Youth Justice Services Unit

The Juvenile Court System

Under the State of Wisconsin Juvenile Justice Code (Chapter 938), the eight staff of the Juvenile Court Services Unit provide supervision and services to youth ages 10 to 17 years. These youth have been adjudicated delinquent by the Juvenile Court or had prosecution deferred but have been placed under Informal Supervision sanctions by the Juvenile Intake office of the District Attorneys office.

The goal of supervision in Juvenile Court Services is to monitor and assist children in meeting all of the requirements of Supervision and return children to an orderly and productive life in the community.

To achieve this goal, the Juvenile Court and/or Unit staff incorporate elements of treatment, rehabilitation, deterrence, protection of society, serving the best interests of the child and preserving the family. Treatment and other services are combined with the use of sanctions for criminal behavior and/or violations of court orders.

How the Court Works

There are a number of different people and agencies children and parents will encounter throughout their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Law enforcement is the entry point into the juvenile system for most children. It is the job of law enforcement to investigate crime, collect evidence and protect the public.

A case begins with a complaint brought against a juvenile through a report filed by law enforcement. Most complaints are sent to the Juvenile Intake office by the police after they have contact with a victim of a crime or a threatened party.

Intake / Investigation

The complaint is reviewed by Juvenile Intake Services, an arm of the Court. Juvenile Intake serves as a sort of gatekeeper to formal involvement by the District Attorney and Juvenile Court when an accusation has been made that a child has broken a criminal law. Juvenile Intake reviews the accusation (complaint / referral) and decides whether it is suitable for informal action (deferred prosecution agreement) or if it should be sent to the District Attorney’s office for a possible petition to Juvenile Court.

If Juvenile Intake decides the complaint is reliable, but the child and the community could best benefit from informal action, they can develop a written agreement (deferred prosecution agreement) between Juvenile Intake and the child and parent(s) for the child to follow certain rules and requirements for a set period of time, up to one year. If the child completes the requirements in the time agreed, there is no other processing of the complaint and no involvement by the Juvenile Court.

However, the District Attorney can disagree with the deferred prosecution agreement, cancel the agreement and file a petition. If any of the rules or requirements of the agreement are not completed successfully in the time specified, or if the juvenile commits a new crime, Juvenile Intake can cancel the agreement and send it to the District Attorney recommending formal charges be filed with Juvenile Court.

Petition & Arraignment

Once the District Attorney’s office has received the complaint / referral, they have 20 days to review the allegation and decide whether the evidence in the complaint is reliable and serious enough for prosecution in Juvenile Court. A copy of the petition describing the alleged crimes is sent to the child and his / her parents with a date for them to appear in Court for arraignment (formal charging). 

An attorney appointed by the Public Defender’s office will be present at the arraignment to receive the petition for the juvenile. Parents may choose to obtain a private attorney to represent their child or themselves. The Public Defender represents the child, not the parents. (The parents are obligated to pay a fee for the services of a Public Defender.)

At the arraignment, the commissioner or judge will ask if the child has read the charges. If so, whether the child wishes to enter a plea that the accusations are true or not true. If the child states the accusations are not true, another court date will then be selected for a pre-trial hearing.

Pretrial & Trial

Prior to the pre-trial hearing, the Defense Attorney and District Attorney may discuss settlement of the complaint. That agreement would be presented to the court at the pre-trial for approval. If an agreement has not been made by the time of the pre-trial hearing, another date will be selected for a trial. The Wisconsin Juvenile Code does not entitle a juvenile to a jury trial. If there is a trial, the final decision, after all of the evidence is presented, is made by the trial Judge, usually the designated Juvenile Court Judge.


If the child admits that the accusations in the petition are true, or if there is a trial and the accusations in the petition are found to be true by the Judge, the Judge finds the child to be delinquent and a date will be set for the disposition or final hearing of the process. The Disposition Hearing must be set within 30 days unless the child is in custody, then the Disposition Hearing must be held within 10 days. This hearing determines and details what services should be provided to the child and/or the family to supervise the child, provide whatever treatment or other rehabilitation the child or family needs, and protect the public.

Before the Disposition Hearing the juvenile and his/her parent(s) will be asked to meet with a Caseworker from the Juvenile Court Services Unit of the Division of Social Services at 8600 Sheridan Road. Parent(s) need to allow at least one hour for that meeting. The caseworker’s job is to gather family and child information by interviewing the child, parents and others (such as, school, police authorities, therapists) for additional information. The assigned caseworker will write a Disposition Court Report describing and reviewing the information found during the investigation process. The caseworker will also make a recommendation for disposition to be taken into consideration by the court at the Disposition Hearing.

Before the hearing begins, the juvenile will be able to review the Disposition Report and the recommendations made by the caseworker with his / her attorney. At the Disposition Hearing the Judge will review all of the information that has been provided by the District Attorney, the caseworker and the Defense Attorney and others, and make a decision about where the child should live and what Rules of Supervision the child must follow. In most cases this will mean a specific length of time under the formal supervision of the Division of Children and Family Services - Juvenile Court Services Unit.

Disposition Alternatives

When the Judge decides where the child is to live, he / she will consider the least restrictive placement necessary to protect the public and hold the juvenile accountable for his / her actions. If the judge decides the child may remain at home, there are usually specific rules and conditions ordered by the court that the child must follow as part of supervision while under Juvenile Court authority. The judge may also order the child or parents to do certain things that the court feels would be beneficial to the child and / or the family. This could include, but is not limited to, such things as counseling, attendance in a special training or education program, participation in a special community based supervision program, restitution to the victim, school attendance, community service work or electronic monitoring.

If the judge decides it is not in the best interest of the community for the child to be placed at home, he / she may place the child in a foster home, group home, residential treatment facility or other temporary placement.

The judge may also consider transferring the child’s custody to the Department of Corrections, the state agency that runs adult and juvenile correctional facilities, for placement at one of the locked correctional facilities.

The judge will also warn the child and parents about the possible consequences of not following the orders of the court. This warning is referred to by the court as the Sanctions Warning. It describes the consequences that may include, but are not limited to:

  • Electronic monitoring
  • House arrest
  • Community service work
  • Short-term detention

If the violation is serious enough, the court can change the juvenile’s placement to Corrections.

*If a child is placed outside of the home during any phase of the referral process, each parent is responsible for the cost of the juvenile’s care while the child is in the out of home placement, including secure detention, at least until the child’s 18th birthday. Wisconsin Statutes describe the parents’ responsibility to provide support based on the child support percentage income standard. If the child receives Social Security or SSI, it may be applied to the cost of care. A parent may pay less than the full cost of care if the parent establishes a child support payment rate with the KCDHS family support collector.

For more information contact:
Donna Dickenson
Social Work Supervisor Youth Justice Unit
Phone: 262-605-6530