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A Systematic Review of Teen Court Evaluation Studies: A Focus on Evaluation Design Characteristics and Program Components and Processes


Teen Court is a restorative justice program serving non-chronic juvenile offenders. A number of Teen Court evaluation studies exist, however, considerable heterogeneity across Teen Court programs suggests the need to more closely examine the program components (i.e., elements of Teen Court such as sanctions) and processes (i.e., how Teen Court operates such as referral sources and participation criteria) of these existing evaluation studies. The aim of the current systematic review was to provide a comprehensive review of existing Teen Court evaluation studies by synthesizing (1) evaluation design characteristics and (2) program components and processes. Using AMSTAR (A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews) guidelines, the authors used identical key words to search 12 databases for relevant articles, book chapters, dissertations, and theses. Pre-established inclusion and exclusion criteria were used to evaluate each document; 46 articles reporting results from 35 studies were included in the review. Program participation criteria and referral sources varied considerably across studies. Twenty studies included a comparison group and only two used random assignment. Most studies reported recidivism rates, however the definition and measurement of recidivism were inconsistent across studies. Distinct differences in participation criteria and referral sources across programs suggested that some programs serve youth who would otherwise be served by the juvenile justice system whereas other programs serve youth who would otherwise face school disciplinary measures. Rigorous research on Teen Court is minimal and additional studies using strong study designs are needed in order to draw confident conclusions about the impact of Teen Court. Terminology for distinguishing between Teen Court programs based on participation and referral criteria and standards for assessing recidivism are offered.

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*Indicates that the reference was a study that was included in the systematic review

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Funding for this research was provided by the Developing Knowledge About What Makes Schools Safer grant through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ-2014-3878).

Author contributions

KC conceived of the study; KC and CBRE collaborated to identify search terms, databases, and inclusion and exclusion criteria; KC and CBRE searched the databases, abstracted data, and wrote the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katie L. Cotter.

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Cotter, K.L., Evans, C.B.R. A Systematic Review of Teen Court Evaluation Studies: A Focus on Evaluation Design Characteristics and Program Components and Processes. Adolescent Res Rev 3, 425–447 (2018).

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  • Delinquency
  • Diversion
  • Juveniles
  • Recidivism
  • Teen Court