Source: (2005) Community Youth Development Journal. Fall 2005:77-89.

This article describes the San Diego Teen Court Program, which offers an alternative to the formal juvenile justice system for minor juvenile offenders. Since September 2001, the San Diego Teen Court has sentenced over 250 juvenile offenders and has trained more than 4,300 high school students in restorative justice practices. Based on a restorative justice model that focuses on repairing harms caused by the offenses, the teen court utilizes trained volunteers from local high schools to serve as jurors, bailiffs, attorneys, and clerks for juvenile sentencing hearings. The training teaches volunteers about the juvenile justice system and the principles of restorative justice. Once trained, volunteers serve in hearing sessions where they impose binding sentences on juvenile offenders. Sentencing options include letters of apology, workshops related to the offense, community service, curfews, and teen court jury duty. The court process is entirely youth-led with the exception of an adult judge who provides supervision. Following the sentencing, the offenders and their guardians meet with an adult caseworker who provides instructions and deadlines regarding the fulfillment of the sentence. Offenders who successfully complete their sentences within 90 days have their files closed by the San Diego Police Department. Offenders who fail to complete their sentences are referred back to the police department or juvenile court. Research has indicated that teen courts are more effective at reducing recidivism and increasing pro-social behaviors in comparison to the formal juvenile justice system. Additionally, the positive impact of teen courts extends beyond the juvenile offenders to the many youth volunteers who learn valuable lessons about restorative justice and community activism. The article contains a textbox that relays the teen court experience of a 16-year-old petty thief. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service,