With increasing frequency, Mediation is being utilized to resolve civil disputes. The reluctance of parties and attorneys to utilize the services of a neutral third party to facilitate settlement negotiations is slowly fading away and mediation is becoming an accepted part of the administration of civil disputes. As mediation has become more acceptable, the dialogue has failed to recognize the benefits of using mediation techniques is equally valid when applied to the criminal justice system.
“Restorative Justice” which is a catch phrase encompassing effort to de-emphasize the punitive aspects of the administration of the criminal justice system, includes, among other things, processes which encourage offender and victim interaction. The Community Court model invites greater involvement between the party impacted and the criminal defendant during the process of prosecuting the case. The misdemeanor criminal docket can definitely benefit from the use of the mediation process. Imagine a system where the criminal defendant and the victim of his crime are encouraged to sit down together as part of the prosecution of the case and express how the experience has impacted them. In fact, this does happen
There are many “criminal” cases that are ripe for the mediation process. Take for example, a neighbor who files a criminal complaint against his next-door neighbor who habitually trespasses; landlord-tenant disputes that escalate to a breach of the peace charge; or mischievous teenagers who decide it would be cool to knock down mailboxes. All of these examples are criminal in nature but do not have to be resolved within the normal confines of the criminal justice system. Neutral third parties can meet with the parties with the goal of diffusing the situation and creating a better relationship for the future. In most instances, just “punishing” the offenders does not get to the core of the anti-social behavior that gave rise to the criminal charges in the first place.
Western North Carolina is no stranger to using mediation services to address criminal conduct. In North Carolina, like elsewhere, citizens can file criminal charges against other citizens for such things as noise complaints, child custody interference, shoplifting, etc. In these cases, the prosecuting attorney can request that the presiding judge refer the matter to court ordered mediation. (See Smoky Mountain News, November 7, 2018, “Mediation Valuable Service in Criminal Justice System”.). The jury is still out, but it is highly suggestive that having offenders and victims communicate will lead to a more tranquil society and fewer repeat offenders.