This article reports on a systematic comprehensive review of Teen Court evaluation studies by synthesizing evaluation design characteristics and program components and processes.
Teen Court is a restorative justice program serving non-chronic juvenile offenders. A number of Teen Court evaluation studies exist; however, considerable heterogeneity across Teen Court programs suggests the need to examine more closely the program components (i.e., elements of Teen Court, such as sanctions) and processes (i.e., how Teen Court operates, such as referral sources and participation criteria) of these existing evaluation studies. The current study used AMSTAR (A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews) guidelines, the authors used identical key words to search 12 databases for relevant articles, book chapters, dissertations, and theses. Pre-established inclusion and exclusion criteria were used to evaluate each document; 46 articles reporting results from 35 studies were included in the review. Program participation criteria and referral sources varied considerably across studies. Twenty studies included a comparison group and only two used random assignment. Most studies reported recidivism rates; however, the definition and measurement of recidivism were inconsistent across studies. Distinct differences in participation criteria and referral sources across programs suggested that some programs serve youth who would otherwise be served by the juvenile justice system; whereas, other programs serve youth who would otherwise face school disciplinary measures. Rigorous research on Teen Court is minimal and additional studies using strong study designs are needed in order to draw confident conclusions about the impact of Teen Court. Terminology for distinguishing between Teen Court programs, based on participation and referral criteria and standards for assessing recidivism, is provided. (Publisher abstract modified)