Our contention is that if peer pressure can be used to exert a negative influence, it likewise can be used as a positive force. Those who work with youth know just how instrumental peer pressure can be in the decision-making process of all young minds.
Teen Court is based upon the premise that most young people want to do what is right when making decisions. Even those who may make the wrong choice due to external factors such as peer pressure are often gratified to learn that they have an opportunity to make amends. What better way to impress upon a young offender than to be judged by a jury of his/her peers? Peer pressure in this court setting will have a more immediate and meaningful effect upon the individual than the more traditional juvenile justice approach. The message given by a peer jury will be long remembered by those seeking to fit within a group and be accepted.
Currently, Kentucky has over 3500 students from 33 of the 120 counties that participate in Teen Court. The program provides first time juvenile offenders an opportunity to participate in a less formal court process – one that is controlled by their peers. Before students are able to hear cases they go through five mandatory training sessions and a swearing in ceremony. At these training sessions local legal professionals train the students. They are trained to fulfill the roles as attorneys, jurors, bailiffs, and clerks. The only adult that participates in an actual Teen Court case proceeding is the presiding District or Family Court Judge.
First time misdemeanor offenders (ages 10-17) who have pled guilty or have been found guilty by juvenile judge qualify. Teen Court cases include offenses such as:
- Criminal Mischief
- Others deemed appropriate by judge
Offenders who successfully complete their sentence avoid a formal court record. These offenders often return to be participants in Teen Court.