Providing professional services for Wisconsin juvenile justice

Statements of Philosophy

Statements of philosophy may be adopted by the Board of Directors to address a general issue or topic of significance to intake workers statewide. Such a statement should not be in response to a specific legislative proposal but rather a broad philosophical framework, within which legislative positions are formed.

A Statement of Philosophy should not be subject to change without substantial consideration. Adoption of a Statement of Philosophy requires an affirmative vote of no less than two-thirds of all members of the existing Board of Directors. A motion to revise or rescind a Statement of Philosophy shall not be successful unless supported by an affirmative vote of no less than two-thirds of all members of the existing Board of Directors.




It is the position of the Wisconsin Juvenile Court Intake Association that offenders are best served and the interests of the community are best addressed when the presumptive age for circuit court jurisdiction is 18 years old. Therefore, we are recommending the presumptive age be increased from age 17 to age 18 years of age. For those juveniles under 18, waiver of jurisdiction to adult court should be considered on an individual basis by the juvenile court process.

It is imperative a change in juvenile court jurisdiction be accompanied by an adequate increase in funding so counties will be able to absorb the financial responsibility for 17 year-olds while at the same time maintaining at least the current level of services to all populations.


Beginning on January 1, 1996, all Wisconsin youth at age 17 became subject to the adult court jurisdiction. A report from the Juvenile Justice Study Committee precipitated a legislative act removing 17 years olds from the juvenile justice system. The act was designed to promote accountability of 17 year-olds for their criminal conduct, to promote consistency in the age of adult court jurisdiction with the states of Illinois and Michigan, and to redirect resources to younger offenders.

The legislature was responding to predictions there would be an increase in the violent behavior of older juveniles; a plague of “super predators.” Popular and professional journals predicted chronic and violent offenders becoming commonplace. There were expectations adult jurisdiction would bring swift and severe consequences to these 17 year-old offenders. The belief, at that time, was these 17 year-olds would have the capacity to be effectively deterred from crime by the specter of adult criminal sanctions. In addition, there was a hope that by removing the financial burden of this class, there would be substantially increased financial resources to serve the younger population. 


National statics show the “super predators” never materialized. The predictions violent crime would continue to increase were inaccurate. More than 80% of violent offenses are committed by offenders 20 years and older. In 2014, only 1.4% of juvenile arrests in Wisconsin were for violent crimes. In fact, in Wisconsin, the violent index crimes have steadily decreased since 2006. Additionally, studies show juveniles tried in the adult system violate the law again more quickly (and with more serious and/or violent crimes) than those tried in the juvenile system.

At the time of this legislative change, Wisconsin was looking to be in the same area as surrounding states that had also lowered the age for adult court to 17. Trends in the last several years, 2011-2015 specifically, show more and more states restoring jurisdiction to the juvenile system and returning 17 year olds to juvenile court. All of the states surrounding Wisconsin have now moved their 17 year-olds back into the juvenile system.

Recent data and research has shown positive support in returning 17 year-olds to the Juvenile Justice System. According to the US Supreme Court, adolescents are different from adults as they lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility. They are also more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures. Finally, juveniles are not as well formed in who they are as adults, constantly ‘ebbing and flowing’ in regards of their personalities and positions on things. Marsh Levick, Legal Director for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, claims there is uncontradicted research demonstrating there is a much greater risk of reoffending by anyone who comes through the adult system. She states there is a significantly lower risk of reoffending for juveniles who are rehabilitated and treated through the juvenile justice system. A study by the Miami Herald showed there was a 35% greater risk of reoffending for juveniles prosecuted and convicted as adults in Florida.

The belief the adult court system will provide swift and severe consequences is not supported by statistics. We are not aware of any statistical analysis supporting that adult courts provide either swift or severe consequences. The statutory time limits in the juvenile justice code tend to provide a more expedited action.

 The public policy goal of providing effective treatment to offenders to reduce the risk of recidivism mitigates toward the provision of services in the juvenile justice system. Most research points to juvenile justice based treatment as being more effective at reducing recidivism.


It is clear some offenders are more appropriately served in the adult system. Juveniles who commit serious crimes against persons or who are chronic offenders may require a response allowing a long period of incarceration or control. The existing process for waiver of jurisdiction to adult court allows well-informed juvenile court judges to make appropriate jurisdictional decisions. These decisions should be based on an analysis of the factors and criteria already existing in the Wisconsin State Statutes.

