Tina Rosenberg, writing in the New York Times' online Opinionator column in a piece published last week, voiced support for the Youth Court of the District of Columbia, while also dissecting public misconceptions surrounding it:
While most commenters praised youth courts for taking a humane approach, reader Beliavsky from Boston wrote, "Letting young criminals (excuse me, 'troubled youths’) be judged by other young criminals does not seem right to me. There should be a real, non-criminal, adult, judge."
Beliavsky is assuming that Youth Court is the soft option. It’s often not so. As reader Andrew Rasmussen of New York said: "The appropriate comparison would be kids who do something and are taken home by the cops to their parents."
Rosenberg contends the DC Youth Court is about more than just bypassing a broken system:
There is evidence that youth courts do more than simply divert teenagers from juvenile justice: they actively create pro-social behavior. The Urban Institute study found a clue: the courts that give the most autonomy to the teenagers themselves work best ... Youth court is one of the few places where teenagers hear disapproval of their behavior from people whose respect they crave the most: their peers.