The terms “Youth Court” and “teen court” usually refer to courts that involve young people in the sentencing of their peers who are diverted from juvenile courts. Youth courts serve as immediate intervention with minor offenders who can be diverted from the juvenile justice system. These courts fill an intervention gap in many jurisdictions in which heavy caseloads and the need to focus on more serious offenders result in a low priority for the enforcement of misdemeanor charges. Youth courts provide immediate sanctions, holding young persons accountable for minor delinquent acts in a positive manner, while extending that accountability to the community—usually in the form of community service. Thus they hold considerable promise as an immediate intervention in a graduated sanctions system.
Youth courts operate using one of four main case-processing models: adult judge, youth judge, tribunal, or peer jury (for detailed descriptions of these models, see Fisher, 2002; see also Goodwin, 2000). Youth courts were established with the expectation that they would be able to reduce delinquency by bringing peer pressure to bear on youngsters involved in minor delinquent acts. The typical youth referred to a teen court is 14–16 years of age and in trouble with the police for delinquency involvement for the first time. These youths are most likely charged with vandalism, stealing, or other nonviolent offense. Youth courts serve as an alternative to normal juvenile court processing.
An Urban Institute evaluation found that recidivism rates among teen court youth were lower than those of youth in the regular juvenile justice system in all four sites included in the study; the rates were significantly lower in two of the four sites. The researchers conclude that youth courts appear to be a cost-effective alternative in localities that do not or cannot provide a meaningful response for every young, first-time nonviolent offender. Using performance-based measures, youth courts can assess both process and outcomes without great expense and without employing outside expertise. Tools to Evaluate and Manage Youth Courts (TEAM YC) is an easy-to-use software program that youth courts (also known as teen, peer, and student courts) use to assist them in managing cases and collecting data for program evaluation. This software is available at the National Youth Court Center (http://www.teamyc.com/description.html).
The National Youth Court Center (NYCC) manages an information clearinghouse on youth courts and provides training seminars, including a new program track for jurisdictions interested in establishing youth court programs and an advanced program track for existing youth courts that want to enhance their knowledge and skills. In addition, the NYCC has developed two online training lessons to assist youth volunteers in youth courts in performing their youth court roles more effectively.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Promising program structure
National Gang Center: Effective program structure
National Association of Youth Courts, Inc.
World Trade Center Baltimore
401 East Pratt Street, Suite 1321
Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (410) 528-0143
Fax: (410) 528-0170
Web site: http://www.youthcourt.net
Butts, J. A.; Buck, J.; and Coggeshall, M. (2002). The Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Fisher, M. (2002). Youth Courts: Young People Delivering Justice. Chicago: American Bar Association.
Goodwin, T. M. (2000). National Youth Court Guidelines. Lexington, KY: American Probation and Parole Association, National Youth Court Center.