Teen Courts: Children Participating in Justice
International Perspectives and Empirical Findings on Child Participation, eds (Gal, Duramy) Oxford University Press, 2015
21 Pages Posted: 20 May 2015
Date Written: May 12, 2015
Participating in justice is uncommon for children, even when the process is about their own actions. A new juvenile diversion program in the United States, however, not only relies on a child’s participation in his or her own justice but also creates a construct of shared decision making that presents a broader sense of active citizenship for children. Resting on a best interests approach to participation, and in the context of positive peer influence, the teen court process serves as an alternative disposition program for children as young as age 9 and as old as age 17 who have committed nonviolent minor offenses (National Association of Youth Courts 2013; Regent Study 2012).
A child’s participation in the teen court process empowers him or her through offender rehabilitation and provides a meaningful and life-changing participation opportunity for the child, both during sentencing and afterward as a juror or other teen court actor. The teen court method offers an opportunity for a child offender to move away from a potential life of crime toward a healthy and thriving adulthood. It also offers rich participation opportunities for children in the judicial process of a peer offender.
The central advantage of teen courts is that through participation in a teen court program, teens develop citizenship abilities and civic skills and generally enhance their decision-making processes by participating as jurors in the program (Hirschinger-Blank, Simons, Volz, Thompson, Finely, & Cleary, 2009). This active participation fosters a sense of being vested with rights, privileges, and duties among the juveniles who are involved and is reflected not only in their own procedures as offenders but later when they take part in peers’ trials. Through their participation, youth jurors, advocates, and prosecutors gain practical knowledge about and respect for the judicial system, which in turn validates sentencing and enforces the effectiveness of peer support in the context of the rule of law (Forgays, Kirby, DeMilio, & Schuster, 2004).
This chapter discusses how teen courts advance child participation in justice. It also examines the research and methodology of this new program of teen courts to determine whether and how a teen court forum can enhance and develop a child’s decision-making process in the context of a reliable rule of law based on a jury of peers. The objective is to evaluate how teens can also develop their verbal and communication skills by serving as prosecutors or defense counsel, and how teen courts allow children to gain knowledge of decorum and protocol by serving as bailiffs, among other benefits.
These wonderfully rich opportunities for child offenders and other child participants are unique to the teen court process of juvenile justice and may provide an alternative that can positively contribute to the administration of justice to juvenile offenders.
Keywords: child[ren], childrens rights, international, participation, teen courts, youth courts, juvenile diversion, convention on the rights of the child
JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K3, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation