- Member Services
- Member Search
- TBA Member Benefits
- Cert Search
- Law Practice Management
- Legal Links
- Legislative Updates
- Local Rules of Court
- Opinion Search
- Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct
- Update Information
- Celebrate Pro Bono
- Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative
- Diversity Job Fair
- Law Student Outreach
- Leadership Law
- Public Education Programs
- TBA Academy
- Tennessee High School Mock Trial
- Youth Courts
- 2013 TBA Annual Convention
- TBA Groups
- TBALL Class of 2013
- Leadership Law Alumni
- Mentoring Task Force
- Tennessee Legal Organizations
- YLD Fellows
- Access to Justice
- The TBA
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, 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.
In Youth or Teen courts, young people decide cases with three things in mind: 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 Court 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 brining 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 1,150 youth courts in 49 states and the District of Columbia. In Tennessee, there are operational youth courts in Crockett, Davidson, Haywood, Lake, Madison, Memphis/Shelby, Montgomery, Sullivan, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson Counties. Look for new courts to begin in Rutherford and, Tipton counties.
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 17 who are first time offenders and who have been cited for low-level offenses, such as vandalism, shoplifting and truancy.
Youth Court Program Operations
Agencies operating and administering youth court programs include juvenile courts, juvenile probation departments, law enforcement, schools, and private nonprofit organizations.
- 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.
Youth Court Program Models
The four primary youth court program models are the Adult Judge, Youth Judge, Peer Jury, and Youth Tribunal Models.
- 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 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).
Tennessee Youth Court Program Functions
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.
Authority of Tennessee Youth Courts
The State Legislature authorized Tennessee Youth Courts in 2000. Under the authorizing statue, Tennessee Youth Courts may hear juvenile cases involving assault, burglary and theft of property, vandalism, forgery, cruelty to animals, harassment, unauthorized use of a vehicle, disorderly conduct, runaway, violation of curfew, truancy, disorderly conduct, some traffic offenses, and criminal trespass.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) notes the most common disposition is community service, which is used in 99 percent of teen courts (Fischer 2007). Young people who come before the Youth Court may face a variety of creative and innovative sentences or dispositions. According to guiding principles of restorative justice, dispositions should be designed to address needs of the victim/community, and promote positive youth development (Godwin 2000).
Tennessee Youth Courts are authorized to recommend a disposition to the Juvenile Court Judge. Recommendations may include compensation for the victim, writing formal apologies, community service, limitation of driving privileges, participation as a teen/youth court member, curfew limitations, school attendance, writing essays or research or similar school projects. Tennessee Youth Courts may also recommend that the offender attend court-approved workshops designed to improve the offender's decision-making skills, enhance their victim awareness, and deter them from future delinquent acts.
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.
Youth Court Benefits
A study released in 2002 by the Urban Institute found that only 6-9% of the juveniles who experienced youth court committed future offences. However, 18% of the young people who appeared before traditional juvenile courts were committed future offences. In Tennessee, of the more than 850 cases that have come before the Youth Courts, only 9% of the youth have committed another offense.
Tennessee Youth Courts need you.
Interested in becoming an adult volunteer?
Would you like a Youth Court in your community?
Denise D. Bentley, Tennessee Youth Court Program Coordinator
221 Fourth Avenue, North Ste 400
Nashville, TN 37219
615-277-3207 or toll free 800-899-6993
Youth/teen courts are recognized as a model program by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
More Than 100 Attend Training Session
More than 100 youth court volunteers and coordinators from across the state were at the Tennessee Bar Center on Sept. 22 for the 2010 Youth Court Training program.
Sessions included presentations by lawyers from the Tennessee General Assembly, Metro Council member Jamie Hollin, entertainment lawyer Austen Adams and Tennessee Titans general counsel Steve Underwood.
You can see photos from the day on TBAConnect.
If you would like to have more information or have additional questions, please contact Denise Bentley at 615-383-7421 or email@example.com.
Youth Court Honored by National Groups
The Tennessee Youth Court Program was honored during a national meeting of youth court leaders in Washington. The National Youth Court Center and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recognized the Tennessee program and its coordinator, Anjanette Eash, for work in supporting and promoting youth courts in the state. When Tennessee's program started in 2001, there were two youth courts in Tennessee. Now in 2005 there are nine active and three developing programs.
What are Youth Courts?
Rather than going before an adult judge in a traditional juvenile court, a young person referred to a Youth Court has his or her fate decided by other young people. Teens serve as the lawyers in the case, as well as jurors, court clerks, and bailiffs. Teen volunteers also choose the disposition or sentence for each case.
In most cases, the young offenders have pled guilty to misdemeanors like truancy, alcohol possession or traffic violations. Typically, a juvenile court judge will refer offenders to the program. Youth Courts offer an alternative method of sanctioning these offenders and free up the juvenile courts to deal with more serious crimes.
Youth Courts inform and educate young people about the role of law in our democracy and about their role as active citizens. Youth Courts seek to educate participants 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 this knowledge are inclined to have a better understanding of their connection to the American system of justice and feel they are participants in it instead of potential victims of it.
This project is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.