Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Institutional Impact – Criminal and Summons Courts

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Conflict-assistive services are familiar interventions223 that help relieve crowded criminal and summons court dockets and improve both victim and defendant perceptions of procedural justice. Their use provides much-needed practical relief for defendants who suffer the carceral224 and collateral consequences225 of their alleged crimes, and for a court system increasingly burdened by delays,226 detentions,227 and increasing public derision.228

Specific to docket relief, service providers achieve their criminal court impact by preventing criminal activity, collaborating with earlier-stage institutional partners, minimizing required case- level judicial actions,229 and eagerly receiving court-directed diversions. Of additional note, is providers’ ability to reduce criminal court strain through their active civil court programming. There, provider interventions address the frequent coincidence of litigants’ criminal allegations and reduce the probability of post- dispositional retaliatory and related criminal activities through their production of more durable, holistic, and satisfying outcomes. In this way, providers engage in a form of ‘proactive civersion,’230 preempting crime and criminal justice system involvement through civil court diversionary procedures. Through these activities, service providers help alleviate the burden of criminal court docketing delays and the many consequences associated therewith.

NYC Performance and Potential

Community dispute resolution centers and restorative justice programs have been productive partners with criminal courts throughout New York for over thirty-five years.231 Though their recent partnerships have been less active,232 opportunity remains. For example, at the Red Hook CJC, up to 90% of cases referred to Peacemaking are dismissed following the233 successful completion of that intervention.

Recent reform efforts targeting the NYC Summons Court234 network could be further enhanced through partnership with service providers. For example, defendants named in criminal summonses235 that fail defect or facial sufficiency reviews could be notified of the availability of conflict coaching or other conflict assistive services alongside delivery of their formal rejection/dismissal notices. In 2015, 55,468 such notices were delivered.236 Though these summonses lacked the legal or technical rigor to further advance criminal proceedings, they represent in many instances an interpersonal conflict or conflict skills deficit which initially attracted the attention of law enforcement, and which likely remains worthy of a conflict assistive intervention. Including service providers’ contact information on these notices would be a substantive step to increasing service awareness amongst a continuing or newly – as a result of the initial summons issuance – at-risk population that is positioned to slip through this system crack until their now more probable future offense.

“Peacemaking is so phenomenally successful we keep looking for more and more new ways to apply it.”

- Judge Alex M. Calabrese, Red Hook Community Justice Center

Figure 25. Sliver of Criminal Court ADR/RJ Referrals

Less than 0.15% of criminal arraignments in NYC are referred to ADR or RJ services. This is a result of significant institutional hurdles such as non-standardized referral encouragement or protocols and the denial to some providers of adequate or any operating space within court buildings. Combined with the May 2011 closure of the Court Dispute Referral Centers that resulted in an 80% decrease in these referrals, providers continue to be structurally constrained in demonstrating their potential within criminal court contexts.


223. Jurists familiar and comfortable with therapeutic jurisprudence (Brookbanks, W., 2001) should find themselves in close conceptual company when considering mediation and restorative justice referral opportunities, as much of their respective core beliefs are near Dukian cousins. Indeed, community dispute resolution centers can be viewed as a form of ‘therapeutic interactionism,’ extending the collective well- being-focused approach of therapeutic jurisprudence to a continuum of legally-ir/relevant disputes and distributing its preference for constructive problem-solving back into the community and into the capable, empowered hands of those directly affected.

224. Though a majority of those arrested on misdemeanor charges are released from custody by the conclusion of their arraignment hearing, those who remain do so for reasons of financial hardship rather than fear of further harm visited upon their victims or their community, a reality former Chief Judge Lippman lamented as the “worst of all worlds.” For an analysis of the inability of subfelony offenders to satisfy even nominal bail impositions, some as low as $50, see: Turkewitz, J. (2014). Chief Judge Lippman’s comments: Rivera, R. (2013).

225. The automatic imposition of “hidden sentences” (Kaiser, J., 2016) and other collateral consequences stemming from contact with the criminal justice system are of increasing interest to policymakers and researchers alike. These consequences can accumulate at every stage of system contact, from arrest (Jain, E., 2015) to prosecution (Jain, E., 2016), conviction (Chin, G.J., 2012), and re-entry (Samuels, P., Mukamal, D., 2004), and entail a burdensome mix of civil hardships affecting academic, employment, housing, immigration, insurance, lending, licensing, parenting, public assistance, relationships, social standing, voting and many other realms for not only the – sometimes merely or incorrectly alleged – offender, but their family members, as well. For a more thorough review of the more than 1,300 New York specific collateral consequences (at least those subject to Congressionally mandated monitoring), see: American Bar Association (2013).

