The History of TN Youth Courts
Former Tennessee State Senator Mark Norris remarked during his tenure, “Tennessee distinguishes itself in the most unfortunate ways." He was referring to the juvenile justice system in Tennessee. We tend to be of two minds on the subject. As far back as 2012 research has shown that black and brown youth are suspended and expelled at 3x the rate of their white classmates but the written law presents us as forward-thinking and enlightened.
In 2000, our leaders had an enlightened moment when two members of the General Assembly sponsored a bill that was to become the Tennessee Teen Court Act of 2000. The act proposed the creation of teen courts, now called youth courts, to be established by local judges with juvenile court jurisdiction, to be composed of various numbers of youth and various models. The act proposed nontraditional penalties for juvenile offenders. It proposed not penalties but instead a means to make amends for the bad decision made and actions undertaken. It also proposed that the "court system" be made up of peer teens operating under the supervision and guidance of local attorneys and judges.
In the beginning, the Tennessee Bar Association was asked to make building teen courts an initiative and for sixteen years the TBA fostered the development of Teen Courts by working with the local courts and providing training and organizational development. The name was later changed to Youth Courts and by 2016, had become so large that the TBA could no longer house the initiative.
In 2017, Tennessee Youth Courts became a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit and began raising funds to continue its mission and growth. Tennessee Youth Courts, Inc. now reaches across Tennessee from Chattanooga to the Tennessee-Missouri border.
Accountability | Competency | Community
Teenagers who volunteer to sit on the Youth Court decide the sentence for other teens who admit to committing an offense. These teen volunteers base their verdict on the principles of restorative justice:
- Accountability - The teenager learns that bad decisions affect many people and that you must take responsibility for your actions through personal accountability.
- Competency - The teen who caused the harm learns how to make better decisions, enhancing competency and situational awareness.
- Community - Connecting or reconnecting youth to their communities allows for cultivating positive relationships, thus minimizing the likelihood of adverse actions against the community.
Statement of Inclusiveness
Tennessee Youth Courts, Inc. strives to have an open and affirming culture. We advocate for all youth. In compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Tennessee Youth Courts, Inc. provides services to youth and their families who participate in a youth court program regardless of race, color, national origin, age, sex, religious preference, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or disability. No one will be subjected to segregation or separate treatment in any manner related to receipt of service; restricted in any way in the enjoyment of services, facilities/venues, or any other advantage, privilege or benefit provided to others under the program; or addressed in a manner that is disrespectful because of race, color, sex, national origin, age, religious preference, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or disability.