Arlington, Texas (Hissong, 1991)

Underlying philosophy: Young offenders respond more positively when judged by their peers and required to serve the community constructively.

Program design: Youth convicted of Class C offenses (e.g., shoplifting, possession of alcohol, vandalism, traffic offenses) were given the option of a traditional sanction or teen court. Trained youth volunteers served as prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, and jury members. The jury was responsible for deciding the number of community service hours to be served by the offender and other program conditions based upon certain guidelines.

Research questions:

  1. What were the general effects for teen court participants versus non-teen court participants; and
  2. What was the length of time to failure for teen court participants versus non-teen court participants.

Methodology: Of the 441 cases processed during the first year of the program, 196 cases were selected for observation. Analysis revealed that these cases were comparable to the entire group. The sample was then matched with non-teen court participants on the basis of sex, age, race and offense. Cross tabs analysis was used to determine the general effects of the teen court program, and survival analysis was used to determine the length of time to failure.

Key findings:

  1. Overall, there was a significant relationship between teen court and success (75% of the teen court participants were successful versus 64% of the non-teen court participants);
  2. Teen court was most effective with 16 year old white males, the largest group of clients;
  3. Differences between female teen court participants and non-teen court participants were substantial but not statistically significant;
  4. Due to insufficient sample sizes of other demographic groups, reliable tests were infeasible;
  5. The effectiveness of teen court waned after approximately one year as evidenced by increased recidivism rates.

Cautions: The selection method for teen court participants may have led to the selection of those youth most likely to succeed. Recidivism may have been under-reported due to the follow-up procedures only revealing recidivism within the city of Arlington.

Implications: For its core clientele, 16 year old white males, the teen court program was found to be superior to traditional sanctions at deterring further criminal activities. Other benefits of the teen court were the community services performed by youth and the low cost of the program — because the program makes extensive use of volunteers costs consisted of salaries for a director and an assistant director.

Kentucky’s Teen Court (Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, 1994-95)

Underlying philosophy: Kentucky’s teen court program grew out of the Administrative Office of the Court’s Law-Related Education (LRE) which is founded on the premise that young people who understand the nation’s laws are less likely to violate them. It also is based on the premise that the same force that leads youth into law breaking behavior (i.e., peer pressure) can be redirected to lead youth into law abiding behavior.

Program design: The program is designed to benefit defendants by granting them an alternative disposition that emphasizes accountability and diversion; and volunteer participants by providing a valuable lesson in citizenship. Program participants are comprised of first-time offenders charged with minor offenses. If they complete the assigned sentences they avoid a formal court record. The program features a 12-hour training program based on the LRE model. Youth perform the duties of attorneys, bailiffs, court clerks and jurors. The judge is an adult.

Research question: What attitudinal changes toward authority figures resulted from participating as a volunteer in teen court?

Methodology: Students were asked to indicate their feelings toward nine authority figures (i.e., police officer, teacher, court designated worker, parent, judge, principal, mother, lawyer, and father) by marking a line on a “feeling thermometer.” The last item on the instrument asked students to rate themselves as a measure of self-esteem. The instrument was administered in a pre-test/post-test format, during the first and last training sessions. Interviews and observations were also conducted as supplemental information.

Key finding: There were substantial increases in favorable ratings for judge, lawyer, police officer and teacher, and slight increases for court designated worker, parent, principal and father.

Cautions: Although an effective design, pre-post tests are sensitive to extreme scores and to external events which may have created the difference in ratings.

Implications: The study yields important information about one aspect of teen court — participants completing the LRE training seem to possess a more positive attitude toward authority figures.

Cumberland County North Carolina Teen Court Program (North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, 1995)

Underlying philosophy: Legislation introduced to the General Assembly in May 1993 specifies that “teen court is to be a community resource in which juvenile offenders are sentenced by a jury of the juvenile’s peers.” The teen court program in Cumberland County operates with the philosophy that an offender’s peers can more effectively develop appropriate and effective ways to redirect the offender’s behavior and attitudes.

Program design: Cumberland County’s Teen Court is designed to provide an alternative system of justice for offenders admitting guilt to a first, nonviolent, misdemeanor offense. Teen volunteers serve as prosecutor, defense counsel, jurors, court clerk and student bailiff. Adult volunteers serve as judge, bailiffs and monitors. The teen court process is designed to offer juveniles consequences that allow them to take responsibility for their actions. The youth jury’s duty is to impose a constructive sentence (e.g., jury duty, community service, participation in educational seminars) that must be completed within 90 days and that is based upon offense-specific guidelines.

