Youth courts, in which teenagers are sanctioned by their peers, can provide low-cost justice, says a new report by the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence for the U.S. Justice Department. The study says that youth courts accepted more than 116,000 cases last year around the nation (compared with a total juvenile court caseload of 1.6 million in 2004). Each case in youth courts costs about $430 per teenager served, meaning that the average youth court carries out its mission at a quarter of the cost of a traditional juvenile court, says the report.
The institute says research is needed to compare the recidivism rate of youth court offenders (typically first-time, nonviolent defendants) compared with those in regular juvenile courts. The study compares the cost of sanctions imposed in youth courts with other sanctions, concluding that the cost per youth completing sanctions in youth court is $480.24, compared with costs of rehabilitation prorams that range from $23,000 to $64,000 annually. The average annual cost of youths put on probation in traditional juvenile court programs is $1,635, said the report.