Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

Linkedin | Google | ORCID

Table of Contents

Institutional Impact – Probation and Corrections Departments

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Nearly 1 in 20 American adults will experience some form of incarceration each year237 and nearly 1 in 3 men have already been arrested at least once in their life.238 Such mass incarceration, the burgeoning costs of corrections, and its escalating portion of the public purse, present an unavoidable challenge to punitive correctional policies and rhetoric;239 a challenge to which restorative approaches to crime are uniquely positioned to respond.240 Indeed – at least within the realm of property and nonviolent crimes – the preference for restitution-oriented responses to mass incarceration is long and widely held within public opinion, despite more punitive public policies to the contrary.241

When integrated into front-end criminal justice practices (i.e. police, prosecutorial, and criminal court diversions), mediative and restorative interventions can serve as an effective component of community-based sentencing242 and smart decarceration.243 For example, mediated criminal misdemeanor cases are nearly ten times less likely to result in supervised probation or jail sentences than non-mediated cases.244 Within correctional environments, service providers can help design innovative applications of de-escalatory services.245 Finally, on the back-end, these services can be invaluable at ensuring the smooth, supported reintegration of prisoners back into their communities. For example, re-entry mediation can reduce released prisoners’ rates of re-arrest (13% reduction), subsequent conviction (15%), incarceration (10%) and returns to prison for new arrests (12%) or technical violations (30%).246

NYC Performance and Potential

Late stage interventions such as probation and corrections-oriented services have not been the traditional focus of service providers’ preventative orientation. Still, some programs are already actively involved in this area, and numerous examples exist to diversify and deepen their impact.

In terms of potential, mediated criminal misdemeanor cases are nearly ten times less likely to result in supervised probation or jail sentences than non-mediated cases.248 Based on NYC misdemeanor probation sentences alone, this suggests that if criminal courts had made mediation more widely available, over 550 supervised probation sentences could have been avoided in 2015, producing an annual marginal cost savings of $1.2 million.249

Already, both CMS and NYCID have proven themselves productive partners to the DOP- supported ARCHES and NextSteps programs. CMS, in particular, has recently improved its work in this area by cross-serving these young adults with coaching services now available through its Catchment Area initiative. By addressing multiple risk factors situated in multiple domains of these clients’ lives, CMS’ preventative impact achieves a dose-response multiplier effect.

Finally, in corrections, service providers contribute to the ‘Peace Dividend’ of preventative interventions that help lower NYC jail and NYS prison populations.250 One notable opportunity to further their impact in this area would be to develop a re-entry mediation service similar to that pioneered in Maryland; a service with which NYPI already has direct staff experience.251 Explicit support for this type of partnership would go a long way to ensuring those at greatest risk receive the greatest opportunity to finally conclude their criminal careers.

Figure 26. Impact of Mediation Referrals on Probation Sentences247

The diversion of criminal misdemeanor cases to mediation services has been shown to reduce the probability of probation and carceral outcomes by up to 90%. For NYC, such a reduction could result in over 550 fewer probation sentences and produce an annual probation-related savings of more than $1,200,000.


237. Epperson, M.W., Pettus-Davis, C. (2015).

238. Drawing on a nationally representative same of U.S. adults aged 24 to 34, Barnes and colleagues (2014) report that 30% of men have already been arrested at least once, while the overall “prevalence of lifetime arrest for males (43%) was more than two times that of females (17%).” In that study, racial/ethnic group membership was identified as playing a significant factor in the lifetime risk of being arrested.

239. In response to the increasingly unsustainable trajectory of contemporary corrections, concurrent shifts have occurred within criminal justice policy that re-emphasize economic considerations and de-emphasize the political punitive discourse; a pivot Aviram (2010) coined “homonetarianism.”

240. Generally, “reducing the incarceration rates and avoiding imprisonment to the greatest extent possible is well within the stated goals of restorative justice ” (Gabbay, Z.D., 2005). Specific to overcrowding, the use of “restorative justice and, more specifically, the positive effects of victim–offender mediation [is] one possible solution to prison overcrowding” (Mullane, R., et al., 2014).

