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Organization and Operation of Teen Courts in the United States: A Comparative Analysis of Legislation

NCJ Number
Juvenile and Family Court Journal Volume: 53 Issue: 1 Dated: Winter 2002 Pages: 19-35
Michelle E. Heward J.D.
Date Published
17 pages
This article reports State-by-State research concerning legislation and judicial decisions regarding youth, peer, and teen courts.
The National Youth Court Center reported in 2001 that more than 785 active teen court programs existed in 45 States and the District of Columbia. This figure represented an increase from 250 teen courts in October 1995. The analysis also revealed that programs vary significantly between and even within States, making regulation cumbersome. Twenty-five States have passed legislation regarding teen court programs; 21 States and the District of Columbia have programs but no legislation. Program names include teen courts, youth courts, peer courts, and peer juries. Teen courts are traditionally dispositional in nature because volunteer participants who serve as fact finders need to have particular training and expertise. The offenses the teen courts handle include misdemeanors, infractions, juvenile status offenses, and ordinances. The involvement of municipal courts, justice of the peace courts, district courts, and juvenile or family courts is a common practice in the legislation. All legislation provides offending youths with rights and requires parental involvement in some form. Youths taking part are generally between ages 13 and 18 and fulfill the roles of judges, jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, bailiffs, and clerks. The analysis concludes that States should review the laws of other States to determine what regulation might benefit their programs to allow them to offer the greatest benefit to the community. Tables and reference notes