Evaluation of Teen Courts


To evaluate the effectiveness of the teen court model as an alternative to the judicial mechanisms through which juvenile offenders are typically processed.


Teen courts (also referred to as peer or youth courts) are a community-based alternative to the traditional juvenile judicial system. In teen courts, juvenile participants serve as lawyers, jurors, bailiffs, clerks of the court, and -- in some programs -- the presiding judge in legal proceedings to dispose of minor juvenile cases. Typically, teen courts receive cases involving first-time, nonviolent offenders between the ages of 11 and 18. In most jurisdictions, offenders must admit guilt as a precondition for being diverted from the traditional juvenile justice system to the teen court. Proponents of teen courts believe that juvenile offenders benefit when sentences are rendered by juries of their peers, a process that capitalizes on the powerful forces of peer influence and youth empowerment. In addition to holding individuals accountable, teen courts offer their communities the broader benefit of educating teen participants -- both offenders and nonoffenders -- about the judicial process while imparting life skills and building social and professional competencies (Godwin, 1997).

According to the American Probation and Parole Association, more than 280 teen court programs were operating as of November 1996 in 31 States and the District of Columbia. Several additional States are preparing to open teen courts in 1997 (Godwin, 1997). The operational and administrative environments in which teen courts function vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction -- with some operated by juvenile courts, juvenile probation departments, and law enforcement agencies and others operated by private, nonprofit organizations or schools. The programs do not function in accordance with one fixed model. Although many States with existing programs have undertaken evaluations, most have been limited to collecting "process" data, which primarily describe the flow of cases in and through the program (e.g., number of cases disposed). Only a few evaluations to date are known to have generated any measures of program effectiveness (Hissong, 1991; McCullough et al., 1995; North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, 1994-1995; Wells and Minor, 1997). As teen courts continue to multiply, there is an increasing need for information on program effectiveness. Information is required on which court models and operational settings have the most favorable outcomes and which teen participants benefit most.


The goals for this program are to:

Program Strategy

This project will be conducted in two phases. Phase I will focus on conducting an assessment of the feasibility of evaluating various teen court programs. This assessment will start with an inventory of as many teen courts and teen court models as can be found in operation. The next step will be a determination of which of the program models to recommend for full evaluation in Phase II, considering the degree to whichthe models are representative of the universe of programs inventoried, the availability of quality data, and technical assistance issues. Phase II will focus on conducting a full process-and-impact evaluation of teen courts over a 2-year period.

Applicants should consider the need to collect qualitative and quantitative data to try to distinguish changes not revealed in official records.

Applicants should discuss their approach to answering the key research questions for the evaluation, which will serve as a basis for the data collection plans and instruments. Discussions should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

Process Issues

Program Outcomes


During Phase I, the grantee will produce an assessment report of the feasibility of evaluating various teen court programs. The report will include:

During Phase II, the grantee will produce three products:

Eligibility Requirements

OJJDP invites applications from public and private agencies, organizations, institutions, or individuals. Private, for-profit organizations must agree to waive any profit or fee. Joint applications from two or more eligible applicants are welcome, provided that one is designated primary applicant and any others are coapplicants.

Selection Criteria

Applications will be evaluated and rated by a peer review panel according to the criteria outlined below.

Problem(s) To Be Addressed (15 points)

Applicants must include a clear and concise statement of their understanding of the nature, extent, and operational characteristics of teen court programs in the United States. They should also discuss the methodological issues and problems associated with this type of evaluation and the proposed solutions for these potential problems.

Goals and Objectives (10 points)

Applicants must define goals and objectives for coordinating and managing this evaluation program that are clear, measurable, and attainable.

Project Design (35 points)

Applicants must present a clear research design for the conduct of an assessment of the feasibility of evaluating various teen court programs. The assessment must be accomplished in Phase I. Applicants must also present a clear research design for a process and impact evaluation, to be accomplished in Phase II, that meets the goals and objectives in this solicitation. The research design should also include a preliminary workplan for the conduct of these tasks. The research design and workplan must be sound, feasible, and capable of achieving the objectives prescribed in this solicitation. The research design and workplan should, where appropriate, provide a role for community and program participation in the evaluation.

Management and Organizational Capability (30 points)

The application should include a discussion of how the grantee will coordinate and manage this evaluation to achieve the evaluation objectives. Applicants’ management structure and staffing must be adequate and appropriate for the successful implementation of the project. Applicants must identify responsible individuals, their time commitment, and major tasks. Key staff should have significant experience with multisite evaluation/research of community-based initiatives, delinquency prevention, and prevention and intervention programs. They must demonstrate the ability to work effectively with practitioners in data collection and analysis issues and other requirements of the project, and they must provide a role for community and program participation in the evaluation. Staff résumés should be attached as part of the appendixes. Applicants must demonstrate the organization’s ability to conduct the project successfully. Organizational experience with evaluation of community-based delinquency prevention initiatives is desirable. Applicants who can combine program evaluation and analysis skills with experience in the development and implementation of teen court programs -- through teaming arrangements or consulting agreements -- are encouraged to apply.

Budget (10 points)

Applicants must provide a proposed budget that is complete, detailed, reasonable, allowable, and cost effective in relation to the activities to be undertaken.

Award Period

The project will be funded for 36 months in three 12-month budget periods. Funding after the first 12-month budget period depends on grantee performance, availability of funds, and other criteria established at time of award.

Award Amount

Up to $100,000 is available for the initial 12-month budget period.

Delivery Instructions All application packages should be mailed or delivered to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, c/o Juvenile Justice Resource Center, 2277 Research Boulevard, Mail Stop 2K, Rockville, MD 20850; 301-519-5535. NOTE: In the lower left-hand corner of the envelope, you must clearly write "Evaluation of Teen Courts."

Due Date

Applicants are responsible for ensuring that the original and five copies of the application package are received by 5 p.m. ET on August 11, 1997.


For further information call Eric Peterson, Program Manager, Research and Program Development Division, 202-616-3644, or send an e-mail inquiry to [email protected].


Godwin, T. "A New Order in the Court." State Government News, January/February 1997. Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments.

Godwin, T., D. Steinhart, and B. Fulton. Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1996.

Godwin, T. "Teen Courts: Empowering Youth in Community Prevention Efforts." Perspectives, Winter 1996. Lexington, KY: American Probation and Parole Association.

Hissong, R. "Teen Court: Is It an Effective Alternative to Traditional Sanctions?" Journal for Juvenile Justice and Detention Services 6 (2), Fall 1991, 14-23.

Knepper, P. "Attitudinal Change Among Teen Court Participants." Prepared for Kentucky Court of Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts, Highland Heights, KY. July 1994.

McCullough, A., C. Martin, L. Pope, and G. Esterline. "Teen Court Program Research Project." 1995 analysis of teen court program operated by Southside Youth Council. Unpublished.

North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. "Report on Teen Court Programs in North Carolina." Submitted to the North Carolina General Assembly, Raleigh, NC. March 1995.

SRA Associates. Teen Court: 1994 Evaluation of the Routes for Youth Program. Sebastopol, CA. June 1995.

Wells, J., and K. Minor. "Kentucky’s Teen Court Initiative: An Assessment." Prepared for Kentucky Court of Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts, Frankfort, KY. 1997.

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Cost-Benefit Analysis of Juvenile Justice Programs | Sex Offender Typology