Teens hanging out together banner image

Children in the Courts: School-based courts as a diversion for juveniles

September 14, 2022

Dimarie Alicea-Lozada

In part one of the Trending Topics: Children in the Courts series, we learned that arrests of children can have negative impacts such as: beginning a school-to-prison pipeline, traumatizing children, and destroying healthy student attachment to schools, teachers and education. A diversion program is an alternative to formal juvenile court processing with a restorative goal of decriminalization and deinstitutionalization, which is better for long-term youth development. Diversion programs can also reduce the costs of formal court proceedings and the caseloads for court officials as reported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

According to youth.gov, the benefits of diversion programs are:

  • a reduction of premature involvement in the “deep end” of the juvenile delinquency system;
  • a reduction in out-of-home placements, especially for younger children;
  • maintaining youth connectedness and engagement in the community by keeping the youth in their environment; and
  • a reduction in cost compared to court processing and/or secure placement.

Juvenile diversion programs can take the form of teen/youth courts; mental health courts; restorative justice interventions; truancy prevention/intervention programs; and mentoring programs.

A teen court, youth court, or school-based teen court (SBTC) is an alternative to formal juvenile court which provides a better outcome to the public and especially for the youth involved. In youth courts, teens serve as juries, lawyers, advocates, and sometimes judges. Most of these courts require that the referred young person admit guilt and their peers will only decide over the penalty to be imposed, including restitution, apologies, or community service. These programs have shown to be helpful. Research released in June 2020 in the Journal of School Violence found that there was a 47% reduction in bullying victimization in SBTC schools relative to a 22% reduction in comparison schools.

The North Little Rock (NLR) Teen Court was established by the NLR District Court in Arkansas as a student-based court in 2008 in partnership with NLR High Schools and the City Attorney’s Office. In this court, participants are diverted from the regular juvenile process and must admit their fault. The intention is to avoid a juvenile record and incorporate restorative justice such as community service. The peers or students that function as jury, lawyers, or prosecutors receive training from the NLR City Attorney’s office.

In June 2022, Newport News, Virginia launched its Youth Justice Diversion Program, also known as Youth Court, to help “young first-time offenders fix past mistakes.” This program will require a teen who committed a minor offense to accept responsibility and go before peers who will be jurors and will decide on the penalty. “Offenses include abusive language, vandalism, and some driving offenses.” The program also helps kids understand the legal processes and includes an adult lawyer who will sit as the judge.

Has your state implemented a teen court? Share with us at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.