Guest post: Mediating in Brooklyn Criminal Court!

Criminal Court Mediation Makes a Difference in Brooklyn  

By Michele Kirschbaum and Emily Sernaker

“It’s quite stressful living in conflict, and it would have been better to do something sooner. Unfortunately, it took an arrest to get there. It’s a really wonderful thing you offer to people.” These are the words of a Brooklyn man from a groundbreaking project at New York Peace Institute – the Criminal Court Mediation Program.

The program — a collaboration between the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Legal Aid Services, Brooklyn Defender Services and New York Peace Institute — offers an innovative alternative for resolving misdemeanor cases. Residents with criminal court cases often want to address harm, repair relationships, and ultimately get their case out of the criminal justice system. Mediation can make this possible. 

Acting District Attorney Gonzalez meets with New York Peace Institute Staff

Mediation gives both parties a chance to discuss what happened and helps them decide how they’d like to move forward. If the parties are able to resolve their dispute, they frequently make a request to the judge about the disposition of the court case. One young person who participated in mediation said: “Without mediation, my sister and I probably wouldn’t have even been talking, and we definitely wouldn’t be as close as we are now. If we didn’t have this opportunity, I think I would probably be re-arrested and incarcerated for another domestic incident charge.” Mediation also helps parties understand one another better. As one participant explained, “The mediator broke down what the other party was saying so I could get it. I understand now where he was coming from, and why this happened.”

Over the past 5 years, the program has yielded spectacular results with an 80% agreement rate. “It’s obvious – both from our experience every day and research – that we need new ways to resolve criminal cases, in a manner that’s just and promotes public safety,” says Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “Every prosecutor has to be open to new ideas that keep moving us away from incarceration as our only response to crime. The court – not to mention the entire community – benefits from every just disposition of a criminal case. Community alternatives improve the administration of justice in every case, for every defendant, by reducing dockets, easing backlogs, and concentrating traditional resources on the cases that most need them. Mediation, and its benefits, is a particularly important tool provided by New York Peace Institute.”

Acting District Attorney Gonzalez and New York Peace Institute’s Michele Kirschbaum and Meredith Gray

“Within the last 5 years we have refined our programs to fit the needs of families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and more,” says New York Peace Institute Restorative Justice Coordinator Meredith Gray. “We know from our clients that talking face to face in a supportive environment is vital to repairing relationships. People on both sides desire empowerment within the court process.”

The Criminal Court Mediation Program is just one service that New York Peace Institute offers the community.  The organization provides restorative justice and anti-violence programing in schools, as well as mediation for Small Claims and Civil Court cases, custody, visitation, child support, Special Education, and housing disputes. New York Peace Institute serves as the primary trainers for certified dispute resolution professionals in the city. It is a leader in conflict resolution and communication skill building both domestically and abroad, and has trained organizations and institutions such as the New York Police Department, Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Education.

Acting District Attorney Gonzalez

“I would invite anyone to see what we’ve done in Brooklyn as an example of the exciting work we can do with alternative resolutions like mediation,” says DA Gonzalez. “We are bounded only by our own creativity and our commitment to the communities we serve. I know that New York Peace Institute and others will help us continue to innovate, creating and implementing new tools for doing justice, promoting safety and making peace.”

 

rad poets society

lucille-cliftonWe cannot create what we can’t imagine.  — Lucille Clifton

lorcaThere is no straight road, no straight road in this world, only a giant labyrinth of intersecting crossroads.  — Federico Garcia Lorca

anne-sextonPut your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. — Anne Sexton

shel-silversteinListen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts…then listen close to me. Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. — Shel Silverstein

langston-hughesI will not take “but” for an answer. — Langston Hughes

aa-milne-colorThe third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking. –A.A. Milne

audre-lorde-yelloIt is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. — Audre Lorde

arthur-rimbaud Genius is the recovery of childhood at will. — Arthur Rimbaud

brendan-behanAt the innermost core of all loneliness is the deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self. — Brendan Behan

biggie-colorWe can’t change the world until we change ourselves. — Biggie Smalls

emerson For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

mos-def-cleanI don’t hate nobody. I hate certain conditions that are inflicted upon the people — and they’re helpless with it. –Mos Def (aka Yasmin Bey)

borges Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence. — Jorge Luis Borges

cohen-color Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.  — Leonard Cohen

cohen-yesterday-color How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me? — Leonard Cohen

 dylan-blue We have never arrived. We are in a constant state of becoming.  — Bob Dylan

dylan-thomas Life always offers a second chance. It’s called tomorrow. — Dylan Thomas

gertrude-stein-color Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein

leonard-cohen There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. — Leonard Cohen

leonard-love Love is the only engine of survival. — Leonard Cohen

nin-blueWe don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. –Anais Nin

anais-nin-new-yearI made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. — Anais Nin

patti-smith-clean If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s  not to be so judgmental of other people. — Patti Smith

poeYears of love have been forgot in the hatred of a minute.  — Edgar Allen Poe

bell-hooksWhen we are committed to doing the work of love, we listen even when it hurts. — bell hooks

rilke A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them. They’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship. — Rainer Maria Rilke

rza It’s harder to make the glass than break the glass.  — RZA

whitman-color Be curious, not judgmental. — Walt Whitman

woody-yelloGonna get through this world the best I can.  — Woody Guthrie

the wordy dozen.

malalaThe best way to solve problems and fight against war is through dialogue. –Malala Yousafzai

wes-andersonThere’s no story if there isn’t some conflict.  — Wes Anderson

mandelaIf you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. — Nelson Mandela

baruch-spinozaPeace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. — Baruch Spinoza

mikhail-baryshnikov Be good. To yourself, to other people, to everything you do. It’s a norm of life by which people should try to live. Don’t waste time. Be interesting and interested. — Mikhail Baryshnikov

spike-jonzeI don’t know what life was like 1,000 years ago, but I imagine there was the same struggle: people trying to connect with each other. — Spike Jonze

jimi-hendrixWhen the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.  — Jimi Hendrix

john-hurtI’m only alive out of curiosity I’m curious where we’re all marching. — John Hurt, RIP

anne-frankDespite everything, I believe people are really good at heart. — Anne Frank

bowieGentleness clears the soul. Love cleans the mind. And makes it free  — Davide Bowie

piet-mondrianThe position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel. — Piet Mondrian (Also true for mediators!)

marc-chagallIf I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. –Marc Chagall