Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Institutional Impact – Criminal Justice System

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Their decidedly modest implementations notwithstanding, restorative interventions are widely acclaimed throughout the justice ecosphere. Further integration of restorative practices into the criminal justice system has been advocated through frames of fiscal responsibility,179 gender180 and racial181 equality, religious doctrine,182 social justice,183 and the cold social science of evidence-based assessments.184 Calls for their use have originated from law enforcement officers, district attorneys, criminal court judicial personnel, correctional and probation officers, educational and housing officials, and their respective associations.185 Further, through shifting both agency and action toward the interests of offense-proximal participants,186 these interventions have also been well received by defense bars187 and victims advocates alike.188

Whether these interventions are incorporated as wholesale diversions or titrated procedural supplements,189 restorative interventions are first-class justice practices190 enhancing the justice system’s preventative capacity.191 As detailed in the subsequent report sections, restorative practices achieve this through enhancing public perceptions of procedural justice,192 providing conflict skills training to law enforcement and prosecution officials, and easing the systemic burdens associated with traditional justice processes.193

NYC Performance and Potential

The NYC criminal justice system is replete with opportunities to further improve citizens’ justice experiences, reduce recidivism, and enhance community safety.195 For example, the nearly 800,000 annual negative police encounters that elevate the affected citizens’ criminogenic risk profiles could be improved through advanced officer de-escalation and communication trainings. The more than 170,000 annual criminal plea dispositions could more consistently include provisions for offender conflict skills training. The more than 10,000 prisoners returning to City life each year could benefit from structured support network conversations that contribute to re-entry success. Service providers stand ready to assist in these and other contexts; ready to provide communication and de-escalatory skill trainings, conflict coaching, and to facilitate sensitive, high-stakes conversations.

While the scale of these opportunities far outpaces their current capitalization, service providers have already demonstrated their capacity to contribute positive outcomes for the local criminal justice system. In furtherance of MOCJ’s primary objective,196 service providers have begun training NYPD officers in communication and de- escalation skills, they serve as productive partners with DAs, have steadily rebuilt their criminal court presence, and continue to provide prevention- oriented programming for the DOP. Through these and other efforts that augment traditional processes and ease systemic pressures, service providers have become important contributors to the overall preventative capacity of the criminal justice system; freeing it to more thoroughly focus on matters of imminent, index, and greater institutional importance.

“Better integrating the Institute into the City’s criminal justice system is about further distributing conflict competence and re-humanizing the justice-seeking experience.”

- Tony Yost, Mediator Education Coordinator, NYPI

Figure 22. NYC Criminal Justice System Events and Intervention Prospects194

Criminal justice system complexity presents numerous opportunities for service providers to supplement specific institutional processes and support an overall reduction in the harmful criminogenic consequence from the public’s involvement in those processes. This visualization identifies nine NYC-specific opportunities, the context of those targeted events, their scale, and the potential applications of providers’ interventions that would improve those event experiences.


179. “With a growing need for fiscal responsibility and cost effective alternatives [within the criminal justice system], the restorative model represents an appealing change” (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1997).

180. The victim-empowerment focus of many restorative justice processes is viewed by many as strongly aligned with the feminist movement and its critique of the traditional criminal justice system. See: Daly, K., Stubbs, J. (2006).

181. The Movement for Black Lives (2016) has woven support for restorative justice into its platform as a mechanism of community democratization, empowerment, and investment.

182. In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a detailed statement “encouraging innovative programs of restorative justice that provide the opportunity for mediation between victims and offenders and offer restitution for crimes committed.”

183. Braithwaite, J. (2000).

184. See supra note 12 and accompanying text detailing WSIPP’s designation of VOM and RJ as ‘evidence-based’ practices.

185. Support for alternative dispute resolution and/or restorative justice processes within criminal justice contexts is widespread throughout NYC and broader New York State. A non-exhaustive list of criminal justice networks and key offices that have indicated such include: the Association of New York State Youth Courts; Citizen's Committee for Children of New York; Correctional Association of New York; New York City Bar Association; New York City Department of Probation; New York City Mayors Office of Criminal Justice; New York City Police Department; New York Civil Liberties Union; New York County Lawyers’ Association; New York Legal Assistance Group; New York State Bar Association; New York State Defenders Association; New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision; New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services; New York State Office of Children and Family Services; New York State Office of the Attorney General; New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children; New York State Police; New York State Trial Lawyers Association; New York State Unified Court System; Queens County Bar Association; and The Governor's Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice.

