This report presents the findings and methodology of an evaluation of the Youth Court in Schools Project that was implemented in two North Carolina rural counties with a prevalence of violence and characterized as having low-income and racially/ethnically diverse residents.
Youth court, also referred to as Teen Court, is a program that diverts youth with problem behaviors from formal juvenile justice court processing to a court with peer jurors who can impose a variety of prosocial sanctions intended to repair any harm done by the youth defendant's behavior. Participation in the youth court requires that the youths coming before the court admit their problem behaviors and commit to repairing the harm they have caused to victims and/or the community. The goal of Youth Court is to reintegrate offenders into the community rather than ostracize them with excessive punishment. In a school-based Youth Court, a youth is most often referred to the court by the school principal. The current study examined whether the presence of Youth Court impacted students' perceptions of school danger, individual functioning, and interpersonal relationships. Data were obtained from 3,454 youth. Data were analyzed using paired samples t tests. Findings show that in the control schools that did not have Youth Court, student perceptions of school danger increased significantly, and self-esteem decreased significantly from pretest to posttest. On the other hand, in the Youth Court schools, there were significant increases in student perceptions of decreases in violent behavior, anxiety, friends' rejection, and bullying victimization. These findings provide preliminary evidence that Youth Court is an effective means of improving school climate, individual functioning, and interpersonal relationships. 1 table and 50 references