Tennessee Youth Courts

The Fruits of Tomorrow are the Seeds of Today

We all make mistakes. The question is how do we take those mistakes and turn them into opportunities for growth and personal development? Youth Courts, often called Teen Courts and Student Courts, have the answer for many young people who have made mistakes that take them into the Juvenile Justice System for the first time on minor offenses.

Youth Court Programs do not inolve custody issues. 

In Youth or Teen courts, teenagers determine a consequence for their peers who have admitted to committing an offense.  These teen volunteers consider the following when determining a sentence or disposition:

  • Accountability — increasing the youthful offender's awareness of the harmful effects of the behavior that resulted in the offense;
  • Competency development — providing the offender with skills that will enable the young person to make better choices in the future; and
  • Community safety — strengthening the connections between the youthful offender and the community at large which reduces factors that contribute to any future wrongdoing.

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.

The Tennessee Youth Courts Program - a juvenile delinquency prevention/intervention program

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 Tennessee Youth Court Program does not provide legal advice.  This project is funded by the State.

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Find out more


Access the most recent issue Seeds of Success, the newsletter of the Tennessee Youth Court program.


Denise Bentley

Denise Bentley
Youth Court Coordinator
(615) 277-3207

To find out more about the Youth Courts program, contact Youth Court coordinator Denise Bentley.

Denise works with the Tennessee Legal Community Foundation to establish local youth court programs across the state. These programs have proven successful in many areas and she is excited to be a part of the development of this program in Tennessee.