Juveniles usually enter the juvenile justice system through contact with law enforcement, although they may be referred to juvenile probation by other agencies and parents. Juvenile probation is an integral part of the Youth Court and is overseen by the Youth Court judge within each of the 22 judicial districts. Most referrals to the Youth Court’s juvenile probation office are in the form of a ticket accompanied by a report from law enforcement. Juvenile probation officers may handle any referral except traffic and fish and game violations, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Justice, Municipal, City, and District Courts.
Youth referred to probation must appear before the juvenile probation officer with a parent or guardian to answer to the allegations against them. Most youth will never see the Youth Court judge and will work solely through the Youth Court juvenile probation officer to resolve the ticket in what is referred to as the informal process. If the referral is forwarded to the county attorney and a petition is filed on the alleged charges, the youth will appear before the Youth Court judge in what is referred to as the formal process. Approximately 20% of the youth referred to juvenile probation each year are handled formally.
The juvenile justice system is designed to keep youth out of the deep end of the criminal justice system. It also is effective in helping the District/Youth Courts from becoming over-burdened with relatively minor offenses that can be handled more swiftly by juvenile probation through the informal process. The informal process requires collaboration between the youth and their parent(s).