Restorative justice like victim-offender mediation is more impactful and easier to implement than expanding the civil courts systems. The aim is to develop policies that work towards managing case backlog among other systemic issues that prevent timely achievement of justice. VOM has been found by numerous researchers to consume fewer resources than the alternative. It has also been found to be well supported by communities.
The Civil Courts of New York
The civil court of New York is divided into two sections: small claims and housing. He mission of the civil court system of the city of New York is ‘to provide timely and effective justice to everyone who comes before the court’ (NYCourts). According to the New York Law Journal, fewer cases are filed every year but the backlog remains despite numerous efforts by the administration (Friedman, 2019).
The victim-offender mediation (VOM) method of alternative resolution involves a meeting between the offender and the victim (Bright, n.d). The meeting is facilitated by a qualified mediator. Just like in other methods of alternative dispute resolution, this process is entirely voluntary and the mediator does not direct the process. The aim of this is to achieve resolution and justice through other means that do not involve sentencing. The process will usually start after conviction but in some cases to avoid prosecution, it may start before the process is that far gone. However, there are conditions that must be met before VOM can be considered. The process must not induce more harm on the victim. Both parties must concede to process voluntarily. Both parties must be able to gain constructive benefit from the process. If appropriately executed, this method has been found to reduce recidivism (Dijk et al., 2019).
Implementation of VOM will cost less than adding infrastructures in the system to support an alternative. To understand this, here is an example (Jackson-Green, 2015). In the event of a destruction of property case, one may be sent to jail because in most cases they are not able to cover the cost of the damage. If a new person is sent to jail everyday then by the end of the year, there is less space in the facilities and a need for more space is warranted. If VOM is implemented, this person and the victim could talk and come to an agreement of how the offender can work to gradually pay off the damage. This reduces the need for more facilities as such cases are settled through restorative justice. In Texas the restorative justice programs have lowered recidivism to less than half the national average. If there is no recidivism then that means that the system does not spend resources on repeat offenders. The city of New York might need to hire more mediators and people who would monitor the progress of the resolutions and achievement of justice. However, this does not come close to the cost of building new jails as well as maintaining them to house new offenders. Research done to implement a pilot program in Illinois revealed that the state could save $780,500 in incarceration costs per annum (Jackson-Green, 2015).
If a judge is spending less time presiding over a case then it means that they have more time to preside over additional cases. This solves the question of case backlog. The victim-offender mediation method only requires mediator assistance and officials to monitor the process after the fact. That means that the only requirement would be to hire people. Expanding the civil court system would first be restrained by the budget. It would also be restrained by due process and bureaucratic procedures. It would take a long time to get approval to expand anything or even add to the infrastructure. Approval for new hires would take far less time. This means that relief on the system would happen sooner with implementation of VOM.
Length of Process
Usually victim-offender mediation happens by referral (Bright, n.d). This will usually be after conviction on in cases where the offender officially admits to the offence. This means that the usual court proceedings must happen. Therefore, the process of VOM can begin after the first step which is pleading. If an official admission to the offence is submitted at this stage then the case can be referred to VOM instead of going through the entire process. Otherwise, the process continues through the discovery and pretrial stages. At the pretrial stages, there may be meetings with the judge about settlements. The offender’s lawyer may suggest VOM at this point so that the court is aware that both sides are willing to concede to this form of mediation. If every party is in agreement then the rest of the process goes fast and smoothly as the judge knows what the end is supposed to look like. Conviction is delivered quickly and the process begins. The process is then cut significantly as no more time is spent deliberation and considering the evidence. This reduces the time between the arrest and resolution of the case which then leaves more time for other cases. It may take some time to notice the changes but shaving a day or two or even a few hours off each case will be substantial.
In Texas, the Bridges to Life program is based on victim-offender mediation. The usual resolutions ae compensation, compensation or even volunteering at preferred charity. There is lower re-offense. Report from a privately funded experiment revealed that victim felt that the offender was held responsible under this model. The model was also found to be fair and just according to both victims and offenders in Bethlehem. Research has found that the victim is bound to be less afraid or angry after the VOM exercise.
VOM views crime in the civil setting as a destruction of the relationship between people. The process is therefore designed to repair those relationships. VOM works towards reintroducing and reintegrating the offender back into the community. In the usual ways of the justice system, the offender would be alienated as a criminal and would therefore find it hard getting back into society (Miethe et al., 2000). This would hinder their efforts of changing their ways. Issues like employment would be easier as there would be no stigma hanging over them. For the juvenile offenders, they would have the benefit of continuing with life at school and in the community without ugly labels and other adverse effects. Successful reintegration reduces the chances that there will be a recurrence of crime by the same offender.
There may be cases where the offender sees VOM as the easy way out or a ‘get out of jail free card’. This is the cost or risk of implementing VOM. All mediation is based and rooted in humanity (Umbreit, 2001). The absence of basic humanity then stalls the process. It is not easy to discern and differentiate between genuine offenders and the alternative. There is always a risk that the offender will return to their ways of crime. Therefore there should be a stipulation that repeat offenders who have been referred to VOM have to go through due process the second time with direr consequences for their actions.
Juvenile cases would be most proffered for this kind of program. Children have been found to be easier to rehabilitate.
There are of course bureaucratic procedures to follow before this can be implemented. It might take some time before VOM can be approved for the New York civil court system. This is due to the fact that there is already a program working towards reduction of backlog which seems popular despite the fact that it seems to require more money every fiscal period. The problem here would be garnering support from the higher ups that are in support of their colleague’s program.
Handling mediation between offenders and victim especially for the juvenile section of the system will not be easy. Some funds will need to be allocated to train the existing mediators and new mediators who can properly handle children and the pre-adults. However, in the grand scheme of things the finances might not be significantly comparable to the current situation.
VOM is all about repairing the relationship between the offender, the victim and the community. All communities want their children to have a chance at a better future where they are not marred mistakes from childhood (Umbreit, 2001). Therefore, the only challenge here could be resources required to reach the communities. The mediators with their training could be handy in this regard.
Case backlog would be gradually managed through VOM. Every mediator would be required to keep and submit proper records of their cases complete with the resolutions. The same would apply to monitoring of progress.
Parties external to the case could threaten the security of the offender as they would have trouble understanding the choice to use VOM as opposed to the usual treatments. Therefore, in cases where the safety is threatened the offender would remain in custody until resolution. Attendance of the sessions would also be regulated to only the parties and their parents. Lawyers would not be mandatory as is he case with regular mediation.
Bright, C. (n.d). Victim Offender Mediation. Centre for Justice & Reconciliation. Retrieved 31 July, 2019, from http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-3-programs/victim-offender-mediation/#sthash.bl21gEke.dpbs
Dijk, J., Zebel, S., Claessen, J., & Nelen, H. (2019). Victim–Offender Mediation and Reduced Reoffending: Gauging the Self-Selection Bias. Crime & Delinquency (Online). Retrieved 31 July, 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128719854348
Jackson-Green, B. (2015). Restorative justice means restitution for victims, cost savings for taxpayers. Illinois Policy. Retrieved 31 July, 2019, from https://www.illinoispolicy.org/restorative-justice-means-restitution-for-victims-cost-savings-for-taxpayers/
Miethe, T. D., Lu, H., Reese, E. (2000).
Umbreit, M. (2001). The Handbook of Victim Offender Mediation: An Essential Guide to Practice and Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc
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