Reports of violence, bullying, and other offenses have resulted in concerns about school safety. Administrators, anxious to restore order, have adopted policies focusing on punishment that often results in removing students from school. Research indicates that such punishments do not increase school safety, but push youth, particularly minority students, out from mainstream education.
Educators are looking for strategies to hold youth accountable while keeping them in the classroom and engaged in school. One such strategy is the school-based youth court. In this program, pro-social youth occupy all the court roles: jury, judge, prosecutor, defender, and clerk/bailiff. Offenders have their case heard and receive a peer-imposed sentence, usually some type of community service. School-based youth courts have been implemented in over 400 sites nationally.
However, despite their popularity, there has been no rigorous study of their effectiveness. This project proposes a national impact study of the four most common school-based youth court models. Researchers, informed by program and evaluation readiness criteria, will select four sites from a national recruitment pool. One program will be selected for each of the four main models: (1) School only; (2) School and Juvenile Justice Partnership; (3) School and Community-based Partnership; and (4) School, Juvenile Justice, and Community-based Partnership. A controlled trial will be conducted at each site, with youth randomly assigned to attend the school-based youth court or receive punishment as usual. Each site will randomly assign 250 youth to conditions, for a total of 1 ,000 participants across the four models/sites. Sites, represented by a program coordinator, will receive intensive training and technical
assistance on program implementation and data procedures for the project. Implementation will be monitored through triennial interviews with program coordinators, researcher biannual site visits, and the completion of program
Data will be collected via online surveys and district archival data matches at three time points: at baseline, and at 6 and 12 months follow-up. Outcomes include self reported offenses, disciplinary reports, attendance, and satisfactory grade progression. Analytic models will account for the overall pooled effect across all four models, and the individual impact for each model. Analyses will also be conducted to examine the moderating effects of race/ethnicity and gender.
As the largest and most ambitious randomized trial ever conducted of school-based youth courts, this study will greatly contribute to knowledge about the efficacy of school based youth courts. An aggressive dissemination campaign via multiple scientific and policy/practice channels is proposed. ca/ncf