The issue of whether enabling legislation is needed for the operation of youth court programs is an ongoing debate. However, the number of states attempting to pass some type of enabling legislation related to youth courts has increased over the past few years. Of the 45 states that have youth court programs, 25 states had enacted legislation that specifically addresses youth/teen court in some manner as of November 2001. You will find that some state legislation is fairly detailed and comprehensive in its guidelines for youth/teen courts; whereas, other state legislation related to youth/teen courts tends to be very broad and general.

The following states have statutes related to youth courts:

Alaska Kentucky Tennessee
Arkansas Minnesota Texas
California Mississippi Utah
Colorado Montana Vermont
Florida New Mexico Washington
Georgia New York West Virginia
Idaho North Carolina Wisconsin
Illinois Oklahoma Wyoming
Iowa Oregon
Kansas Rhode Island

Youth court programs that operate in states without specific enabling legislation often rely on juvenile court diversion statutes that have been on the books for many years for their basic jurisdictional authority. Typically, these diversion statutes allow a law enforcement agency, a probation department, or a juvenile court to suspend or dismiss formal delinquency proceedings pending successful completion of a diversion program. Youth/teen courts are generally accepted as referral programs under these basic juvenile diversion laws.

Publications related to Youth Court Legislation

An Update on Teen Court Legislation 
This bulletin, written by Michelle Heward, provides an overview of teen court legislation in the U.S. It was published in September 2006.

The Organization and Operation of Teen Courts in the United States: A Comparative Analysis of Legislation . 
This article was written by Michelle Heward and was published in the Winter 2002 Vol. 53, No. 1 issue of the Juvenile and Family Court Journal, and is made available on this website with permission from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the editors of the Juvenile and Family Court Journal.

Youth Court Enabling Legislation—One Perspective on Utah’s Experience.
This article written by Michelle Heward, Chairperson of the Utah Youth Court Board discusses her experience in working with a community to draft and pass enabling legislation for youth courts in Utah.