Illinois Youth Court Association:
What Are Youth Courts?
Youth courts, also called peer juries and teen courts, represent an alternative approach to juvenile justice that holds non-violent, juvenile respondents accountable though a sentence imposed by their peers. Youth courts operate through a collaboration between schools, juvenile justice agencies, non-profit agencies, and the community.
Offenders admit guilt and accept an individualized sentence which may include community service, apology letters to victims, youth court jury duty, and counseling. Youth volunteers act as jurors and, depending on the program, may also act as attorneys, bailiffs, or judges. Volunteering in a youth court educates youth on the legal system and fosters critical thinking.
By addressing initial negative behavior, youth courts have been shown to effectively lower recidivism rates. There are currently over 100 youth court programs in the state of Illinois.
Youth courts are considered a part of the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) model. BARJ is a philosophy that involves not only the offender, but also the victim and the community. There are three principals to BARJ: accountability, competency development, and community safety. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Reform Act adopts the BARJ approach for juvenile justice and also recognizes teen courts as a viable alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system.