Juvenile Justice

F. Teen Courts

Another alternative to the traditional juvenile court is teen court. Here, the philosophy is based on restorative justice. Youths act as judges, attorneys (prosecutor and defense attorney), and jury members in cases involving status offenses, misdemeanors, and occasionally low-level felonies. The most common penalty is community service. Other sentences may include teen court jury duty, writing essays about offending, writing apologies to victims, community service, and monetary restitution. As of 2002, it was estimated that there were over 800 teen court programs in operation, handling over 100,000 cases per year, making them a primary diversion option (Butts, Buck, & Coggershall, 2002).

Teen court is not intended to deal with serious delinquency. Rather, it appears to be an alternative method for dealing with either status offenses or minor delinquent acts such as shoplifting or problems with alcohol or marijuana. Research has shown that these courts are capable of reducing recidivism when compared to normal court processing.

G. Drug Courts

Another option for reforming the juvenile court or diverting youths out of the justice system is the use of juvenile drug courts. In these courts, the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney collaborate as a team with drug treatment specialists. Like adult drug courts, juvenile drug courts attempt to intervene in both the criminal activity and the drug usage of clients. The courts use treatment, coordination, and extensive monitoring. The youths must appear in court frequently so that judges can monitor progress and offer encouragement or admonish the juveniles. There is frequent drug testing and there are penalties for failing to test negative. Sanctions for youths who are not following the rules can range from a warning; to an order to write a book report or research paper; to doing household chores; to fines, community service hours, or even detention. There are also incentives such as the dismissal of charges and the termination of probation requirements upon graduation. Other rewards include verbal praise and various incentives such as gift certificates and tickets to local events. Drug courts usually celebrate completion with a graduation ceremony in the court that may include additional positive feedback such as providing graduation gifts to the youths.

One problem with drug courts is that they may be reaching the wrong population. If drug courts are actually intended for drug-dependent or addicted youths, they are not capturing many youths with severe drug problems. Much like the “war on drugs” in general, drug courts often paint a wide stroke that takes in more than is necessary. This means that the court is focusing on minor offenders who may be better left alone or handled in a less intrusive fashion. Society worries so much about adolescent drug use that the juvenile justice system overreacts and does too much. The “jury is still out” on the question of whether drug courts have positive effects such as reducing recidivism and drug usage. Although there are studies that claim to have had a positive result, the findings are not yet settled.

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