There is also a concern of confusion for the 17 year old youth going through the adult criminal system when they are not yet adults themselves. There are no other branches of government or areas of their lives where a 17 year-old is considered an adult, which appears to be a contradiction in regards to what is expected of them in the legal system

No discussion of significant public policy can ignore the financial implications. The burden of providing services to delinquents falls largely on the shoulders of county agencies. With the current restrictions on tax levy increases, no department can absorb the cost of services to 17 year-olds without a substantial negative impact on all other groups. Any legislation moving 17 year-olds in the juvenile justice system must also create a new revenue stream to support the increased service provision for these youth.

REAFFIRMED 04/14/2023

Resource List

The State of Juvenile Justice in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Council on Children and Families – Juvenile Justice. December 2016.

Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy, Practice and Statistics. Wisconsin Juvenile Justice Statistics.

National Conference of State Legislatures. Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2011-2015. September 2015.

 “Raise the Age” Return 17 Year-Olds to Juvenile Court. Eileen Hirsch, Ginger Murray, Wendy Henderson. June 2007.


Legislation Letter

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The Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Juvenile Court Intake Association supports limiting the statutory authority to place juveniles in secure detention under 938 to the level allowed as of January 1, 1998. The Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Juvenile Court Intake Association supports removal of statutory authority under 48.208 and 48.209 so as to prohibit placement of children in secure detention.


In January of 1998, the Wisconsin State statutes provided the authority to place juveniles in secure detention both pre-adjudication and post-adjudication. The criteria established in 938.208 focuses on juveniles who present a substantial risk of physical harm or a substantial risk of becoming unavailable for court proceedings. The detention of these juveniles in appropriate facilities is generally in the best interest of both the juvenile and the community. Certain juveniles will meet the statutory criteria for secure detention but may be able to be served in a less restrictive setting that will meet the safety needs of the community. The role of the Juvenile Court Intake Worker to assess each referral is critical. The Intake Worker is best suited to make determinations of the need for secure detention based on training as mandated by Chapter 938 and local policy.

Post Adjudication secure detention is permitted under 938.34(3)(f) (Dispositional Placement), 938.355(6)(d) (Sanctions for Violation of Order), 938.355(6d) (Short Term Detention for Violation of Order), and 938.357(2) (Change in Placement). Placement in detention as Sanctions for Truancy (938.355(6m)) is allowed by statute only if the County’s Board of Supervisors has authorized the use of secure placement as a sanction for truancy or habitual truancy. It is the opinion of the membership that Sanctions for Truancy is not best practice and, thus, does not support this as a reason for secure detention placement. The detention of juveniles in Type II Child Caring Institutions and in correctional placements is not a part of this discussion.

Present research shows that the use of secure detention as a whole has drastically reduced. Per a policy brief by Kids Forward in 2018, the average daily population in secure detention across the state went from 866 in 2002 to 227 in 2016. This is in line with the trends seen nationally and consistent with research on the effects of the use of secure detention. When looking at the data provided Walker, S. C., & Herting, J. R. (2020) on the use of secure detention for youth prior to adjudication, it shows that youth have a higher rate of recidivism regardless of length of stay.

The use of secure detention should be within the context of the legislative intent and purposes stated under Ch 938.01. The legislature intended to create a system that would protect the community, impose accountability and equip juvenile offenders with competencies to live responsibly and productively. The use of secure detention may protect the community during the time period the juvenile is held in detention. However, recent research indicates recidivism rates actually increase and other negative consequences result from youth being held in secure detention facilities. “Peer-reviewed research sponsored by the Foundation concludes that a stay in pretrial juvenile detention increases a young person’s likelihood of felony recidivism by 33% and misdemeanor recidivism by 11%. In addition to a ticket to deeper justice system involvement, detention often leads to other profound and potentially negative consequences such as exacerbated health issues and separation from family, school, job and community.” (Annie E. Casey Foundation. March 26, 2021, Juvenile Detention Explained.)

There are clear and significant financial disincentives should Wisconsin children be held in secure detention absent an alleged or adjudged delinquency. It is a violation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to hold status offenders and nonoffenders in secure detention, absent some very clear exceptions. JJDPA violations found during regularly scheduled audits reduce the amount awarded to the State via Title II funds. This impacts how DOJ can spend Title II funds to support Wisconsin youth.


