DOJ Spending $1.8 Million Testing Kid-Run Courts to Combat Bullying

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is spending nearly $2 million to see if courts run by teenagers can be a viable tool to fight school bullying.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) tasked WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research group, late last year to study the effectiveness of “youth courts,” where the roles of judge, jury, defense, and prosecution are filled by students, who can then administer punishment in middle and high schools.

“Reports of violence, bullying, and other offenses have resulted in concerns about school safety,” according to the NIJ grant. “Administrators, anxious to restore order, have adopted policies focusing on punishment that often results in removing students from school. Research indicates that such punishments do not increase school safety, but push youth, particularly minority students, out from mainstream education.”

The grant argues that rather than adult administrators disciplining students, the students should punish each other.

“Educators are looking for strategies to hold youth accountable while keeping them in the classroom and engaged in school,” the grant said. “One such strategy is the school-based youth court. In this program, pro-social youth occupy all the court roles: jury, judge, prosecutor, defender, and clerk/bailiff. Offenders have their case heard and receive a peer-imposed sentence, usually some type of community service.”