Stickle, W., Connell, N., Wilson, D., & Gottfredson, D. (2008). An experimental evaluation of teen courts. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 4(2), 137-163.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of participation in a teen court on youth offenders’ rates of recidivism.
- The study was a randomized controlled trial in which eligible youth were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, which participated in a teen court, or to the control group, which participated in the traditional juvenile justice system. The authors compared outcomes for the two groups using administrative data.
- The study reported no differences in recidivism outcomes for teen court youth and those in the traditional juvenile justice system.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate for some outcomes and low for other outcomes. This means we have little confidence that any estimated effects would be attributable to the teen court program. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.
Features of the Intervention
Youth in the treatment group went through a teen court program in one of four Maryland counties. In general, teen courts are run by youth who act as peers, juries and advocates with the support of adult volunteers. Teen courts are held in real courtrooms, and most youth offenders are required to complete community service hours. Youth offenders typically tell their side of the story, but must also accept responsibility for how their actions affected others. This report did not provide data on the specific features of the Maryland teen court program.
Features of the Study
This study randomly assigned 83 youth to the teen court group and 85 youth to the control group, which interacted with the traditional juvenile justice system. The authors administered a survey to youth in both groups three to four months after program intake and collected administrative data from the Department of Juvenile Services and Public Safety records on recidivism over an 18-month follow-up period. The authors compared outcomes between the treatment and control groups, controlling for the race, gender, and age of participants.
- The study found no statistically significant differences in self-reported delinquent behavior or belief in conventional rules between the two study groups when adjusting for baseline characteristics of participating youth.
- In addition, the study found no statistically significant differences in recidivism, as measured by administrative data, or a number of other self-reported behaviors between the study groups when not adjusting for baseline characteristics.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Although it was based on a randomized controlled trial, the study had high attrition and is therefore evaluated against the CLEAR evidence guidelines for nonexperimental analyses. The authors included controls for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and grade level in the analyses of self-reported delinquent behavior and belief in conventional rules; therefore, these outcomes received a moderate causal evidence rating. However, the authors did not include these controls in the analyses of recidivism outcomes or other self-reported behaviors. Therefore, the analyses of these outcomes received a low causal evidence rating. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects were attributable to the teen court; however, the study found no statistically significant effects.
In addition, the authors noted that subsequent calculations indicated their analysis suffered from low power, making it difficult to detect statistically significant differences between the study groups. Based on the point estimates of the findings, however, they concluded that traditional juvenile processing generally outperformed the teen court.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate for some outcomes and low for other outcomes. This means we have little confidence that any estimated effects would be attributable to the teen court program. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.