About Tennessee Youth Courts

What We Do

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) says that regardless of the model used, the primary function of most teen courts is to determine a fair and appropriate sentence or disposition for a youth who has already admitted to the charge (Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall 2002).

In Youth or Teen courts, teenagers who volunteer to sit on the youth court decide the sentence for other teens who admitted to committing an offense.  These teen volunteers base their sentence on restoratvie justice where -

  • The teenager learns that bad decisions affect many people and that you have to take responsibility for your actions - Accountability
  • The teen who caused the harm learns how to make better decisions - Competency development
  • If a teen has a good relationship with her community, she will not act out against it. By connecting or reconnecting the youth to his community, you build a relationship that reduces the likelihood of acting out agains the community - Community safety/communiy service

For the youth who volunteer, Youth Courts inform and educate young people about the role of law in our democracy and about their role as active citizens. Volunteers learn about court procedures, sentencing options, trial techniques, structure of the justice system, the meaning of justice and relationships between rights and responsibilities.

Young people who are equipped with knowledge of the law and how it works within the judicial system are inclined to have a better understanding of their connection to the American system of justice. The youth feel that they are participants not potential victims.

What We Don't Do - Youth Court Programs do not handle custody issues.

How We Do It

In Tennessee, most youth court programs are operated by juvenile courts.  However, if authorized, law enforcement, schools, and private nonprofit organizations may operate youth court programs.

Youth Courts are attentive to the unique needs and diversity of the community they serve. The Tennessee Youth Court Program seeks to develop strategic partnerships with existing civic, educational, law enforcement, courts and faith sector organizations to expand existing youth courts and improve their sustainability. These partnerships also assist in bringing Youth Courts into new communities. As a result of these collaborations, the Tennessee's youth courts will further bolster the educational and economic futures of young people and promote the ideals of lifelong civic involvement.

There are over 1,400 youth courts in 49 states and the District of Columbia. In Tennessee, there are operational youth courts in Blount, Crockett, Davidson (4 school-juvenile court partnered courts), Hamilton, Haywood, Lake, Madison, Memphis/Shelby, Montgomery, Sullivan, Sumner and Wilson Counties. Look for new courts to begin in Marshall, Rutherford and Tipton counties. A speicail pilot program with middle school aged youth is being implemented at the Martha O'Bryan Center in Nashville.

Each youth court varies in response to the needs and resources of its community, but typically youth courts handle cases involving young people, ages 11 to 18 who are first time offenders and who have been cited for low-level offenses, such as vandalism, shoplifting and truancy.

The primary function of Tennessee Youth Court programs is to determine a fair and restorative disposition for the youth respondent.

  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • 93% of youth court programs in the U.S. require the offender to admit guilt prior to participating in youth court.
    • In the 7% of youth court programs that allow youth to plead "not guilty," if a youth chooses to plead "not guilty," the teen/youth court conducts a hearing to determine guilt or innocence. If the defendant is found "guilty," then the youth court gives an appropriate disposition.

What Do Youth Courts Look Like - Program Models

The four primary youth court program models are the Adult Judge, Youth Judge, Peer Jury, and Youth Tribunal Models. The Youth Judge Model has not been adopted by programs in Tennessee.

  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • The Adult Judge Model is used by approximately 53% of youth courts.
    • The Peer Jury Model is used by approximately 31% of youth courts.
    • The Youth Judge Model is used by approximately 18% of youth courts.
    • The Youth Tribunal Model is used by approximately 10% of youth courts.


The young people who volunteer with youth courts are trained by members of their community - the juvenile court judge, attorneys, licensed counselors, teachers, police officers and civic leaders. They learn how courts are structured, proper courtroom behavior and rules, how to prepare for a case, how to question a witness, and how to determine a fair disposition.

And Look How Well We Do It!!!!

  • According to the National Youth Court Database:
    • Approximately 42% of youth court programs in operation are juvenile justice system-based programs.
    • Approximately 22% of youth court programs are community-based and are incorporated as, or operated by, private nonprofit organizations.
    • Approximately 36% of youth court programs are school-based.