This is the first report of findings from the Evaluation of Teen Courts (ETC) Project, which assessed teen courts in Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, and Missouri.
The teen court's authority is informal. Youthful offenders appear in teen court as part of a diversion agreement with the regular juvenile justice system. The local police agency or juvenile intake agency determines whether to send a young offender to teen court in lieu of formal case processing. Juveniles and their families agree to comply with the teen court program in exchange for dismissal of delinquency charges. The only penalty for noncompliance with the teen court process is that the youth would return to the regular juvenile justice process and face possible adjudication by a juvenile court judge. In most jurisdictions, diversion to teen court requires that the youth admit their guilt prior to appearing before the teen court. Teen courts essentially provide peer justice, in that those deciding sanctions and rehabilitative measures are teens themselves. In examining the effectiveness of teen courts in achieving reductions in recidivism among teens charged with minor law violations, the ETC project found that all four of the teen courts had relatively low rates of recidivism. The 6-month recidivism data ranged from 6 percent in Alaska to 8 percent in Maryland and 9 percent in Arizona and Missouri. The teen court seemed to outperform formal juvenile justice processing for similar young offenders, i.e., first-time offenders who committed minor offenses. This report advises, however, that more investigation is required to identify the features of a teen court that make it effective in reducing recidivism. The evaluation used a quasi-experimental design to measure differences in recidivism between youth processed in teen courts and those processed by the traditional juvenile justice system. 8 tables, 8 references, and appended supplementary data and information on the evaluation methodology
Date Published: April 1, 2002