Recently the Huffington Post posted a blog by Michael Shank Phd lamenting the termination of a teen court program in Washington DC. Two experienced restorative practitioners, Kris Miner, Marg Thorsborne and myself wrote the following comment voicing our concern with teen/youth court models:

“Thank you [Dr. Shank] for pointing out the importance of juvenile diversion and the need to improve the unhelpful, and often damaging, juvenile justice system. While diversion should be provided by all juvenile justice systems, the idea that teen court is “restorative” is controversial. Many youth courts operate like regular adult courts, only youth play the role of jurors, lawyers, etc. While there are clearly benefits for youth to learn about the court system and play roles in “mock or moot trials,” research indicates that youth court may increase criminality. Researchers advise: “practitioners and funders to use caution when implementing TC [teen court] programs and to make rigorous evaluation a priority” (2008, Stickel, et al, An experimental evaluation of teen courts, J Exp Criminal 4:137–163). Other research shows the most effective diversion strategies are: “direct psychosocial intervention[s] such as evidence-based family-interventions and behavioral programs in addition to case management, to offer opportunities for restorative justice interventions like family group conferencing and victim-offender mediation, and to implement these programs with high levels of supervision to attend to the fidelity of program implementation. Broker-only models, mentoring models, and youth courts find little support in the literature for reducing rates of recidivism among diverted youth” (2012, Schwalbe, et al, A meta-analysis of experimental studies of diversion programs for juvenile offenders, Clinical Psychology Review 32:26–33). Thank you again for your efforts. Best wishes, Lorenn Walker, Waialua, Hawai’i, Kris Miner, River Falls, WI & Margaret Thorsborne, Restorative Justice Consultant, Australia & the United Kingdom.”