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Program Profile: Independence Youth Court

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on September 13, 2013

Program Summary

A diversion program for young offenders. The primary goal of the program is to reduce the occurrence of juvenile crime by diverting youth from the traditional juvenile justice system and providing an alternative to formal processing. The program is rated Promising. Treatment youth were significantly less likely to reoffend.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Independence Youth Court (IYC) is a diversion program for young offenders. The primary goal of the IYC is to reduce the occurrence of juvenile crime by diverting youth from the traditional juvenile justice system and providing an alternative to formal processing.

The IYC was established in 1985 in Jackson County, Mo., as a collaborative effort between the Jackson County Bar Association, the Juvenile Division of the Jackson County Family Court, the City of Independence, and the Independence Police Department.

Program Theory
Teen courts, or youth courts, have grown in popularity throughout the United States in recent years, as they provide juveniles with an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system. A teen court does not function as a traditional juvenile court, nor is it a type of problem-solving court. Instead, teen courts are diversion programs for juveniles. Founded on the belief that an association with prosocial peers may have a positive impact on deviant youth, teen courts are structured in a manner that allows youths—whether strictly participating as volunteers or as a condition of their sentence in another case—to serve as court clerks, bailiffs, attorneys, jurors, or on occasion even judges. Overall, in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate of juveniles, teen courts seek to take advantage of an adolescent’s desire to be accepted and included by developing a courtroom model that is operated by prosocial peers, with limited adult intervention (Butts and Ortiz 2011).

Program Components
The IYC uses a youth judge model, meaning there are no juries for the cases. Instead, youth attorneys present the case to a youth judge who is responsible for the sentencing decision. Although the youth judge is responsible for overseeing all cases and passing various sentences, the program’s presiding judge speaks with the defendant and his or her parents following the sentencing decision to ensure all parties understand the sentence and the overall diversionary process of teen courts.

The IYC also provides youth with the opportunity to plead not guilty during their first appearance in the program. A not guilty plea results in a trial, which typically requires the defendant, victim (if any), and any witnesses to be present during the trial. Following the trial, the youth judge is responsible for determining the defendant’s guilt in the particular case. Although youths may be found not guilty, they must still comply with their original diversion agreements or they will be transferred back to the Jackson County Family Court, where their case will be processed through the traditional juvenile justice system.

Target Population
Over 500 cases a year are diverted to the IYC, typically involving first-time offenders charged with minor offenses such as shoplifting, truancy, or vandalism. Occasionally, the IYC will hear cases involving status offenses, third-degree assault, and minor drug and alcohol violations. To be eligible for diversion to the IYC, defendants must be at least 7 years old, but not older than 16. Youth volunteers must be at least 13, and if serving as an attorney or judge, volunteers must pass a youth bar exam. A typical proceeding averages about 10 minutes. However, a trial can last 30 minutes to 1 hour. Defendants are eligible for diversion to the IYC on more than one occasion as long as their offenses are minor. The vast majority of referrals to the IYC are made by police, while a smaller number of referrals are made by local schools.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Analyzing the 6-month recidivism data, Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall (2002) found that youths in the Independence Youth Court (IYC) were significantly less likely to reoffend compared with youths in the comparison group. Specifically, the study found that 9 percent of youths in the IYC reoffended, whereas 28 percent of youths in the comparison group reoffended.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
As part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention-funded Evaluation of Teen Courts Project, the Independence Youth Court (IYC), along with three other youth court programs, was evaluated by Butts, Buck, and Coggeshall (2002) to determine the impact on the recidivism rate of juveniles diverted to the program, compared to similar youths processed through the juvenile justice system. The IYC was chosen as a study site as a result of a survey sent to teen courts in 1998, which evaluated teen courts based on several criteria, including 1) willingness to participate in an evaluation project, 2) caseload size, 3) length in operation, 4) courtroom model, and 5) geographic location.

A quasi-experimental design was used in this study. The treatment group included 142 juveniles that were referred to the IYC from July 2000 to September 2001, and who had agreed to participate in the study. The comparison group also included 142 juveniles, and was created using the electronic records of similar first-time juvenile offenders in the Jackson County Family Court, which (like the IYC) is located in Jackson County, Mo. However, the treatment group was specifically from Independence, Mo., (a small municipality), while the comparison cases were from anywhere in Jackson County, including Kansas City (a metropolitan area). All offenders in the comparison group were individuals who were charged with an offense that would have qualified them for a teen court; however, these individuals were not referred to the IYC. The specific selection criteria for inclusion in the comparison group was set to include only individuals aged 10 or older who had been charged with a misdemeanor or other non-violent offense, and did not have any prior referrals for delinquency. This selection criterion allowed for the creation of a comparison group similar to the treatment group. The treatment group was 39 percent female, and about half of the group was under the age of 15. The majority of juveniles in the treatment group (over 90 percent) identified themselves as white (the breakdown of the other racial groups was not provided). Specific characteristics of the comparison group were also not provided; however, the two groups were matched on demographic characteristics and offenses.

Between mid-2000 and March 2002, recidivism data was gathered for both the treatment and comparison groups by obtaining the official records from the Jackson County Family Court. Recidivism was defined as a subsequent referral to the juvenile justice system. The 6-month recidivism data for the IYC participants was compared to the 6-month recidivism data of the control group to measure program impact.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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The Independence Youth Court (IYC) staffs two part-time employees, an executive director, and a program coordinator. To implement a teen court, a judge must also serve on the staff to oversee court operations; thus, the IYC’s executive director also serves as the program’s judge. The IYC is governed by an executive board, which includes individuals from various organizations around the city, such as the police department, the court and school systems, and the business community.

Youth volunteers are also required to implement the IYC, as the IYC is a youth-operated court. Furthermore, if volunteers intend on serving as a youth judge or youth attorney, they must first pass the youth bar exam. Finally, given that the IYC is a diversion program, participation in the program is on a voluntary basis for defendants.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Butts, Jeffrey A., Janeen Buck, and Mark B. Coggeshall. 2002. The Impact of Teen Court on Young Offenders. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Butts, Jeffrey A., and Janeen Buck. 2000. Teen Courts: A Focus on Research. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Butts, Jeffrey A., and Jennifer Ortiz. 2011. “Teen Courts—Do They Work and Why?” New York State Bar Association Journal.

City of Independence, Missouri. 2013. “Youth Court”. Accessed July 1, 2013.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Juvenile Diversion Programs
An intervention strategy that redirects youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, while still holding them accountable for their actions. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism rates of juveniles who participated in diversion programming compared with juveniles who were formally processed in the justice system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 7 - 16

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Courts

Program Type: Alternatives to Detention, Diversion, Teen/Youth Court

Targeted Population: First Time Offenders, Young Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide