The Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders

Jeffrey A. Butts, Janeen Buck, and Mark Coggeshall (2002). The Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

The Evaluation of Teen Courts (ETC) Project compared recidivism outcomes for teen court defendants with outcomes for youth handled by the regular juvenile justice system.

Teen courts (or youth courts) are specialized diversion programs for young offenders. The typical youth referred to teen court is 14 to 16 years old, in trouble with the police for the first time, and probably charged with vandalism, stealing, or some other non-violent offense. Teen courts offer these youth an alternative to the regular juvenile court process. Rather than going to juvenile court and risking formal prosecution and possible adjudication, a young offender can go through teen court and avoid what might have been the first stain on his or her legal record.

In return, however, a young person in teen court is almost certain to get a rather stiff sentence. Many are required to do community service and pay restitution for any damages they may have caused. They may be ordered to write apology letters to their parent(s) and the victim of their offense, and perhaps an essay about the effects of crime on the community. Often, they must return to teen court to serve on juries for other cases. Compared to what they might have received in the regular juvenile court process for a first-time, non-violent offense, youth that agree to go to teen court get relatively severe sanctions.