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Practice Profile

Teen Court

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
Teen court (also known as youth court or peer court) is a specialized diversion program that offers an alternative to traditional court processing for first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders (i.e., juveniles who have committed misdemeanor or status offenses and are at low risk of reoffending). The goal of teen court is to hold juveniles accountable for their behavior, repair the harm caused to the community by their offenses, and ultimately reduce juvenile recidivism.

Practice Components
Procedures may vary across different teen court programs, but there are certain components most programs encompass. First, participation is voluntary for juveniles, and they can opt out at any part of the process; however, if they decide to leave the program, they will be sent back to traditional juvenile court processing. Second, the focus of teen court is to have accused juveniles accept responsibility for their actions and repair harm done to the community; therefore, to participate, juveniles must admit guilt for their offenses.

Further, a defining feature of teen court is that volunteer youth serve in the role of at least some of the court personnel (i.e., defense attorney, prosecutor, judge, and/or jury). There are four courtroom models of teen court: adult judge, peer jury, youth judge, and youth tribunal. In the youth judge model, youth assume all roles (the judge, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, and the jury). The adult judge model has a similar structure except that an adult serves in the role of the judge. Like the youth judge model, the roles in the peer jury model are all assumed by youth but there is no defense attorney or prosecutor. Rather, the peer jury model operates like a grand jury: the youth presents the facts of the case and a panel of youth jurors questions the juvenile defendant directly. Finally, in the youth tribunal model, a panel (usually of three) takes on the role of the courtroom judge, youth attorneys present the case to the panel of judges, and there is no youth jury (Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall 2002; Development Services Group, Inc. 2010; Bouchard and Wong 2017).

When a jury is used, youth must listen to the attorneys’ presentations, question the juvenile defendant, reach a unanimous verdict, and recommend an appropriate sentence. Sentences may include community service, apology letters to victims, education workshops, or paying restitution to victims. If juvenile defendants successfully complete the program, they usually have the offense erased from their criminal record.

Practice Theory
There are several theoretical perspectives underlying teen court. One theory, called peer justice, suggests that positive peer pressure (from the youth volunteers in the program) can push delinquent juveniles toward more prosocial behavior. The theory also suggests that youth may respond better to prosocial peers than adult authority figures (Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall 2002; Development Services Group, Inc. 2010).

Teen court is also based on principles of restorative justice, which emphasizes repairing the harm caused by juveniles’ criminal or delinquent behavior. Through teen court, the focus is on the community rather than the court system, repairing the harm caused by the offense (rather than seeking retribution), holding juveniles responsible and accountable for their actions, and ensuring juveniles are directly involved in the process of restoration (Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall 2002; Bouchard and Wong 2017).

Finally, another theory that pertains to teen court is labeling. By diverting juveniles away from formal court processing, they can avoid the social consequences of being labeled negatively and should be less likely to internalize a deviant/criminal identity because they are being judged and sentenced by a jury of peers, rather than the court system (Becker 1963; Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall 2002).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Aggregating the results from 11 studies, Bouchard and Wong (2017) found that teen court programs had no statistically significant effect on juvenile recidivism rates. This indicates that there were no differences in the odds of recidivism between the treatment group (i.e., youth who participated in teen court) and the control group (i.e., youth who were formally processed in the juvenile court).
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11987 - 2016110

Meta-Analysis 1
Bouchard and Wong (2017) conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of teen courts at reducing juvenile recidivism. A comprehensive search and systematic review of the literature was conducted by searching 21 electronic journals, hand searching relevant academic journals, and searching the grey literature to identify any unpublished studies. To be included in the review, studies had to 1) report on the findings of a primary evaluation of a teen court program or strategy; 2) have a moderately rigorous design (i.e., scored at least a “2”on the Maryland Scale of Scientific Methods); 3) include a control group deemed to constitute a valid comparison (such as randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental designs in which participants were matched on at least some characteristics such as age or criminal history); 4) have a minimum treatment group sample size of 20; 5) report on at least one individual-level outcome measure of crime or delinquency; and 6) provide sufficient data to allow for calculation of an effect size.

A total of 11 studies, which compared youth who completed teen court with youth who were formally processed, were identified and included in the review. All 11 studies were conducted in the United States. Eight studies included predominately male participants, two studies included an equivalent number of male and female participants, and one study did not provide information on gender. For race/ethnicity, eight studies included mostly white participants, two studies included mostly minority or mixed race/ethnicities, and one study did not report that information. With regard to the specific teen court model under examination, five studies looked at the peer jury model, two studies looked at the youth judge model, one study looked at the adult judge model, and one study looked at the youth tribunal model. The types of offenses committed by teen court participants in the studies included status or misdemeanor offenses such as minor property offenses, minor drug and alcohol violations, shoplifting, traffic violations, and disorderly conduct.

The impact of teen court programs on juvenile recidivism was calculated using odds ratios. Odds ratios were log-transformed to logged odds ratios, which center the values around 0. A logged odds ratio of 0 indicates no different treatment impact between the treatment and control groups. A random effects model was used to synthesize the odds ratios across the studies.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Bouchard, Jessica, and Jennifer S. Wong. 2017. “A Jury of Their Peers: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Teen Court on Criminal Recidivism.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 46:1472–87.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Development Services Group, Inc. 2010. “Teen Youth Court.” Literature review. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Becker, H. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York, N.Y.: Free Press.

Butts, Jeffrey, Janeen Buck, and Mark Coggeshall. 2002. The Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders: Research Report. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Independence Youth Court Promising - One study
A diversion program for young offenders. The primary goal of the program is to reduce the occurrence of juvenile crime by diverting youth from the traditional juvenile justice system and providing an alternative to formal processing. The program is rated Promising. Treatment youth were significantly less likely to reoffend.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 0 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Other, White

Targeted Population: Status Offenders, Young Offenders

Settings: Courts, Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Diversion, Teen/Youth Court

Unit of Analysis: Persons