Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Individual Impact – Service Population

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Providers deliver numerous benefits to their general service population, including: durable,60 high quality,61 inclusive,62 and satisfying63 outcomes; cost64 and time65 savings; greater procedural,66 and provider67 satisfaction; improved access to justice;68 the thoughtful integration of social justice concerns;69 and many other premiums.70

In their engagements with clients, service providers incorporate many of the same approaches used in the latest, most effective interventions specifically designed for crime prevention. This includes employing cognitive- behavioral techniques such as modeling and role- playing desired behaviors and skills;71 addressing dynamic risk factors such as impulsivity72 and poor communication skills;73 refining interpersonal skills such as perspective taking;74 developing practical alternatives for coping with stressors;75 encouraging the assumption of responsibility;76 and involving family members to resolve damaging family conflicts.77 Through these techniques and their influence upon psychological and sociological processes, mediative and restorative interventions dismantle criminal motivations instead of temporarily or territorially discouraging criminal methods.

Providers employ these techniques regardless whether clients’ criminogenic needs or criminal histories are explicitly known. In this way, many of their services have been preventing crime well before that objective had been prioritized.78

NYC Performance and Potential

The vast majority of day-to-day conflicts addressed by service providers involve allegations or admissions of harassment, theft, vandalism, violence, and/or other criminal conduct. This prevalence occurs even without purposefully targeting participants from crime- riddled neighborhoods or those with obviously elevated criminogenic risk profiles. For service providers, these are routine conflicts between neighbors, separating couples, students, and small claims litigants. Addressing these matters prior to their eventual entry into the criminal justice system not only minimizes the burden these conflicts would otherwise impose upon that system, but also minimizes the criminogenic risks and harms such conflicts inflict upon conflictants.

Where such targeting does occur, such as through providers’ Catchment Area and at-risk-oriented services, the coupling of conflict and criminality is even closer still and their effective, timely decoupling all the more critical. This decoupling occurs, for example, as a result of CMS’ multi- domain approach, IMCR’s populace appeal, NYCID’s ambassadors of Peace, NYPI’s renewed criminal court activity, and RHPP’s push into Red Hook housing. Service providers’ new and renewed efforts are an important component of MOCJ’s conflict-oriented approach to crime prevention, and of the City’s broader efforts to enhance local quality of life.

Whether as fact, fabrication, or flourish, the presence of criminality in conflict dynamics entrenches hostility, increases fear, and self- prophesizes its own fruition and furtherance. Indeed, as conflict events are the primary contributor to near-term criminal escalations, constructive conflict engagement is critical to effective crime desistance and prevention.79 In this way, the availability of and robust institutional support for conflict assistive services targeting the broader public is key to effective primary prevention efforts in NYC.80

Conflict-based interventions do more than discourage criminal methods; they dismantle criminal motivation.

Figure 15. Serviceable Conflicts by Actual Intensity Descriptions78

By constructively and creatively addressing a broad range of conflicts – identified here using individuals’ actual descriptors – and through relying upon a diverse network of referral partners, service providers minimize the escalation of conflict into crime.


60. A meta-analysis examining agreement compliance in restorative justice contexts reported compliance with restitution arrangements was 33% higher than court-based restitution declarations (Latimer, J., Dowden, C., Musie, D., 2001).

61. Developing research into the composition and quality of mediation agreements is slowly nudging the dispute resolution field from its abiding fetish with simple agreement rates (see, for example: Poitras, J., Le Tareau, A., 2009). Deeper examinations into the multidimensional quality and overall value-addedness of these agreements are allowing practitioners greater insights into how to cultivate the contributing conversations and more effectively memorialize their full measure. In doing so, they are also further contributing to overall participant satisfaction and further differentiating these more deliberative processes from the deterministic ones they seek to substitute.

62. Mediative and restorative processes encourage the surfacing, exploration, and incorporation of non-statutory considerations in the discussion and disposition of conflict. This outcome inclusiveness – notably more present in lengthier, person-to-person (as opposed to business-to-business) interventions (Adrian, L., Mykland, S., 2014) – can be demonstrated by the 11% increase in non-traditional forms of restitution for victims participating in VOM (Strang, H., et al., 2013), the integration of non-monetary provisions in 65% of contract cases (Wissler, R., 2002), and the endlessly creatively ways participants incorporate tailored resolutions to their unique ongoing conflicts. For more on the creativity of these alternative processes and their outcomes, see: Fritz, J.M. (2014).

63. A meta-analysis of the psychological impact of restorative justice services reported participant satisfaction for these services were often three to four times higher than that reported by participants of traditional justice processes (Poulson, B., 2003).

64. Cost savings from mediative interventions is one of the most persistent, prominent metrics examined throughout the ADR field. One representative example of the reports on this measure is attorney-estimated cost savings from civil court mediation programs in California. There, cost savings from successfully mediated cases were as high as 75% to 95% compared to projected un-conciliated cost trajectories (Anderson, H., Pi, R., 2004).

