ERIC Identifier: ED429031
Publication Date: 1999-04-00
Author: Nessel, Paula A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teen Courts and Law-Related Education. ERIC Digest.
Teen courts, a term used here to include youth courts, peer juries, peer
courts, student courts, and other courts using juveniles in determining the
sentences of juvenile offenders, have rapidly gained popularity in the 1990s. In
1991 there were over 50 teen courts in 14 states; by 1999, the number of teen
courts had grown to more than 500 in 45 states and Washington, DC. The growing
popularity of teen courts is compelling evidence that they are fulfilling a
TYPES AND FUNCTIONS OF TEEN COURTS
Teen 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. Young offenders usually are referred to a teen court for
sentencing, not for a judgment of guilt or innocence. And many teen courts
accept only first-time offenders who have committed relatively minor offenses,
such as theft, alcohol/drug offenses, vandalism, and disorderly conduct (Godwin
1996). There are, however, many different models of teen courts (see below),
including some that determine guilt or innocence.
Young offenders voluntarily choose teen court, with parental approval, as an
alternative to an existent sentencing agency or disciplinary office. Offenders
who prefer legal representation and/or the regular court or disciplinary system
can decline referral to teen courts.
Teen court sentences commonly include community service (1-200 hours), jury
duty (up to 12 times), restitution, and apologies. Additional sentencing options
include counseling, educational workshops on substance abuse or safe driving,
essay writing, victim-awareness classes, curfews, drug testing, school
attendance, and peer discussion groups.
Most teen courts are based in the juvenile justice system or in a community
setting. The agencies most commonly operating or administering teen court
programs are juvenile courts and private nonprofit organizations. Next are law
enforcement agencies and juvenile probation departments. Schools operate about
ten percent of teen courts, while a variety of other agencies (e.g., city
government, the administrative office of the court) operate the remainder of
teen courts (Godwin 1996).
The 1994 survey of teen courts by the American Probation and Parole
Association (Godwin 1996) identified four distinct models: a peer jury model and
three trial models. The Peer Jury Model employs a panel of teen jurors who
question the offender directly. No defense or prosecuting attorney is employed.
The judge is usually an adult volunteer.
The most common of the teen 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 teen court attorney.
Finally, the Tribunal Model has no peer jury. Instead, the prosecuting and
defense attorneys present cases to a juvenile judge(s), who determines the
RELATIONSHIP TO LAW-RELATED EDUCATION (LRE) AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
Teen courts and law-related education share many goals.
The Law-Related Education Act of 1978 defined LRE as "Education to equip
nonlawyers with knowledge and skills pertaining to the law, the legal process,
and the legal system, and the fundamental principles and values on which these
are based." Teen courts do the same. Each teen court case teaches both the
student volunteers from local secondary schools and the offenders 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
offenders learn about key LRE concepts of justice, power, equality, property,
Teen courts also help to foster important values, attitudes, and beliefs
similar to those of LRE generally. Participants voluntarily commit their time to
teen 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 offender and victim, and an appreciation for a legitimate response to
societal conflicts through assigning appropriate responses to the offenses in
Teen courts also offer a uniquely experiential approach to LRE. Participants
are real offenders in real situations, and volunteers must therefore learn the
discipline of confidentiality. Teen court participants must weigh conflicting
points of view and decide a just and appropriate sentence. They see first-hand
the consequences of delinquent behavior. Teen court offenders learn through
their own sentences the importance of community service.
STUDENT COURTS IN SCHOOLS
Teen 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 teen 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
Student courts are sometimes established to handle very 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 in a trial model 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 may use only the students specially trained as court officers, either
as an extracurricular activity or as members of a law class meeting throughout
Teen 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. Preventing repeat offenses (recidivism) and influencing young people
to resist the temptation to become delinquent are also valid goals of teen
courts. Since teen courts tend to function on minimal funding, finding the time
and money to determine their success in meeting their goals has been difficult.
However, a few notable evaluation studies have been conducted.
Rod Hissong's evaluation (1991) of a teen court program in Arlington, Texas
matched offenders sentenced by teen court with non-teen court participants who
had contemporaneously committed similar offenses. The study found a decrease in
recidivism for teenagers who had participated in teen court.
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts' "Report on Teen Court
Programs in North Carolina" (1995) stated the two most important effects
suggested by interviews with persons familiar with teen court: (1) juveniles
were processed in a manner that demonstrated to them that there were
consequences of their behavior and (2) teen court was a learning and behavior
modifying experience for both offenders and volunteers.
SRA Associates' evaluation (Jones 1995) of Routes For Youth -- Teen Court in
Santa Rosa, California reported that only 2.5% of 238 teen court referrals were
reported by Juvenile Probation as re-arrests, while a median amount of $74.50 in
restitution was collected and distributed to crime victims and a median of 25
hours of community service was provided by youth offenders in a wide variety of
public and not-for-profit agencies.
The 1997 study by James B. Wells and Kevin I. Minor evaluated Kentucky's Teen
Court Program and found gains in students' tests scores on knowledge of law and
government, moderately high positive attitudes among students toward teen court,
and perceptions by participants' parents that their children benefited a great
deal from the teen court experience.
Teen courts offer the active learning of
law-related education through hands-on experience with the justice system. Young
offenders and the juveniles who determine the offenders' sentences are
practicing good citizenship through community service. Research shows that teen
courts promote understanding of the legal system, reduce recidivism, and
encourage participants to accept responsibility for their actions. They provide
a positive alternative to traditional juvenile justice and school disciplinary
procedures. The Division for Public Education of the American Bar Association
has served as a national clearinghouse for information on teen courts since
1991. It has extensively promoted teen courts through its National Law-Related
Education Resource Center, LRE conferences, and publications.
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 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.
Godwin, Tracy M. PEER JUSTICE AND YOUTH EMPOWERMENT: AN IMPLEMENTATION GUIDE
FOR TEEN COURT PROGRAMS. U.S. Department of Transportation, 1996.
Hissong, Rod. "Teen Court -- Is It An Effective Alternative to Traditional
Sanctions?" JOURNAL FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DETENTION SERVICES 6 (Fall 1991):
Jones, Carol. TEEN COURT EVALUATION OF 1994 ACTIVITIES AND GOALS: ROUTES FOR
YOUTH, SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA. Sebastopol, CA: SRA Associates, 1995.
North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. REPORT ON THE TEEN COURT
PROGRAMS IN NORTH CAROLINA. Submitted to the North Carolina General Assembly,
Raleigh, NC, 1995.
Wells, James B., and Kevin I. Minor. KENTUCKY'S TEEN 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.