After a background review of Tribal justice systems, this paper presents an overview of issues to address in the development and implementation of youth courts in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.
The development of youth courts in AI/AN communities must take into account the social and political legacies that have molded current Indian juvenile justice systems. Attention should be given to the philosophies and beliefs regarding the treatment of troubled or problem Indian youth. Youth courts that have been established in AI/AN communities range from those that are annexed to Tribal courts to those managed by other Tribal programs or community organizations. These courts have typically handled status offenses such as truancy and school-based incidents; minor offenses such as underage drinking, nonviolent crimes, and traffic violations; and court options not otherwise available to address minor youth crimes. Among the benefits of youth courts for AI/AN youth are the inclusion of youth in Tribal government processes, the experience of solving problems encountered by their peers, the development of positive partnerships between youth and adults in addressing juvenile crime and delinquency, and the development of traditional skills through culture-based community service. This paper lists the major tasks in youth-court development in AI/AN communities and discusses factors that must be taken into account in developing culturally relevant youth courts in Tribal communities. Other topics discussed are the definition of the youth court's purpose, the selection of a program model, defining adult and elder roles in relation to the youth court, the establishment of Tribal youth-court dispositions and services, the involvement of family and community, and the development of partnerships. Also discussed are programmatic challenges in operating Tribal youth courts, sustaining the youth courts, and the development of an evaluation plan. 4 figures and 19 notes