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How To Start a Teen Court

1.  The first step when starting a Teen Court in your area is to decide what type of court it will be.  The major factor in this decision will be the source of the funding.

There are three basic types of Teen Courts:  

Court based:  Usually run through a Circuit Court-Juvenile Division.  The Judge administering the program usually appoints an administrator.  Cases are diverted from juvenile court and disposed of in teen courts.  The student attorneys are volunteers from local schools.

Community based:  Community based teen court programs are usually run through a non-profit organization utilizing volunteers from local schools.

School based:  School based programs are run like a school sponsored club.  They usually utilize legal help from local attorneys.  Cases come from juvenile courts and from school discipline referrals.  Students of the school are the volunteers.

2.  Determine your Teen Court Model.  Click here to read about the differnt models.

  • Adult Judge Model
  • Youth Judge Model
  • Peer Jury Model
  • Youth Tribunal Model

3.  After you decide which type you will be.  Next determine where your cases will be referred from.

Possible sources for referrals:

  • Juvenile Courts
  • Traffic Courts
  • Schools
  • City Attorneys (Truancy)

4.  Determine where you will hold Teen Court.

Possible places:

  • District Courts
  • Juvenile Courts
  • Schools
  • Community Center
  • Police Departments
  • Juvenile Justice Center

5.  Determine your budget needs

Possible Budget Items:

  • Food for participants
  • T-shirts
  • Awards
  • Training for court staff
  • ATCA Summer Conference (travel costs only, held in Little Rock)
  • Staff costs
  • Office supplies, computer, etc.
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Room rental costs if applicable
  • Transportation for participants

6.  Budget Sources

  • Private donations
  • State and Federal Grants. globalyouthjustice.org has great resources for grants.
  • State and County Bar Associations
  • Schools
  • Municipalities

7.  Download forms.

8.  Determine your Court rules.  For example, requring offenders to have a parent with them in court.  You will also need to establish your punishment options and ranges.  Click here to see possible punishment options.

9.  Recruit participants and volunteers

Possible sources for participants

  • schools
  • community centers
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Youth Civic organizations

Possible sources for volunteers

  • Local Bar Associations
  • Law schools
  • Political Candidates
  • Prosecutors and City Attorneys
  • Juvenile Justice Officers

10.  Train your staff and volunteers.  Student attorneys will need to be trained on basic court rules, process and ettiquette.  Volunteers will need to be trained on Teen Court principles and the model you plan to use.

11.  Plan your court docket:  Depending on the model you choose, it is advised to keep each court day at or under 2 hours.  If you use the Adult Judge Model, each case should take about 30 minutes.

12.  Adult and Youth Judge Model-  Assign youth attorneys to cases and help them prepare cases.

13.  Start getting case referrals.

14.  Notify offenders and parents of court days.  Notify witnesses of court dates.

15.  Day of court: Make sure your volunteers are there.  Provide food for participants.

16.  After offenders are sentenced, make sure they fulfill their sentences.