Rep. Sanfelippo: New Bills Target Increase in Juvenile Violent Crime

Home » Here & Now » Rep. Sanfelippo: New Bills Target Increase in Juvenile Violent Crime
Premiere Date: 
May 19, 2017

Rep. Sanfelippo: New Bills Target Increase in Juvenile Violent Crime

Republican State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo is the primary sponsor of two juvenile crime bills that would expand the list of crimes a minor could be incarcerated for and extend the length of time a minor could be sentenced for a crime. He said the bills would target the serious and habitual offenders. He notes the juvenile code needs a complete overhaul because minors today commit more violent crimes.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

A "First Look" tonight at two juvenile crime bills making their way through the capitol. Both pertain to minors who are part of what's called the Serious Juvenile Offender Program. The program is for juveniles who commit a limited number of very serious felonies for which an adult offender would be subject to life in prison and who are judged a danger to the public. The first bill would extend the time a juvenile offender can be incarcerated. The second expands the list of offenses for which a juvenile can be sent to a corrections facility. Republican State Representative Joe Sanfelippo is the primary sponsor of the bills. He joins us from Waukesha and thanks very much for doing so.

Joe Sanfelippo:

Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Frederica Freyberg:

So taking these bills separately, what do you specifically call for in terms of extending the time that a juvenile can be incarcerated?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So under our present statute, a juvenile can be incarcerated up to age 25, but there's a three-year cap on the amount of time for incarceration. So let's say we have a juvenile that's 15 years old, commits a very serious crime, ends up in the SJOP program. By the time they're 18, regardless of whether or not the system feels that they still pose a danger to society, they have to be let out. And so what this bill would do is would take the three-year cap off and allow them to be able to stay in incarceration longer if the system determines that they still are posing a grave threat. But it also does another thing in that sometimes these juveniles are let out but they -- you know, before they've spent three years in crime -- three years in incarceration. And what we're hearing then from the people who monitor them and put them on supervision is that if they know that they can't go beyond the three years, it just takes away an incentive for them to try to behave a little better once they're in society because they know no matter what do they can't be sent back for that crime because they've already hit their three year limit.

Frederica Freyberg:

Interesting. The other bill expands the list of crimes that could land a juvenile who's 14 years old and older in a correctional facility or secured residential care center to any adult felony crime. So like felony theft?

Joe Sanfelippo:

That’s correct. Now, again, in conjunction with the crime that they are adjudicated for, the judge also has to determine that the juvenile poses a very serious threat or grave danger to society. So a juvenile who would be convicted of felony theft, if the judge doesn't feel that they don't pose a great threat to society, they wouldn't go in the SJOP program. So we're talking about very serious offenders, habitual offenders. The people that have maybe gone through the system a couple of times before, gone through some rehabilitative programs and alternative programs but those programs just haven't worked.

Frederica Freyberg:

You obviously think the current law is too soft on juvenile crime?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So you have to remember the current juvenile code's about 40 years old. And it's been updated once or twice since then. But I think one of the police chiefs that we spoke with while we spent the past two years investigating this summed it up best. He said, "Our juvenile code was written for Wally and the Beaver, but those aren't the kids we're dealing with right now." Our juveniles today are involved in more violent crimes than we thought they would be even 40 years ago. That's why the list of felonies that can land them in the SJOP program right now is a very, small limited group, like first-degree homicide. So we're expanding that only just to fit the trend that we're seeing much more violent crimes that juveniles are taking part of.

Frederica Freyberg:

Are there specific kinds of cases or is there specific motivation for these bills?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So I think if you take a look overall, just the seriousness or the escalation and the violence of the crimes that are being committed. You know, 40 years ago if a juvenile stole a car, most likely they took one out of somebody's driveway who had left the keys in the car or something like that. Today we see them taking weapons. I mean 13, 14, 15-year-old kids with guns sticking them in the face of mothers who in some instances have children in the back seat of their vehicles and they're forcibly taking them from their cars. They're going in and robbing stores with guns. They're just involved in much more violent crime than they were in the past. So what we're looking at -- quite frankly, when you talk to everybody involved in the criminal justice system, no matter what side of the spectrum they're on, everybody agrees with one thing, that the juvenile code is outdated and the entire code needs to be updated. That's a large undertaking. This bill here deals with one small segment of it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin's juvenile prisons are under investigation into alleged inmate abuse as you know. Does it concern you to potentially have more inmates with longer sentences at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So nobody wants to see the problems that are alleged to have occurred at Lincoln Hills continue into the past. I think our new secretary, Secretary Litscher, has done a great job of making some improvements. We're going to be getting a report back from the FBI that tells us if more improvement is needed and exactly what has to be done and whatever has happened there we have to fix. But we have to remember, of the thousands of juveniles that go through the juvenile justice system every year. Last year we averaged 158 juveniles in this system. So it's not a large number of people. Now, that's not to minimize the problems that may have occurred there in the past. But the people or the kids that we're sending there are serious, hard core criminals that the age. Whether they're 15 or 25, they have committed some really serious, heinous crimes. Enough that a judge has determined they pose a grave threat to society, which is what landed them in there in the first place. So we can't only focus on the facility itself. We have to recognize we have a duty to protect innocent citizens from becoming victims of these violent offenders and in many cases repeat violent offenders.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We leave it there. Representative Sanfellipo, thanks very much.

Joe Sanfelippo:

Thank you. I appreciate your time

Share this page

Have questions, comments, or story ideas?


WisContext

WisContext serves the residents of Wisconsin, providing information and insight into issues as they affect the state.