Peer/Youth Courts Overview

peer youth court in session photoWhat is Youth/Peer Court?

Youth/Peer court is an alternative approach to the traditional juvenile justice system where youth charged with an offense have the option to waive the hearing and sentencing procedures of juvenile court and agree to a sentencing forum with a jury of the youth’s peers. Youth court is under the supervision of a judge and also includes youth defendants and volunteers who play a variety of roles in the judicial process, such as district attorney, public defender, bailiff or juror. Youth court is youth-focused and youth-driven. The youth court model provides youth the opportunity to acquire practical experience in the juvenile justice system.  Youth gain a better understanding of their rights, justice and the law, and are empowered to make better decisions in their daily lives.


How do I get referred to youth court?

While all youth courts are not exactly alike, most youth courts accept first time, non-violent offenders into the program. The process of being referred to a youth court may also differ slightly from court to court.  Below is what a typical referral process may look like:

  • Youth are referred by their school, juvenile probation or law enforcement;
  • The respondent and their parent/guardian meet with a youth court representative to register and sign an agreement and then receive detailed information about what to expect;
  • The youth court volunteer contacts the respondent to discuss their case;
  • The respondent attends youth court on their scheduled night and time to have their case heard;
  • After their case is heard, the youth respondent is given a sentence by a jury of their peers;
  • The respondent has a limited amount of time from the day of their trial to complete their sanctions;
  • After the respondent completes their sentence and their fees are paid in full, their case is closed and will not become a criminal record.  If they do not complete their sentence, the case is given back to probation.

Interested in starting a youth court? Learn how to in, Youth Court Toolkit. (2020)

Read more about youth courts, In Teen Courts, A Second Chance. (Historical - 2017)

Is there a youth court in my county? Check the interactive California Youth Courts Map.


Youth Court Summit

The Youth Court Summit is produced by a collaboration among youth and peer courts, the California Association of Youth Courts, Inc. (CAYC), and the Judicial Council of California and its Collaborative Justice Courts Advisory Committee. It is the primary training event for youth courts across the state. The Youth Court Summit brings together youth and peer court staff, juvenile bench officers, education experts, judges, and staff of youth-focused organizations who share ideas and best practices about youth courts. Each year at the summit, youth throughout the state are given the opportunity to lead their own discussions and offer ideas on how to improve youth courts.

With the theme of Justice 101, the 18th Annual Youth Court Summit was held June 23 – 25, 2023, at the University of Redlands. The next Youth Court Summit will be held in June 2024. 

2018 Youth Court Summit Video

Youth Court Videos/Podcast

Taking Your Youth Court Virtual (1:25:35)
A virtual roundtable discussion by CAYC on how to move your youth court forward with virtual hearings during COVID-19.

#JusticeForYouthByYouth -
Listen - 16:02   (transcript):

In this first podcast on youth courts, you will hear from Joaquin Lang, a student who successfully completed youth court and became an advocate for this restorative justice program. Also on the podcast you will hear from three members of the CAYC: Judge J. Richard Couzens; Debra Postil, a Senior Deputy District Attorney; and Don Carney, Director of the Marin Youth Court, on the success of the youth court program.

Watch this startling video created by youth at Tamalpais High School on “The Color of Youth Court

 “Let’s Rewrite the School-to-Prison Pipeline”, presented by Debra Postil, CAYC

The Peer Court Experience” by the Orange County Peer Court

YMCA Marin County Youth Court Trailer, “Finding Justice