Youth courts train teenagers to handle real-life cases involving their peers, offering a restorative response to misbehavior.
The center’s youth courts handle cases involving young people, ages 10 to 18, who have been cited for low-level offenses such as vandalism, fare evasion, assault, and truancy. Teen volunteers lead hearings or restorative circles, assign sanctions, and provide mentoring to youth offenders. The Center’s youth courts receive referrals from schools, the New York City Police Department, the New York City Department of Probation, Family and Criminal Courts, and local District Attorney's offices.
Youth courts incorporate the following features:
Participation in youth courts is voluntary and requires young people to take responsibility for their actions. Through the hearing or restorative circle, the respondent has the opportunity to tell their story and answer questions posed by the jury. With a focus on restorative justice, sanctions typically include community service, letters of apology, and skill-building workshops. Successful completion of sanctions typically results in a favorable disposition of the case by the referring agency.
Access to Help
Adult staff members make an initial assessment of each respondent and link them to appropriate social services. Youth courts also connect respondents to training and afterschool programs to help them avoid further disciplinary action in their schools and communities.
Unlike other law-related programs, the Center’s youth courts do not require a minimum grade point average. Members cultivate their leadership skills and are exposed to a range of education and career opportunities. Young people with previous justice-involvement are strongly encouraged to apply. All youth court members receive 30-40 hours training before serving.