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A Public Statement on Juvenile Justice and the Raise the Age Campaign
Bishop Paul D. Erickson
Greater Milwaukee Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
September 2023

While there are many issues related to the juvenile justice system in Wisconsin that need attention and reform, one specific change that can have an immediate and beneficial outcome is the effort to raise the age at which people are considered adults in the criminal justice system.

At the direction of the 2023 Greater Milwaukee Synod Assembly, I am calling upon Wisconsin to take up efforts to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, bringing 17- year-olds back to their rightful place in the juvenile justice system. In 1994, Wisconsin joined a number of states across the country in having 17-year-old youth included in the adult court system, no matter what offense they may be charged with. Since the turn of the 21st century, however, states across the country, from Louisiana to New York, have realized the improved outcomes of serving 17-year-olds in the juvenile system. Currently, Wisconsin is one of only three states that still tries all 17-year-olds in the adult court system. One of the most pressing steps for youth justice reforming is bringing all 17-year-olds back under juvenile court jurisdiction. Not only do efforts to “Raise the Age” improve outcomes for justice-involved youth, but this work also helps state budgets, improves our workforce, and makes our communities safer.

Youth who are treated in the juvenile justice system are less likely to commit crimes in the future, and they experience less trauma, abuse, and victimization. Youth treated in the juvenile system are also more likely to be successful and healthy adults and are more likely to obtain higher education levels, steady employment, and earn higher wages. Additional information about these efforts have been produced by the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin.

Our youth face countless challenges as they seek to learn, grow, and become partners in the work of building a stronger society. Let’s do what we can to provide the support and resources needed to the young people who enter the justice system so that they can have the opportunity to become the people God has created them to be.


Encouragement to Advocate on Behalf of the Raise the Age Campaign
Rev. Tyler Rasmussen

As Bishop Erickson said, today Wisconsin is 1 of only 3 states that treat 17-year-old youth as adults, regardless of the offense. But you can make a difference! I encourage you contact your state legislature and let them know you think Wisconsin should Raise the Age. If you need resources, the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin has prepared a number of resources on their Raise the Age campaign page. These resources include talking points, a sample letter you can simply copy and paste, and more. Or you could simply say, "I believe youth should be treated as youth. I am asking you to the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds." Be sure to include your address so that they know they are being contacted by a constituent!

However, you may be asking, "Why is the Church getting involved in politics?" Remember, though we stay out of partisan activities, a commitment we make at our baptisms is to work for justice and advocate on behalf of those in need. 17-year-olds in Wisconsin are in need of justice. As we state in our ELCA Social Statement, The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries, "youth are different from adults," "brain development is still incomplete at age 18," and "this church calls upon its members [...] to take part in building new social momentum for [...] treating youth as youth." Or, as was found by a MacIver Institute report on criminal justice in Wisconsin, 17-year-olds account for less than 1% of inmates in Wisconsin prisons, but are 20% of the rape victims; clearly their bodies are in danger in adult prisons!

Instead of asking, "Why is the Church getting involved in politics," start asking, "Why isn't the Church working to bring about justice for these youth who are currently being harmed in our state?" Jesus, the prophets, and Christians throughout the ages have always spoken up when they've seen harm; will you join their voices? Together, we can convince Wisconsin to Raise the Age this year!