Court programs

Effective justice strategies

Teen court program

Teen courts typically hear the cases of juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 who have committed one non-violent offense or who are minor repeat offenders. In most programs, offenders must admit guilt and agree to abide by the program's decision before the court accepts their case.

Listing of teen courts in Wisconsin Adobe PDF

Teen court handout Adobe PDF

Teen court programs come in many forms -- from three to five-person teen tribunals that recommend sentencing, to a more formal court process where attorneys, bailiffs, clerks, and jurors are all volunteer teens and the judge is an adult, usually a municipal or circuit court judge, law enforcement officer, attorney or other community member.

Teen courts in Wisconsin are funded through county human services departments, county boards, school districts, the United Way, the Office of Justice Assistance, and private donations. Many also receive in-kind contributions of space from county courthouses and other city and county facilities. In addition, some courts charge a small fee for their services, while others hold annual fundraisers.

Often teen courts require hiring a coordinator to train and manage volunteers, assist with intake, and process cases. The budget for these programs ranges from $20,000 to $60,000 annually.

Teen court models

Adult judge model
An adult judge rules on court procedure and clarifies legal terminology, youth volunteer as defense and prosecuting attorneys and jurors (may also serve as bailiff and clerk).

Youth judge model
Similar to adult judge model, but a juvenile serves as judge.

Tribunal model
Youth serve as defense and prosecuting attorneys to present cases to a juvenile judge(s) who determines sentence.

Resource: "Teen Court: A National Movement," Technical Assistance Bulletin No. 17, American Bar Association, by Paula A. Nessel, 1998

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Steps to implementing a teen court

Resource: Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment, American Probation and Parole Association, by Tracy M. Godwin, 1998


The National Youth Court Center of the American Probation and Parole Association (external link) provides training and technical assistance and serves as an information clearinghouse to youth court programs in the United States. National Youth Court Center, c/o American Probation and Parole Association, P.O. Box 11910, Lexington, KY 40578-1910; phone: (606) 244-8215; fax: (606) 244-8001; e-mail:

Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs by the American Probation and Parole Association is available free by calling (800) 636-8736 or on the association website (external link).

The University of Wisconsin Extension can help counties and schools develop a teen court program that suits their particular needs. Contact Rich van Benschoten, state staff specialist, at (608) 262-5020.

The Volunteers in the Courts Initiative of the Wisconsin Supreme Court has program descriptions and contact people for all reported teen courts operating in the state. Contact Sara Foster at (608) 266-1298.

The Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (external link) helps jurisdictions find teen court funding. Call (608) 266-3323.

The Wisconsin Teen Court Association has resource people who can provide technical assistance to start a program. To learn more about the Association, contact Nancy Anne Miller, Vilas County Teen Court coordinator, at (715) 479-3648.

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