The youth court system in Mississippi is one new approach for first time and nonviolent teen offenders. According to the US National Gang Center, not only do youth courts repeatedly demonstrate lower recidivism rates compared to juvenile courts, but they also free up the burdened juvenile courts to focus greater attention on violent crimes and other serious offenses.

Instead, teen offenders with minor crimes may face a court of their peers and receive sentences oriented around community involvement and rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Positive outcomes

Typically teens eligible for youth court are offenders between 14 and 16 years old who are facing their first offense for a nonviolent crime like vandalism or shoplifting.

In comparison to juvenile courts and the standard justice system, youth courts have greater bandwidth to focus on a solutions-oriented approach to minor crimes. Sentences typically orient around community service and involvement, engaging teens in their communities in meaningful ways and increasing social capital and accountability.

Youth courts also cost the justice system less than the price of putting another teen through juvenile court.

Court models

According to the American Bar Association youth courts typically adhere to one of four models, but the models act more as a spectrum than a rule.

One of the most common models is the adult judge model — where an adult presides over a court of teens acting as lawyers, jury and clerks. The teen judge model uses the same system but places a teen in the role of the judge, although an adult is still present to supervise the proceedings.

The youth tribunal model employs several judges who also act as the jury, but there may still be other teens acting as lawyers or clerks. Finally, the peer jury model employs a panel of teens who act as jury and question the defendant.

All of these models repeatedly show lower recidivism rates and positive outcomes for the vast majority of teen offenders.

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