ERIC Identifier: ED464023
Publication Date: 2002-04-00
Author: Nessel, Paula A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Youth Courts in Law-Related Education. ERIC Digest.
Youth courts, which comprise teen courts, peer juries, peer courts, student
courts, and other courts wherein juveniles sentence juvenile respondents, have
rapidly gained popularity. In 1991 there were over 50 youth courts in 14 states;
by 2002, the number of youth courts grew to more than 850 in 46 states and the
District of Columbia. This Digest discusses (1) types and functions of youth
courts, (2) the relationship of youth courts to law-related education, (3)
student courts in schools, (4) educational effects of youth courts, and (5) the
National Youth Court Center.
TYPES AND FUNCTIONS OF YOUTH COURTS.
Youth courts involve
juveniles in the sentencing of other juveniles, in either a school or a
community setting. Young people usually serve as jurors and may also fill the
roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge, bailiff, or other
officers of the court. Respondents usually are referred to a youth court for
sentencing, not for a judgment of guilt or innocence. Many youth courts accept
only first-time respondents who have committed relatively minor offenses such as
theft, alcohol/drug offenses, vandalism, and disorderly conduct (Godwin 1998).
Respondents voluntarily choose youth court, with parental approval, as an
alternative to an existent sentencing agency or disciplinary office. Respondents
who prefer legal representation or the regular court (or disciplinary system)
can decline referral to youth courts.
Youth court sentences commonly include community service, apology to the
victim, written statements, jury duty, and drug/alcohol class. Additional
sentencing options include monetary restitution, victim-awareness classes, and
driving/traffic classes. According to the National Youth Court Center, 27.3
percent of youth courts are administered by private nonprofit agencies, 17.5
percent are administered by law enforcement agencies, 15 percent are
administered by juvenile/municipal court, 12.6 percent are administered by
juvenile probation, 8.28 percent are administered by city governments, 4.89
percent are administered by schools, 4.7 percent are administered by county
governments, and 0.56 percent are administered by district/county attorney
The American Probation and Parole Association (Godwin 1998) identified four
distinct teen court program models: the Peer Jury Model, the Adult Judge Model,
the Youth Judge Model, and the Youth Tribunal Model. The Peer Jury Model employs
a panel of teen jurors who directly question the respondent. No defense or
prosecuting attorney is employed. The judge or presiding juror can be an adult
or youth volunteer. The most common of the youth court models is the Adult Judge
Model, which employs an adult judge to rule on courtroom procedure and clarify
legal terminology and youth volunteers as defense and prosecuting attorneys and
jurors. Young people may also serve as bailiff and clerk. The Youth Judge Model
is similar to the Adult Judge Model, except that a juvenile serves as judge,
usually after service as a youth court attorney. Finally, the Youth Tribunal
Model has no peer jury. Instead, the prosecuting and defense attorneys present
cases to a panel of three youth judges, who determine the sentence.
RELATIONSHIP TO LAW-RELATED EDUCATION (LRE).
and law-related education share many goals. The Law-Related Education Act of
1978 defined LRE as "Education to equip non-lawyers with knowledge and skills
pertaining to the law, the legal process, the legal system, and the fundamental
principles and values on which these are based." Youth courts do the same. Each
youth court case teaches both the student volunteers and the respondents about
the rules or laws that were broken, the consequences of the offenses, and how
due process is observed by court procedure. In addition, the volunteers and
respondents learn about key LRE concepts of justice, power, equality, property,
Youth courts also help foster important values, attitudes, and beliefs
similar to those of LRE. Participants voluntarily commit their time to youth
courts in the pursuit of justice. Student volunteers demonstrate a belief in
active and responsible participation in civic life, a respect for the rights of
the respondent and victim, and an appreciation for a legitimate response to
societal conflicts through assigning appropriate responses to the offenses in
Youth courts also offer a uniquely experiential approach to LRE. Participants
are real respondents in real situations, and volunteers must therefore learn the
discipline of confidentiality. Youth court participants must weigh conflicting
points of view and decide a just and appropriate sentence. They see first-hand
the consequences of delinquent behavior.
STUDENT COURTS IN SCHOOLS.
Youth courts that handle only
school referrals are receiving increasing attention from educators who are
looking for ways to improve students' citizenship skills and decrease
problematic behavior. Some youth courts meet in schools, but accept referrals
from organizations in the community such as the county probation department,
juvenile court, police department or sheriff's office. More often, student
courts accept referrals only from within the school. Of course, student courts
pose special challenges because of the complexity of creating new programs in
Some student courts handle only limited types of offenses. One student court
handles only traffic offenses on the school grounds, such as parking lot
violations. Other student courts handle only truancy and smoking violations.
Still others address a wide variety of offenses including insubordination, minor
theft of student property, minor vandalism, fighting, cheating, and loitering.
Student courts' memberships vary greatly from school to school. For instance,
members of the jury may be drawn from applicants throughout the student
population by random selection among students in study hall or from among
trained student court members. Likewise, student courts employing students as
judges or peer jurors may draw from applicants as diverse as the student body,
or they may use only the students specially trained as court officers either as
an extracurricular activity or as members of a law class meeting throughout the
EDUCATIONAL EFFECTS OF YOUTH COURTS.
Youth court advocates
generally agree that their most important goals are educating young participants
about the judicial process, having a positive impact on participants' social
competence, providing victims with apologies and/or restitution, and providing
service to the community. Additional goals are preventing recidivism (repeat
offenses) and influencing young people to resist the temptation to become
Evaluations conducted in the 1990s found a decrease in recidivism for
respondents who had participated in youth court (Hissong 1991), a positive
modification of behavior for both respondents and volunteers (North Carolina
Administrative Office of the Courts 1995), and gains in students test scores on
knowledge of law and government (Wells and Minor 1997).
In 1998 the U.S. Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
awarded a grant to the Urban Institute to conduct a national evaluation of youth
courts. The Evaluation of Teen Court Project began with a national survey of
youth courts followed by an evaluation of youth courts in Anchorage, Alaska;
Tempe, Arizona; Rockville, Maryland; and Independence, Missouri. The project
collected data, including recidivism rates, on the youth court participants and
a comparison group of youth handled using traditional juvenile court procedures
(Butts and Buck 2000). This evaluation project revealed generally positive
results regarding the effects of youth courts on participants. The findings are
available at http://www.jbutts.com/projects/teencourts.htm.
NATIONAL YOUTH COURT CENTER.
In 1999 the OJJDP established
the National Youth Court Center at the American Probation and Parole Association
in Lexington, Kentucky. The Center provides training, technical assistance, and
resource materials to youth courts. In addition, the Center maintains an
extensive Web site http://www.youthcourt.net/, manages an information
clearinghouse, holds national youth court conferences, and publishes a
newsletter and other informational materials such as the NATIONAL YOUTH COURT
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
American Bar Association Division for Public Education. YOUTH COURT VOLUNTEER
TRAINING PACKAGE. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2001.
American Bar Association Special Committee on Youth Education for
Citizenship. "The Essentials of Law-Related Education." In Robert S. Leming and
James Downey, Eds., RESOURCES ON LAW-RELATED EDUCATION. Bloomington, IN: ERIC
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1995. ED 388 534.
Butts, Jeffrey A., and Janeen Buck. "Teen Courts: A Focus on Research." OJJDP
JUVENILE JUSTICE BULLETIN (October 2000). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000.
Fisher, Margaret. ROADMAPS. YOUTH COURTS: YOUNG PEOPLE DELIVERING JUSTICE.
Chicago: American Bar Association Office of Justice Initiatives, 2002.
Godwin, Tracy M. PEER JUSTICE AND YOUTH EMPOWERMENT: AN IMPLEMENTATION GUIDE
FOR TEEN COURT PROGRAMS. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998.
Heward, Michelle E. "Youth Court: An Alternative to Juvenile Court?" UPDATE
ON LAW-RELATED EDUCATION 23 (Winter 1999-2000): 34-36. EJ 604 129.
Hissong, Rod. "Teen Court -- Is It an Effective Alternative to Traditional
Sanctions?" JOURNAL FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DETENTION SERVICES 6 (Fall 1991):
Nessel, Paula A. YOUTH COURT: A NATIONAL MOVEMENT. TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
BULLETIN NO. 17. Chicago: American Bar Association Division for Public
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Research Division.
OJJDP RESEARCH 2000 REPORT. Rockville, MD: Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, 2001.
ED 454 350.
REPORT ON THE TEEN COURT PROGRAMS IN NORTH CAROLINA. Raleigh: North Carolina
Administrative Office of the Courts, 1995.
Vickers, Mistene. NATIONAL YOUTH COURT CENTER. OJJDP FACT SHEET. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, May 2000.
Wells, James B., and Kevin I. Minor. KENTUCKY'S YOUTH COURT INITIATIVE: AN
ASSESSMENT. Prepared for Kentucky Court of Justice, Administrative Office of the
Courts, Frankfort, KY, 1997.
Wheeler, John. "Teen Courts in School: Teaching Responsibility, Justice, and
Authority." UPDATE ON LAW-RELATED EDUCATION 19 (Spring 1995): 36-39. EJ 504 135.
Williamson, Deborah, and Paul Knepper. "Teen Courts and Violence Prevention."
UPDATE ON LAW-RELATED EDUCATION 19 (Spring 1995): 33-35. EJ 504 134.