226. Underneath recent improvements in arrest to arraignment processing times (Barry, J.A., 2016), NYC Criminal Courts are struggling to ensure expeditious dispositions of their historically swollen misdemeanor case volumes. For a review of the challenges therefrom and potential remedies thereto, see: Hamburg, D. (2015).

227. In 88.7% of criminal arraignments where bail is set, the defendant is unable to meet the bail requirement (New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc., 2016), even when bail is as low as $50 (see supra note 224 and accompanying citations). Affecting over 40,000 defendants annually, these detentions further strain individuals’ criminogenic profiles and the City’s systemic resources.

228. A popular movement in the U.S. for criminal justice reform is continuing to develop. Beliefs that the system is ‘too tough’ have more than doubled over the past decade (McCarthy, J., 2016, October 20) and reform packages are regularly being proposed and implemented by those representing both local (New York City Bar, 2015) and national interests (The White House, 2016).

229. For criminal misdemeanor cases, those sent to mediation are five times less likely to result in judicial action and five times less likely to result in demands for jury trials than non-mediated cases (5.3% v 29%, and 2.4% v 13%, respectively; Charkoudian, L., LaChance, H., Walter, J., 2016).

230. Civersion, a portmanteau of civil and diversion, is the active resolution or preemption of criminal matters using civil legal processes or their sanctioned correlates such as mediation. Service providers actively civert criminal cases through their work in small claims and other civil courts, as many of those cases include allegations or admissions of harassment, threats, vandalism, violence, and other criminal activities. Left to the limited remedial imagination (Menkel-Meadow, C., 1984) characterizing most high-volume civil court remedies, many of these issues would be narrowly addressed at best, and wholly unacknowledged at worst. Civil court mediation programs, on the other hand, are able to more fully explore these issues and create in/formal resolutions to minimize their future frequency and weight.

231. CDRCs have partnered with criminal courts throughout the state since at least the early 1980s when then Chief Administrative Judge Joseph W. Bellacosa lauded their contributions in diverting thousands of cases from the overburdened courts (Goldfarb, K., 1986).

232. Unfortunately, criminal court personnel appear far less interested in actively engaging service providers now than they have in the distant past. For example, a victim-offender mediation program partnering with the Brooklyn Criminal Courts in the late 1970s and early 1980s referred an average of 46 felony(!) cases each week to the then service provider IMCR (Davis, R.C., Tichane, M., Grayson, D., 1980). Today, NYPI – the current Kings County Criminal Court service provider – reported only 285 referrals in its criminal court program for the entire year of 2015. Though programs understandably fall out of favor over time with the publishing of disappointing results or the introduction of even more effective interventions, neither of these factors should have reasonably resulted in the observed decline. Original research from the 1970s VOM program presented an overall glowing picture of the program and its performance at both the individual and institutional levels. Countless reports, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses in the intervening nearly 40 years has reinforced VOM, RJ, and other conflict-assistive interventions as “compelling and effective alternatives to court in all measured outcomes”...when utilized (Poulson, B., 2003).

233. Lambson, S.H. (2015).

234. In 2015, MOCJ began a collaborative effort to reform the focus and function of NYC’s eight summons courts to ensure the ‘turnstile justice’ of these ‘broken-windows courts’ is delivered more efficiently and fairly (O’Brien, R.D., Shallwani, P., 2015).

235. There are 44 agencies throughout NYC that are authorized to issue criminal summonses. While NYPD is by far the most prolific issuer, cost- and prevention-effective diversionary mediation or restorative service intervention referral systems could be developed for many of the other authorized agencies. For a complete list of these agencies, see Barry, J.A., 2016, p. 32.

236. Notices of rejection by summons defect or dismissal following initial judicial review are delivered by the Citywide Summons Operation. Of the 55,468 insufficient summons notifications delivered in 2015, 15,656 (28%) were for a summons defect (missing a signature or narrative, or improper return date), and 39,812 (72%) were for failing an initial judicial review. See: Barry, J.A. (2016).