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Youth Courts: Young People Delivering Justice

NCJ Number
Margaret Fisher
Date Published
40 pages
This document examines the structure and benefits of youth courts.
Youth courts, also known as teen courts and peer juries, involve volunteers from 8 to 18 years of age in sentencing their peers for crimes, traffic infractions, or school rule violations. These young people are learning important citizenship knowledge and skills. Youth courts began expanding rapidly in the 1990's. Noting their success, the Federal Government and other national organizations began supporting youth court programs. Individual youth courts are typically the creation of local communities, resulting in diverse structure, operations, caseloads, and characteristics. Depending on which approach is followed, young people may take on the roles of judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, community advocate, defense advocate, juror, presiding juror, bailiff, or clerk. In most cases, young people must admit their wrongdoing or plead no contest to be eligible for youth court. As part of the disposition, respondents must serve on the jury near the end of their imposed sentence. Other disposition options include community service hours, educational classes, mediation, restitution, apology, essays, counseling, curfew, drug testing, school attendance, peer discussion groups, and other creative dispositions. Youth courts are typically categorized into four structural models: (1) youth judge, (2) adult judge, (3) youth tribunal, and (4) peer jury. A major evaluation effort is underway to assess the impact of youth courts on juveniles accused of misdemeanors and generally nonviolent offenses. Preliminary findings indicate that there is no clear evidence that one structural model is more effective than another, that client satisfaction is high, that parents' and respondents' satisfaction with youth court is high even after court, and that program impact may be greater among already pro-social youth. Examples of successful youth courts throughout the United States are presented. Unique innovations in youth courts and statewide associations that play a role in supporting and networking youth courts within a State are also highlighted. 4 charts, resources