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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.”