Youth courts provide an alternative intervention to the regular school disciplinary system through which respondents are heard and judged by their peers. Working in four schools in Chester, PA and in Wilmington, DE, the Delaware Law School students train middle school students to serve as jurors, youth advocates, judge, bailiff, or other officers of the court. After the 7-week training, Youth Court hears real cases referred by the school’s disciplinary officer.
Our Youth Court Model only handles school referrals and employs a panel of trained middle school student jurors who directly question the respondent. Respondents must voluntarily accept responsibility for their actions and thus, are referred to a youth court for sentencing, not for a judgment of guilt or innocence. Many youth courts accept only first-time respondents who have committed relatively minor offenses. Youth Court dispositions commonly include community service, apology to the victim, written statements, jury duty, and drug/alcohol class.
Youth courts also help foster important values, attitudes, and beliefs. Participants voluntarily commit their time to youth courts in the pursuit of justice. The middle school student volunteers demonstrate a belief in active and responsible participation in civic life, a respect for the rights of the respondent and victim, and an appreciation for a legitimate response to societal conflicts through assigning appropriate responses to the offenses in question.