186. “The demands to punish for punishment’s sake persist as almost a ‘bread and circuses’ spectacle for a distant audience..., remote from the people involved in a crime, even though victims and others close to an offence feel more restrained by emotions of empathy and sympathy for the offender” (Sherman, L.W., 2003; referencing Karstedt, S., 2002; and Strang, H., 2002). By shifting this focus to these offense-proximal participants, such as through encouraging greater use of mediation and integrating more restorative ideals, the system can be viewed as a more responsive purveyor of justice.

187. The New York State Defenders Association (2016), for example, maintains a staffed restorative justice project, that implements restorative programming and training.

188. This expanded focus on crime survivors has broad appeal within victim services circles. A recent testament to the appeal of restorative interventions amongst victims advocates is its prominence within a multistakeholder, two-year, nationwide study examining more victim-centric approaches to the traditional criminal justice system, wherein restorative justice was framed as having “the greatest potential for creating functional alternatives to the old paradigm” (Clark, P., et al, 2014).

189. Depending on the timing of the intervention, restorative services produce a moderately better reduction in the frequency of offender recidivism when used as a supplement to traditional processes rather than a wholesale diversion from those processes (Sherman, L.W., et al., 2015b). When these measured, responsive interventions are used, they moderate the risk of response-triggered career escalations.

190. Christian, T. (1986).

191. A mounting collection of empirical and theoretical material is supportive of the notion that restorative interventions are more preventative than classical criminal justice interventions (Bosnjak, M., 2007).

192. Procedural justice is an important concept influential in service providers’ ability to impact individual participants and institutional partners. Simply, it relates to participants’ perceptions of the fairness of the procedures used to arrive at a particular, separately assessed result. Factors that improve participants’ perceptions of procedural justice include: “the opportunity for participation/voice; the neutrality of the forum; consideration by the third party of the participants’ views, concerns, and evidence; and dignified and respectful treatment toward participants” (Kruse, K.R., McAdoo, B., Press, S., 2015; citing Tyler, T.R., 2000).

193. Compared to traditional processes, the use of mediation in criminal misdemeanor contexts, for example, “results in the use of fewer court and law enforcement resources in the short and long terms” (Charkoudian, L., LaChance, H., Walter, J., 2016).

194. Criminal justice system events are based on data and estimates calculated from the following sources: (1) Negative Police Encounters (i.e. NYPD arrests, criminal summonses, and actionable SQF encounters) (Malik, M.Q., 2015); (2) Negative Police Encounters, No Formal Action Taken (i.e. non-actionable NYPD SQF encounters) (New York Civil Liberties Union, 2016a); (3) District Attorney Declined to Prosecute (Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2016); (4) Plea Dispositions (Barry, J., 2015); (5) Defective or Insufficient Summonses (Barry, J., 2015); (6) Case Dismissals (Summons Court: Chauhan, P., et al., 2015; Criminal Court: Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2016); (7) Criminal Court Diversions (Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2016); (8) Probation Sentences (Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2016); and (9) Prisoners Reentering NYC (You, Y.A., 2015).

195. Ideally, legal institutions will have a positive – or at least neutral – effect, rather than a negative one (Wexler, D.B., Winick, B.J., 1996). Unfortunately, traditional criminal justice services often fall short of this objective, especially when assessed by their preventative performance. By serving as collaborative outlets to channel troubling cases and justice seeking clients, mediation and restorative justice programs can minimize traditional institutions’ unintended, yet undeniable anti-therapeutic effects (Birgden, A., 2009).

196. As outlined in MOCJ’s originating Request for Proposals (released 2014-12-23, PIN: 0021510002) to which the successful service providers responded, “MOCJ’s overall objective is to further develop and refine services to improve the effectiveness of the criminal courts by engaging appropriate cases in lieu of court processes while offering a forum to work with aggrieved parties in order to reduce the probability of escalation/retaliation and increase satisfaction with the judicial system” (New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, 2014).