requested. They assist with the agency’s training efforts, including presenting at the annual conference. Some coordinators conduct or assist with expert examinations at motion hearings and trials. The coordinators also assist private bar attorneys with their questions related to the respective practice areas.

Cases involving clients charged as a sexually violent persons typically involve a number of very intricate and arcane actuarial statistics. A practitioner who only occasionally takes such cases would find it challenging to build the expertise needed to work with statistics. In this example, the Ch. 980 practice group assists the attorneys with training in these math and statistical elements. Similarly, the forensics coordinator helps others with the technical aspects of this practice area. In fact, as I write this post, the coordinator for our forensics practice group is assisting in a jury trial by focusing on the forensic elements of the case.

As the agency continues to utilize such specialties, we will, as necessary, change and adapt to the ever-evolving and changing field of criminal justice in Wisconsin.

The Continued Expansion of Treatment Courts in Wisconsin

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Gavel and BenchWisconsin was an early adopter of problem-solving, or treatment, courts. Starting with Dane County’s Drug Court Treatment Program in June 1996, Wisconsin is now home to 56 operating treatment courts according to the Wisconsin Court System website. In addition to treatment courts that address drug addiction, our state also has treatment courts that focus on alcohol, mental health, veterans, and tribal wellness. Some are hybrid, or co-occurring disorders, courts. While most courts are operated by one county for cases arising in that county, we are starting to see regional courts that address offenders from multiple counties.

Treatment courts, as the name suggests, treat or solve an issue while still holding the offender accountable for his or her criminal activities. Removing an offender’s addiction, for instance, decreases the likelihood that the person will reoffend in order to “feed” his or her addiction. Successful treatment can lead to a reduction in crime and recidivism while restoring an individual to have a greater opportunity to be a valuable member of the community.

One of the drivers behind the proliferation of treatment courts is the proven outcomes they are able to produce. In fact, according to a UW Population Health Institute study of treatment alternatives and diversion programs, communities received a $1.93 return on each $1.00 invested in these programs.

The treatment court model relies on a team-based approach in order to oversee and assist the individual to treat his or her addictions. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation agents, law enforcement, and treatment providers all come together in a non-adversarial model to promote problem-solving responses tailored to each offender. Nationally, research shows that specific aspects of treatment courts, such as this team approach and the direct interaction between the participants and the presiding judge, help the courts achieve the goal of reducing recidivism.

The Statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals are working to create state standards for treatment courts to facilitate implementation in counties that may lack the resources to start a specialty court but that could sustain it once started.

The documented success of treatment courts makes it likely that Wisconsin will continue to see the development of new courts of this nature. The time, energy, and resources necessary to plan and operate these courts properly are a smart investment with significant benefits for individual participants, for public safety, and for taxpayers.

Evidence-Based Decision Making: The Increasing Use of Research in our Criminal Justice System

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There is a growing trend in the criminal justice field to integrate evidence-based decision making, or EBDM, into local justice systems.  At its simplest, EBDM can be described as the practice of using what has been proven to work.  It places the primary reliance upon current and sound research, rather than upon anecdotal information, guesswork, or solely the experience of an individual.  While the use of evidence-based decision making is relatively new to the field of criminal justice, the healthcare industry has embraced EBDM for sometime.
The promise of evidence-based decision making is that it produces more consistent and better outcomes, as confirmed by the underlying research.  In the criminal justice system, the benefits include the implementation of policies and practices that meet the goals of maximizing public safety, reducing the risk of reoffending, more appropriate allocation of limited resources, and reducing costs.

Wisconsin is at the forefront of the trend towards the introduction of EBDM into its criminal justice systems.   Continue reading “Evidence-Based Decision Making: The Increasing Use of Research in our Criminal Justice System”

The Legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright in Wisconsin

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process1 Comment on The Legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright in Wisconsin

I’d like to take the opportunity through my posts this month to talk about some of the trends and milestones that I see in the field of law, particularly as it pertains to our criminal justice system.

Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, started with a handwritten petition from Clarence Gideon. The decision in Gideon set the country’s criminal justice system on a different course: defendants who could not afford legal counsel had the right be be provided with such representation.

Although the scope of the constitutional right to counsel was established with the Gideon decision, the responsibility and the details of its implementation were left to the individual states. In the early years following the decision, Wisconsin complied with the requirement through a county-by-county system. This county-based approach changed in 1977 when Wisconsin took the strategic step of adopting a statewide model of indigent defense, establishing the Office of the State Public Defender (SPD) as an independent, executive-branch state agency. SPD trial offices started to open across the state, and the appellate representation, previously overseen by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was transferred to the agency. The SPD ensures that our state meets the constitutional requirements set forth in Gideon. Continue reading “The Legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright in Wisconsin”