65. The expedient disposition of court-involved cases through the use of referrals to mediation has been widely studied. Compared to traditional litigation procedures, mediation can help expedite final case disposition up to one month faster for general civil cases (Slack, L., 1996), three months faster for family law cases (Supreme Court of New Jersey, 2005), and up to 18 months for workers’ compensation cases (Hanson, R.A., 2000), to name but a few contexts.

66. One report from a 10-year research program on community mediation noted the ability of organizations to impart favorable perceptions of procedural fairness was essential to those programs’ long-term success (Pruit, D.G., 1995).

67. Among victims participating in restorative justice processes, mediators or third-party facilitators are viewed favorably 2.3 times more frequently than judges. This climbs to six times more frequently among offenders (Poulson, B., 2003).

68. The importance of community mediation programs in providing accessible justice to access-constrained individuals has long been featured in ABA access to justice recommendations (American Bar Association, 2002).

69. As outlined by (Bush, R.A.B., Folger, J.P., 2012) the mechanisms through which mediation can serve to enhance social justice, include (1) its opportunity to educate participants about structural influences of conflicts (Chesler, M., 1994); (2) its attempt to refashion empowering, inequality-busting narratives of participants’ conflicts (Winslade, J., Monk, G.R., 2000); and (3) the mediator activism of encouraging the incorporation of non-present, yet likely affected disadvantaged stakeholder perspectives into the design of fair resolutions (Susskind, L., 1981). Though segments of the ADR field are firmly rooted in this framework, the centrality of social justice concerns to programs’ objectives and their abilities to effectively manipulate these mechanisms varies widely in practice.

70. For the latest review of mediation research, including its numerous benefits, see: Wall, J.A., Dunne, T.C. (2012). For an extensive bibliography of studies on court-related mediation programs and their impact, see: Shack, J.E. (in press).

71. The successful use of cognitive-behavioral techniques in crime prevention and desistance programming is widely studied and roundly acknowledged. For more on these techniques, see: Andrews, D.A., et al. (1990); Barwick, H. (1999); Hema, L. (1999); Lipsey, M.W. (1992); Lipsey, M., Landenberger, N.A., Wilson, S.J. (2007); McLean, A.P., Grace, R.C. (1998); Redondo, S., et al. (1997); Sherman L.W., et al. (1998); and Zampese, L. (1998).

72. Impulsivity management is of increasing importance for younger generations and the ever more digitally connected among us, as the consequences of poor impulsivity management have the potential to spread and scale unlike ever before. This is captured in the newly coined condition of ‘ampulsivity’ by McCandless (2016), which warns that “online, impulses can be enacted without resistance, and also amplified instantaneously into action, leading to behaviours – and even lives – strongly patterned by amplified digital impulses.”

73. For extended discussions of dynamic risk factors, their compositions, and their influence on criminal activity, see: McLaren, K.L. (1997); McLean, A.P., Grace, R.C. (1998); Sherman L.W., et al. (1998); and Zampese, L. (1998).

74. The development of more perceptive, refined interpersonal skills can be a powerful tool of prevention by elevating empathic abilities, reducing miscommunication, and marginalizing common escalation pathways, among others. See: Hema, L. (1999); McLean, A.P., Grace, R.C. (1998); and Palmer, T. (1994).

75. Daily stressors and their associated strain play a leading role in motivating criminal and other disorderly behaviors. Developing actionable alternative approaches that moderate these stressors and minimize their associated strain are key to preventing routine crime (Barwick, H., 1999).

76. Taking responsibility for one’s actions – particularly harmful actions – can have sobering, prevention relevant consequences, especially among youth engaged in criminal or other delinquent activities (Barwick, H., 1999).

77. Family life is an influential domain in the development of criminogenic risk, not least because of the intimacy of the relationships involved and the relative length of routine exposure. Engaging family members in addressing criminogenic needs emanating from within that domain is an equally influential counter (Barwick, H., 1999; Howell, J.C., et al., 1995; and Zampese, L., 1998).

78. The conflict descriptions included in this visualization are from surveys of New Yorkers that asked respondents to briefly describe the nature of personal conflicts at specified intensity levels ranging from one (i.e. ‘minimally intense’) to ten (i.e. ‘extremely intense’). The indicators of service providers’ dependence upon personal and professional referral sources, as well as the average intensity threshold for individuals’ self-referral to mediation services, are based on aligned surveys as visualized in Figure 3 and discussed in supra note 10.

79. For first-time adult-onset offenders ‘events’ are the most significant contributor to criminal activity (Harris, P.M., 2011). This is in contrast to the majority influence commanded by developmental, environmental, and lifestyle factors among early onset youth offenders. Therefore, particularly for adults, service providers’ conflict interventions are essential to crime prevention, as it is these very events that present the greatest potential for violence and other criminal escalations.

80. “Nearly half of all offenses were committed by unconvicted males. Therefore, while it would be justifiable to target intervention programmes on high-risk persons who are likely to get convicted, it would also be desirable to implement primary prevention programmes targeting the whole community” (Farrington, D.P., et al., 2006).