Effective justice strategies
Teen court program
Teen courts typically hear the cases of juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 who have committed one non-violent offense or who are minor repeat offenders. In most programs, offenders must admit guilt and agree to abide by the program's decision before the court accepts their case.
Teen court programs come in many forms -- from three to five-person teen tribunals that recommend sentencing, to a more formal court process where attorneys, bailiffs, clerks, and jurors are all volunteer teens and the judge is an adult, usually a municipal or circuit court judge, law enforcement officer, attorney or other community member.
Teen courts in Wisconsin are funded through county human services departments, county boards, school districts, the United Way, the Office of Justice Assistance, and private donations. Many also receive in-kind contributions of space from county courthouses and other city and county facilities. In addition, some courts charge a small fee for their services, while others hold annual fundraisers.
Often teen courts require hiring a coordinator to train and manage volunteers, assist with intake, and process cases. The budget for these programs ranges from $20,000 to $60,000 annually.
Teen court models
Adult judge model
An adult judge rules on court procedure and clarifies legal terminology, youth volunteer as defense and prosecuting attorneys and jurors (may also serve as bailiff and clerk).
Youth judge model
Similar to adult judge model, but a juvenile serves as judge.
Youth serve as defense and prosecuting attorneys to present cases to a juvenile judge(s) who determines sentence.
Resource: "Teen Court: A National Movement," Technical Assistance Bulletin No. 17, American Bar Association, by Paula A. Nessel, 1998
Steps to implementing a teen court
- Seek advice and input from key persons in the community (judges, law enforcement, probation departments, lawyers, schools, youth-serving agencies, etc.). See resources below.
- Assess community needs (magnitude of juvenile crime, types of offenders and offenses, existence of other juvenile diversion programs, etc.) and resources (services for youth, financial and human resources available).
- Explore legal issues that may impact the program.
- Create an advisory board, including key persons listed above.
- Define the program's purpose, goals, and objectives.
- Identify target population.
- Consider staffing issues (some programs need only a part-time coordinator, others have several staff members).
- Develop policies and procedures for referrals, case management, training, etc.
- Identify and secure financial and in-kind support for the program.
- Secure services for the program and its clients, such as arrangements for sentencing options (community service locations, educational classes, peer discussion groups, mentoring).
- Promote awareness of the program (press releases, posters in schools).
- Devise evaluation and result tracking procedures.
Resource: Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment, American Probation and Parole Association, by Tracy M. Godwin, 1998
The National Youth Court Center of the American Probation and Parole Association (external link) provides training and technical assistance and serves as an information clearinghouse to youth court programs in the United States. National Youth Court Center, c/o American Probation and Parole Association, P.O. Box 11910, Lexington, KY 40578-1910; phone: (606) 244-8215; fax: (606) 244-8001; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs by the American Probation and Parole Association is available free by calling (800) 636-8736 or on the association website (external link).
The University of Wisconsin Extension can help counties and schools develop a teen court program that suits their particular needs. Contact Rich van Benschoten, state staff specialist, at (608) 262-5020.
The Volunteers in the Courts Initiative of the Wisconsin Supreme Court has program descriptions and contact people for all reported teen courts operating in the state. Contact Sara Foster at (608) 266-1298.
The Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (external link) helps jurisdictions find teen court funding. Call (608) 266-3323.
The Wisconsin Teen Court Association has resource people who can provide technical assistance to start a program. To learn more about the Association, contact Nancy Anne Miller, Vilas County Teen Court coordinator, at (715) 479-3648.