Research question: What is the extent to which juvenile offenders referred to teen court are involved in future unlawful behavior?

Methodology: Data was collected on all juveniles referred to Teen Court from Juvenile Intake or Police during an eight month period from October 1993 through May 1994. These cases served as the teen court sample (95 cases). In lieu of an experimental design, the evaluators developed a pre-program group of cases for comparison purposes (97 cases). This group consisted of youth identified as being appropriate for teen court referral had it been available. Demographic and offense information, case activity information including participation in teen court, sentence imposed, and completion of sentence, and data on subsequent court involvement was collected on each offender in both study groups. The comparison groups were closely matched on age, sex and race. Individuals in each group were followed for 7.4 months. Logistic regression analysis was conducted to determine the association between variables found to be significant predictors of recidivism and actual recidivism rates. Simple descriptive statistics were used to compare overall recidivism rates between the teen court sample and the pre-program sample. Logistic regression analysis was used to compare these rates while controlling for age and type of offense. Interviews with key program stakeholders were conducted to solicit their ideas about the program.

Key findings: Statistical analyses revealed:

  1. Prior record, race and sex were not found to be significantly associated with recidivism;
  2. The age of the juvenile at the time of the offense showed a strong trend toward older juveniles recidivating at a higher rate;
  3. Of the offense types (property, minor assault and other [i.e., driving, weapon, minor controlled substance, alcohol, public disturbance, pyrotechnic and other non-property and non-assaultive offenses]), those youth committing offenses in the “other” category were more likely to recidivate (it is important to note that these offenses are typically committed by older teens who were more likely to recidivate);
  4. 20 percent of the teen court sample and 9.3 percent in the pre-program sample recidivated within the 7.4 month follow-up period;
  5. Controlling for age and offense type, there were no significant differences in the tendency to recidivate between the teen court and pre-program groups; and
  6. Fuller participation in the teen court process seemed to be associated with lower recidivism rates. Interviews revealed that:
  • Teen court allows peers, parents and the community to actively participate in developing constructive responses to juvenile crime;
  • Teen court is able to intervene at an early stage of unlawful behavior and encourage teens to accept responsibility for and consequences of their behavior; and
  • The program allows student involvement in positive activities that promote constructive patterns of behavior.

Cautions: Changes in policy resulted in significant differences in offense type between study groups making comparisons across groups difficult. The statistical analyses were conducted on available data which may or may not have been accurate or complete.

Implications: These findings support previous research indicating that juveniles who commit certain types of offenses are more likely to re-offend. Therefore, teen courts’ offender selection criteria will influence the degree of success as judged by recidivism.

Southside Youth Council Teen Court, Indiana (McCullough, Martin, Pope & Esterline, 1995)

Underlying hypothesis: Not indicated.

Program design: The Southside Youth Council’s Teen Court Program was designed as an alternative to the juvenile justice system.

Research questions:

  1. What are reasons for the high success rates (85%) reported in previous research; and
  2. How did that success rate compare to other teen court programs in Indiana.

Methodology: Data was collected on 583 youth who participated in teen court during 1992, 1993 and 1994. This data existed in raw, computerized form. 71 records were eliminated from the data set due to the inappropriateness of the case because of refusal to participate, re-arrest before the initial teen court hearing, no punishment being rendered, or an open case status. The remaining data were re-entered into a relational database for primary analysis on the gender, race and age groupings. The data was then coded and the categorical sums were entered into chi-square equations for correlative analysis of age, gender, and race with regard to program success. Due to confidentiality of records in other teen court programs, the second research question could not be pursued.

Key findings:

  1. Significant differences were found to exist across age — 87% of the 14-18 year olds were successful verses 77% of the 10-13 year olds;
  2. No significant differences were found between the success rates of males and females;
  3. A highly significant difference was found to exist across race — 88% of whites were successful verses 77% of blacks.

Cautions: Other external factors may have contributed to the differences in success rates across age and race.

Implications: The finding that older youth had higher success rates may support Kohlberg’s (1969) stages of moral development (i.e., perhaps the lesser developed moral consciousness of the younger age group limited there ability to learn from teen court participation.)