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Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders

NCJ Number
Jeffrey A. Butts; Janeen Buck; Mark B. Coggeshall
Date Published
48 pages
This report summarizes the findings of the Urban Institute's Evaluation of Teen Courts (ETC) Project, which assessed teen court programs in four jurisdictions: Anchorage, AK; Maricopa County, AZ; Montgomery County, MD; and Independence, MO.
More than 500 teen court cases from the 4 sites were compared with similar cases handled by the traditional juvenile justice systems in those jurisdictions. The evaluation collected baseline data about the youths and their parents or guardians, tracked each youth for at least 6 months, and measured the extent to which official recidivism differed between the teen court juveniles and those processed within the juvenile justice system. Teen courts operate much like juvenile courts except that fewer adults are involved in the process. The young offender (usually with a parent or guardian) may meet with an adult staff person before the teen court hearing. In the teen court hearing itself, however, youth are responsible for much of the process, from calling the case, to reviewing the charges and representing the facts, to choosing the proper sentence. Teens may serve as the court clerks, bailiffs, attorneys, jurors, and in some cases, even the judges that hear each matter brought before the court. Most of the youth who work in teen court are volunteers, but many are former defendants who return to participate in other cases as a condition of their sentence. The comparisons of recidivism within 6 months of each youth's original referral indicated that teen court youth were significantly less likely to reoffend than were the comparison group in two of the four sites. In the other two sites, differences in recidivism failed to reach statistical significance. In one of these two sites, however, the direction of the difference favored teen courts. The evaluation concludes that teen courts are a promising alternative for the juvenile justice system. 11 tables