These broadly aspirational statements notwithstanding, some commentators have cautioned against adopting too optimistic a view of the capacity of these programs to meaningfully counter the deeply embedded institutional and societal forces propelling overcrowding. For example, see Wood’s (2015) discussion of restorative justice’s ‘transformation assumption.’ Still, while such cautionary commentary does largely reflect RJ’s current practice reality, it also represents an opportunity to think more creatively and strategically, and to act more purposefully in advocating for an expanded future role for RJ within the criminal sphere.

241. Explorations of the public opinion/policy divide between support for and implementation of restorative and restitution-oriented responses to select property and nonviolent crimes have been conducted for at least forty years. The key finding replicated throughout that time and across many Western countries is that opinion has been more progressive in its majority endorsement of such approaches than local policy has applied. For a review of some of this early work, see: Bae, I. (1992).

242. “Community-based sentences have more potential to reduce re-offending than custodial sentences” (McLaren, K.L., 2000). Prosecutors and criminal court judicial officers are powerfully placed to incorporate mediation, restorative services, and conflict skills training into offenders’ negotiated or ordered community- based sentencing packages.

243. Smart decarceration is a movement to reduce the U.S. jail and prison populations, redress economic and racial criminal justice disparities, and maximize public health and safety (Pettus-Davis, C., Epperson, M.W., 2014).

244. “The predicted probability of a case resulting in supervised probation or jail-time is 0.9% for a mediated case and 8.3% for a non-mediated case” (Charkoudian, L., LaChance, H., Walter, J., 2016).

245. One example of community/corrections innovation was the co-training in conflict skills for correctional staffers and inmates at a therapeutic prison, which had the effects of increased staff reports of safety and support, reports of increased understanding of staff and their roles from inmates, and an enduring improvement in the social climate (McWilliam, N., Nielssen, O., Moore, J., 2015).

246. These effects were observed after just a single mediation session, compared to the performance of prisoners who did not mediate. Each additional mediation session reduced the likelihood of arrest, conviction and incarceration by 8%, 9%, and 7% respectively. These positive impacts continue to influence the probability of released offenders’ subsequent engagement with the criminal justice system for at least three years post- release. In short, “reentry mediation “is an effective tool for reducing the costs of involvement in the criminal justice system to the individual, their families, and the community” (Flower, S.M., 2014).

247. In 2015, 485 probation sentences and 147 probation plus jail sentences were assigned to criminal misdemeanor cases (Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2016). Given the average NYS marginal annual cost of local supervised probation services ($2,168; Schabses, M., 2013) and the effectiveness of mediation to reduce the predicted probability of criminal misdemeanor cases resulting in supervised probation or carceral sentences (Charkoudian, L., LaChance, H., Walter, J., 2016), the expected, probation-only cost savings of implementing a robust mediation diversion program for NYC criminal misdemeanors could be as much as $1,233,592 annually.

248. “The predicted probability of a case resulting in supervised probation or jail-time is 0.9% for a mediated case and 8.3% for a non-mediated case” (Charkoudian, L., LaChance, H., Walter, J., 2016). In NYC, this is incredibly enticing, as only15% of all cases arraigned throughout the City involve felony-level offenses (New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc., 2016).

249. This projected savings is almost certainly a drastic underreporting of actual potential, as it only includes the cost savings accrued through probation-related expenses, excluding any incarceration-related cost savings also resulting therefrom (reported to be $165 per day per offender [Henrichson, C., Delaney, R., 2012]; see also supra note 247). As the referenced research indicates a comparable decrease in disposition probability for jail-time sentences, the true potential from diverting criminal misdemeanor cases may be several times higher.

250. “One aspect of what [former] Commissioner Bratton calls the ‘Peace Dividend’ flowing from reduced crime is that the New York City jail population is down by 45%, and the New York State prison population is down by 25%” (New York City Police Department, 2015).

251. NYPI’s Training Director, Tony Yost, had previously worked with Community Mediation Maryland’s efforts to establish re-entry mediation services for inmates of that state. His passion for that work and his personal connections with law enforcement helped progress that program’s development and could be further leveraged to achieve similar inroads and successes here in NY, as well.