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Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court

Ages 0-17

Rating: Level 3


The Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court in Birmingham, Ala., addresses the problem of youth gun violence comprehensively, intensively, and over the long term. The program is part of the county’s family court system, which handles all civil and criminal cases involving youth and aims to provide 24 comprehensive wraparound services to young offenders and their families. The program’s goals are to provide early intervention and greater accountability for juveniles charged with weapons offenses, help juveniles recognize and use nonviolent means to promote their safety and preserve their self-esteem, and effectively deliver the message that gun violence hurts victims, families, and communities.

First-time, nonviolent gun offenders up to age 17 are eligible to participate in the intensive supervision component of the program. After arrest, offenders are taken to detention and undergo extensive intake screening. Those who are considered low risk for violent behavior are referred to the gun court intensive supervision caseload. The court has a mandate to review incoming cases within 72 hours and try them within 10 working days. Judges have the authority to impose mandatory detention of juvenile offenders, with judicial discretion whether juvenile cases were eligible for diversion. Alabama’s Department of Youth Services (DYS) provides access to 28-day boot camps and other appropriate facilities. Additional features include follow-up supervision by probation officers and the requirement of parental involvement throughout the adjudication process.

Probation officers develop treatment plans and serve as the central conduit for social services and other program referrals for the youths and their families. Services recommended by the probation officer become part of the terms of probation. Modifications can be made throughout as offender and family needs change. Parents are required to attend weekly 90-minute parent training sessions.

Once youths return home from boot camp, they must adhere to the following:

  • In the first 30 days, they are under house arrest (except for going to school and work).
  • They must phone their probation officers twice a week.
  • They are subject to unscheduled home visits by members of the Operation Nighttime Crime Eradicators team (the probation officer and a police officer or sheriff’s deputy).
  • They must participate in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program (ASAP), which was developed by the Adolescent and Family Services Division of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Each child is assessed to determine what level of services are needed. Services can include random drug testing, prevention groups, Adolescent Intervention Group, Intensive Outpatient Treatment, and even residential treatment. A case manager is assigned to monitor the client’s status of compliance.

After youths fulfill all of their probation requirements, they are discharged from the gun court program through a formal court order. If youths are not convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude and are not adjudicated delinquent within a 2-year period, they may file a petition to have their records sealed. Once youths reach age 24, they can file a motion requesting destruction of their records.


The Alabama Center for Law and Civic Education and the Criminal Justice Science Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham conducted an evaluation of the program’s outcomes during its first 4 years. Evaluators compared case records and recidivism rates for three groups of juvenile gun offenders: 1) an intensive supervision group composed of Birmingham youths with limited prior offenses who participated in the program’s core interventions, including intensive aftercare monitoring, 2) a nonintensive supervision group composed of Birmingham youths with prior offenses who received only short commitments to the DYS detention center and did not participate in intensive aftercare monitoring, 3) and a comparison group composed of youths from Bessemer, Ala., who were arrested before the program came to that city and who did not participate in any program components.

The typical youth in the intensive supervision group was male (96 percent), between ages 11 and 17 (mean age of 15.5), African-American (88 percent), and from a single-parent household (57 percent). Eighty-eight percent had been charged with gun possession.


The evaluation demonstrated promising results.

  • Youths in the intensive supervision group spent significantly less time on probation (an average of 10 months) than youth in the nonintensive supervision group (12 months) and the comparison group (16 months). However, while on probation, 98 percent of the youths in the intensive group were placed on strict curfews, compared with only 9 percent of the nonintensive group and 18 percent of the comparison group.
  • Participation in ASAP and other educational programs was significantly greater among intensive supervision youth (90 percent) than other youths.
  • The intensive supervision group had significantly lower levels of recidivism (17 percent) than the nonintensive supervision group (37 percent) and the comparison group (40 percent). Having a prior gun offense (common to youth in the nonintensive and comparison groups) increased the odds of recidivism.


Sheppard, David, and Patricia Kelly. 2002. “Juvenile Gun Courts: Promoting Accountability and Providing Treatment.” JAIBG Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.


Jeff McGee, Chief Administrative Officer
Family Court of Jefferson County
120 Second Court North
Birmingham, AL 35024
Phone: (205) 325-5491
Fax: (205) 325-5080
Web site: