Teen Peer Court is a program run by teens for teens. The objective of the Teen Peer Court program is to interrupt the developing pattern of criminal behavior in referred juveniles by promoting self-esteem, motivation for self-improvement, forming a healthy attitude toward authority, and increasing education.
Teen offenders between the ages of 13 and 17 who have committed a misdemeanor crime have their cases heard by a jury of their peers. Additional peers perform the roles of prosecuting and defense attorneys, bailiff, clerk and jury. A local volunteer judge is the only adult directly involved in the Court proceedings. The offenders assume responsibility for their behavior and accept the consequences of their actions through community service work, serving as future Teen Peer Court jury members, and fulfilling any other creative sentence sanctioned by their TPC jury.
Cases heard in Teen Peer Court are crimes such as shoplifting, possession of alcohol, criminal mischief, battery, and many other misdemeanor offenses. Sources of referral are law enforcement, Juvenile Probation, and the District Attorney’s Office. Once the teen offender completes the sentence they have received from the teen jury, the referring agency is notified and the offender’s record is erased. If the offender does not complete their sentence, rejects the jury sentence, or re-offends, then their case is returned to the appropriate referral source for prosecution. However, TPC has a very low recidivism rate of 5-6%, as compared to the traditional juvenile probation recidivism rate of 30%.
Teen Peer Court provides an educational experience for the offender and teen volunteers. The teens are given “hands-on” experience with legal processes, become familiar with the court system, and have an opportunity to learn about various career options the court system has to offer. The offenders also learn about various career opportunities through the community service they perform. Teen Peer Court provides young people with a unique challenge and opportunity to demonstrate their capacity for self-government and responsible citizenship.
In addition, the SCCOE’s Teen Peer Court is an active member of the National Association of Youth Courts. The purpose of this committee is to expand funding and legislative support of Youth Courts throughout the country by creating national standards for program evaluation that will provide empirical evidence as to the successful outcomes of Youth Courts from both quantitative and qualitative data analysis.
Read an article published in the San Jose Mercury News on December 5, 2011, on Teen Peer Court.
Check out the Teen Peer Court page on Facebook.
Read more about Teen Peer Court in action, from this Santa Cruz Sentinel article published on January 24th, 2103.