What is a Youth Court?
Youth courts (also called teen, peer, and student courts) are programs in which youth sentence their peers for minor delinquent and status offenses and other problem behaviors.

History of Youth Courts
  • According to the National Youth Court Database, in 1994 there were only 78 youth court programs in operation; as of March, 2010, there were over 1,050 youth court programs in operation in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Conflicting accounts in the literature create challenges to tracing the exact beginnings of youth court programs. One of the earliest known programs still in operation is the Naperville Youth Jury in Naperville, Illinois. Naperville’s program started in June of 1972. There are also anecdotal reports of a youth court that began operating in Horseheads, NY in 1968.
Youth Court Program Operations
  • Agencies operating and administering youth court programs include juvenile courts, juvenile probation departments, law enforcement, private nonprofit organizations, and schools.
  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • Approximately 42% of youth court programs in operation are juvenile justice system-based programs.
    • Approximately 22% of youth court programs are community-based and are incorporated as, or operated by, private nonprofit organizations.
    • Approximately 36% of youth court programs are school-based.
Youth Court Functions
  • The primary function of most youth court programs is to determine a fair and restorative sentence or disposition for the youth respondent.
  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • 93% of youth court programs in the U.S. require youth to admit guilt prior to participating in youth court.
    • In the 7% of youth court programs that allow youth to plead “not guilty”, if a youth chooses to plead “not guilty”, the program conducts a hearing to determine guilt or innocence. If the defendant is found “guilty,” then an appropriate disposition is rendered by the youth court.
    • When defendants successfully complete a youth court program, 63% of youth courts dismiss the charges. 27% immediately expunge the defendant’s record.
Youth Court Program Models
  • The four primary youth court program models are the Adult Judge, Youth Judge, Peer Jury, and Youth Tribunal Models.
  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • The Adult Judge Model is used by approximately 53% of youth courts.
    • The Youth Judge Model is used by approximately 18% of youth courts.
    • The Peer Jury Model is used by approximately 31% of youth courts.
    • The Youth Tribunal Model is used by approximately 10% of youth courts.

Typical Offenses Youth Courts will Accept
Source: National Youth Court Database

Type of offense % of youth courts that accept this type of offense
Theft 91%
Vandalism 76%
Alcohol 73%
Disorderly Conduct 73%
Assault 67%
Possession of Marijuana 60%
Tobacco 59%
Curfew Violations 50%
School Disciplinary 45%
Traffic Violation 39%
Truancy 39%
Trespassing 38%
Criminal Mischief 30%
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia 24%
Other drug offenses 20%
Harassment 21%
Fraud 8%

Typical Sentencing Options Youth Courts Utilize
Source: National Youth Court Database

Sentencing option % of youth courts that use this sentencing option
Community Service 99%
Oral/Written Apologies 94%
Essays 92%
Educational Workshops 73%
Jury Duty 73%
Restitution 61%
Alcohol/Drug Assessment 57%
Curfew 46%
Tutoring 37%
Counseling 37%
Drug Testing 31%
Victim Awareness Classes 29%
Victim/Offender Mediation 28%
Peer Mediation 23%
Jail Tour 22%
Observe Teen Court 14%
Mentoring 13%
Suspend Driver’s License 9%

Program Effectiveness
According to the Urban Institute’s Evaluation of Teen Courts Project, which was based on four teen court programs studied in four different states (Alaska, Maryland, Arizona, and Missouri), the six-month recidivism figures among the programs ranged from 6% to 9%.

Miscellaneous Facts and Stats
  • 53% of youth court programs require respondents to participate in jury duty at least once as part of their sentence.
  • The average amount of training that most youth court volunteers receive is 10 hours.
  • 55% of youth courts close their hearings to the general public.
  • 30% of youth courts hold hearings at least once a month.
  • 70% of youth courts hold hearings all year long vs. 28% of programs that operate during the school year only.
  • The average reported annual budget for a youth court program is approximately $32,767.

State Youth/Teen Court Associations 
NAYC has record of Youth/Teen Court Associations in 18 states. View a complete listing of state Youth/Teen Associations.