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Teen courts (vs. traditional juvenile court processing)

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2019.  Literature review updated May 2019.
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Teen courts (sometimes called youth courts) are restorative justice problem-solving courts that divert youth from traditional processing in juvenile courts. Teen courts target delinquent youth with low-level or misdemeanor offenses who agree to a hearing and judgment from a court led by their peers. Student volunteers (or youth previously involved with the court) fill court roles acting as lawyers, bailiffs, clerks, judges, and juries to provide alternative dispositions for youth who committed minor offenses. Typically, student volunteers are overseen by a judge to ensure proper procedure is maintained. Youth and families who participate in teen court agree to honor the sentence set down by the teen court. Most sentences rely on youth making restitution to the person harmed or inconvenienced by their actions (e.g., community service or letters of apology).

For this analysis, we compare youth diverted to teen court to youth traditionally processed in juvenile court. Among studies included in this analysis, the time spent in court for a single case averaged one hour, with supervision lasting three to six months. In the studies in our analysis that reported demographic information, 21% of participants were youth of color and 36% were female.

Evaluations of teen court comparing participants to diverted youth are excluded from this analysis and analyzed separately.

Key Terms

Court-involved youth: Youth who are processed through the juvenile justice system but who are not ordered to a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility. This includes populations of arrested youth, diverted youth, charged youth, adjudicated youth, and youth on probation or formal supervision.

Youth in state institutions: Youth who are confined in a residential or correctional facility when they participate in the program.

Youth post-release: Youth who are returning to the community following a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility and who participate in the program after release to the community.

For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2018). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $2,712 Benefits minus costs $12,016
Participants $846 Benefit to cost ratio n/a
Others $5,577 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $1,584 benefits greater than the costs 84 %
Total benefits $10,720
Net program cost $1,296
Benefits minus cost $12,016

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
15 6 791 -0.187 0.222 16 -0.187 0.222 24 -0.187 0.400
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime Criminal justice system $2,385 $0 $5,073 $1,193 $8,651
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation $420 $987 $546 ($210) $1,743
Costs of higher education ($93) ($141) ($42) ($46) ($322)
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 $648 $648
Totals $2,712 $846 $5,577 $1,584 $10,720
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $205 1995 Present value of net program costs (in 2018 dollars) $1,296
Comparison costs $1,510 2015 Cost range (+ or -) 20 %
We estimate the per-participant cost using the average cost of processing youth through a typical teen or youth court model, as presented in Zehner, S.J. (1997). Teen court. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 66(3), 1-7. We calculate the comparison group cost, traditional juvenile court processing, using the cost of court processing for misdemeanor offenses and the average length of stay for youth on juvenile local supervision, multiplied by the annual marginal cost of juvenile local supervision from Section 4.2 of Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (December 2018). Benefit-cost technical documentation. Olympia, WA: Author.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in discounted dollars. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Butts, J., Buck, J., & Coggeshall, M. (2002). The impact of Teen Court on young offenders. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Hissong, R. (1991). Teen court—Is it an effective alternative to traditional sanctions? Journal for Juvenile Justice and Detention Services, 6, 14–23.

Povitsky, W.T. (2005). Teen court: Does it reduce recidivism? (Master's thesis, unpublished).

Stickle, W.P., Wilson, D.M., Gottfredson, D., & Connell, N.M. (2008). An experimental evaluation of teen courts. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 4 (2), 137-163.