First-time juvenile offenders in Humboldt County, California, are sometimes referred not to a judge in a black robe, but to their peers for adjudication. Part of a growing trend to infuse accountability and restorative justice into juvenile justice, teen courts involve teenagers (some volunteers, some performing court-ordered community service) who hear the facts of a case and decide punishment for their fellow juveniles.
The adjudication in these courts can be unique and varied—and often involve the teens’ perceptions of what the juvenile offender must do to make society whole and repair the damage done for his or her crimes.
In Humboldt County, teens sentenced their peers in 341 cases between 2001 and 2012, and only 28 youth were charged with a new crime within a year after their stint in the teen court.
Further, because teen court is a partnership with the local Boys and Girls Club, Humboldt County is leveraging its resources to divert youth in a way that limits the burden on taxpayers.
Teen courts are not the best option for all juveniles, but they can—in certain categories of cases—impart meaningful change in a juvenile’s life and yield real benefits for public safety.