Teen Courts are one of the fastest-growing programs in the community justice movement. Teen Courts give the community a practical response to the problems associated with delinquency. Teen Court is a Prevention/Diversion program that provides not only a courtroom atmosphere in schools and Justice Courts in which students hear the circumstances involved in a violation of the law and subsequently order a consequence; but also plays an important role in educating young people about the law and citizenship. Teen Court hears the matter and determines an appropriate, constructive consequence, using established guidelines. The Teen Court does not determine "guilt" in these matters because the admission of responsibility is one of the criteria for a Teen Court referral. Teen Court may be used as an alternative to suspension from school or utilized as an alternative to a formal police complaint for theft or other misdemeanors.
A school-based Teen Court requires the involvement of at least one teacher who is committed to the process. The Teen Court, probation officer, and/or other community members form a team that works directly with the teacher. Students are recruited on the basis of their interest in the program. A variety of students that best represent the student population are recommended. A Teen Court consists of a judge, prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, a jury, a bailiff, a clerk and a victim advocate. Aggravating and mitigating circumstances are presented during the hearing through questioning of the defendant. The intent is to determine an appropriate "sentence" for the defendant.
Constructive consequences consist of elements of deterrence and education. These can include the assignment of community service hours, restitution, letters of apology, counseling, tutoring, research papers, educational classes, skill-building classes, and the assignment of jury duty. The assignment of jury duty allows the defendant to become a part of the process for a period of time. When a Teen Court is held at school, the best results come when a classroom is dedicated to the Teen Court. This space is used for training, which is an ongoing process. A dedicated space allows for the room to be set up like a court and can minimize interruptions.
Justice Court Teen Courts are held at the local Justice Courts and often utilize the adult Justice of the Peace in the role of the Judge at Teen Court hearings. Youth volunteers from local schools are recruited, trained, and run Teen Court hearings at the Justice Court. Adult volunteers, such as teachers, lawyers, and student interns, are recruited to mentor and guide the volunteers and defendants.
Involvement in Teen Court is an educational experience for the participants and empowers students by involving them in decisions traditionally reserved for school administrators and probation officers. Participating in Teen Court offers students valuable experience in terms of participating in various court roles and gives them the opportunity to develop critical thinking and public speaking skills.
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