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I. Position
The Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Juvenile Court Intake Association (WJCIA) supports the use of facilities designed specifically for the secure detention of juveniles and supports limitations on the use of adult jail facilities.
II. Rationale
The WJCIA recognizes that circumstances may require that a juvenile be held in secure detention. The legislature has provided us with a juvenile justice system that is designed to protect the community and impose accountability, as well as equip the juvenile offenders with competencies to live responsibly and productively. It is acceptable and sound practice to hold juveniles in secure detention when they present a substantial risk of physical harm to others or when they present a substantial risk of being unavailable for upcoming court proceedings. In some cases, the use of secure detention is an appropriate dispositional option. When a juvenile violates their court order, it may also be advisable to use secure detention as a tool to hold them accountable.
It is the contention of the WJCIA that the goals of confinement and the legislative intent under 938.01 can best be met in facilities that are specifically equipped to deal with juveniles. Adult facilities can be seriously over-crowded and are not designed to provide the level of programming and care that juveniles require. We believe that juveniles have substantially different supervision and programming needs. Staff that are trained to work with juveniles will better understand juvenile issues and will provide better care and treatment.
The removal of Wisconsin juveniles from adult facilities has followed national trends. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act allows for exceptions to the federal mandate preventing the use of adult jails for juveniles. The current exceptions allow for the use of adult facilities for short periods of time depending on the population density of the jurisdiction. The administrative rules of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections further controls the use of adult facilities. The WJCIA would recommend that juveniles only be held in juvenile facilities. We do believe that the short term detention of juveniles in adult facilities is acceptable provided that the adult facility conforms to the expectations of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

REAFFIRMED 04/14/2023

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I. Position
It is the position of the Wisconsin Juvenile Court Intake Association that Juvenile Court Intake Services required by Wisconsin Statute 48.067 and 938.067 shall be provided by employees of the court or a county department and should not be sub-contracted.

II. Rationale
Currently s.48.06(2) and s.938.06(2) require that, in counties with a population under 500,000, intake services required by s.48.067 and s.938.067 be provided by employees of the court or county department and may not be subcontracted. There are only two exceptions to this requirement. The Statutes do allow that intake services can be contracted from the county sheriff’s department provided they were already contracted from the county sheriff’s department prior to April 1, 1980. The Statutes also allow that secure custody determinations can be provided by the county sheriff’s department in any county where the county sheriff’s department also operates a secure detention facility. These decisions can be made only between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and must be reviewed within 24 hours by an intake worker who is employed by the court or county department.

The issue of privatizing governmental services will continue to be contentious on many levels: legislators looking for solutions to community problems, private agencies, public sector employees and unions all have interest in the issue. Those interested in the quality of, and accountability of juvenile justice services are especially concerned.

This position is limited strictly to the issue of juvenile court intake services as defined at s.48.067 and s.938.067 and whether or not those services are properly provided by employees of government agencies.

The role and responsibilities of the juvenile court intake worker are unique. Juvenile court intake is the first step in the court process. The protection of due process rights begins with the onset of either custody intake or the court intake inquiry. Only intake workers and judges have the statutory authority to coercively place children, juveniles and expectant mothers under Chapter 48 and Chapter 938. Intake workers along with a select group of other professionals have statutory authority to place individuals needing emergency services under Chapter 51. These functions alone provide compelling rationale for intake workers to be guided by statutes and judicial guidelines and free from profit motive considerations.

The power of the state to intervene coercively in families by changing custody and/or placement of children is a momentous deprivation of liberty and should be strictly controlled.

Since the inception of the juvenile court intake function in Wisconsin, intake workers have been given the responsibility of balancing the public interest with the interest of children, juveniles and families as well as determining a threshold of legal sufficiency (prima facie jurisdiction). Intake workers are guided by court policy and guidelines as well as statutes. This tends to ensure that intake decisions are made responsibly and that there is accountability.

Decisions to contract with private entities for traditionally governmental functions are often tied to perceived economic savings and increased flexibility and innovation in services. The question of economic benefits has not yet been answered conclusively in any aspect. Initial cost savings based on lower employee costs are often offset by high turnover rates resulting in training costs and inconsistent levels of performance. Several studies of privatization find that conclusions are very difficult to make or that savings are either minimal or non-existent.

It is critical that children and juveniles receive equal protection under the law and that services be delivered with consistency. A fundamental aspect of contracting for services is that it is likely that a number of different service providers will compete for each contract. This is true within local jurisdictions and more so statewide. Under these circumstances the likelihood of inconsistent application of laws and policies is greatly increased.

Some functions are generally agreed upon to be proper government services. The decision to take and hold people in custody is clearly a government function. The application of laws and court policies are essential functions of government agencies. To contract with a non-governmental entity to perform those functions diminishes accountability but in no way relieves the government of either responsibility or accountability for the decisions.

REAFFIRMED 04/14/2023

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