Teen courts, also known as youth or peer courts, are considered one of the fastest growing juvenile prevention and intervention programs in the country. They are rapidly gaining popularity as an alternative to juvenile justice and are considered a primary diversion option for young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Teen courts offer an adjudicatory venue in which nonviolent and, usually, first-time juvenile offenders are sentenced by their peers.
Teen courts are generally used for younger juveniles (ages 10 to 15), those with no prior arrest records, and those charged with less-serious law violations (e.g., shoplifting, vandalism, or disorderly conduct). Typically, young offenders are offered teen court as a voluntary alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system. In teen courts, youths charged with an offense can forgo the formal hearing and sentencing procedures of juvenile courts and participate in a sentencing forum made up of a jury of their peers. These courts offer youth the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons and coping skills while promoting positive peer influence for the youth defendants and volunteers, who play a variety of roles in teen court. Most are funded by a combination of grants and local funds from civic groups or through school district and municipal court budgets.
Four different program models also exist for teen courts. These models vary greatly in their case handling procedures, courtroom models, and the sanctions they use to hold the juvenile offender accountable. Program characteristics are as follows:
Indiana Teen Court Association:
Mission: To improve and enhance the lives of Indiana youth and their families by empowering, supporting, and developing local Teen Court Programs.
Member Youth Service Bureaus Offering Teen Court programs:
*Reference information from the National Center for State Courts http://www.ncsconline.org