Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents


Evaluation Objectives

This evaluation of MOCJ’s ongoing investment in community dispute resolution and Peacemaking services was designed with several primary objectives in mind, broadly identified as seeking to diagram, diagnose, and further distribute service providers’ impact.

Mapping the Programmatic Landscape

The first objective is to compile a comprehensive catalogue of relevant programming offered by the five supported service providers. Producing such a catalogue provides a number of benefits. First, it reveals to MOCJ the breadth of expertise and programming present amongst their existing partners; factors to leverage and laud in subsequent criminal justice initiatives. Second, it identifies potentials gaps in services to key demographics, geographies, or policy priority areas that could become the focus of future development efforts. Third, it encourages the organizations themselves to think more strategically about their programs and their various roles within and probable impacts upon the criminal justice system.

Identifying Categories of Impact

The second objective is to answer whether the contracted services are capable of reducing the criminal activities and inclinations of those in direct receipt of or otherwise collaterally affected by such interventions. From a policy perspective, understanding the scope and scale of this impact is critical to determining its ideal position within MOCJ’s own portfolio of intervention investments. Nominal impact may suggest that the historically sidelined placement of these organizations within that portfolio is objectively justifiable. Outsized impact, on the other hand, would suggest the current level of institutional utilization artificially bridles these organizations’ true utility, to the detriment of future victims, offenders, and their networks alike.

Identifying Mechanisms of Impact

The third objective is to propose a series of Theories of Change (TOCs)5 for how the impact from these organizations is functionally achieved. Should the evaluation validate that dispute resolution and restorative justice services do constructively influence criminal activity, it is important for the service providers to more fully appreciate how that influence occurs. Revealing the functional mechanisms of crime prevention and their susceptibility to service provider manipulation can help facilitate more effective interventions by those providers.

Recommending Smart Practices and Next Steps

The fourth objective is to develop a set of policy and programmatic recommendations to further enhance the investment in and impact from the assessed service providers. These recommendations will be grounded in the latest research and in smart and promising practices from the variety of fields examined through this evaluation. They will be both theoretically and objectively informed; drawing from the preceding TOCs by targeting impressionable mechanisms, and responding to material organizational needs identified through extensive stakeholder interviews and document reviews. When implemented, they will serve to ensure the policy and practical aspirations of these MOCJ partnerships are more thoroughly and reliably actualized.

Evaluation Methodology

Achieving the aforementioned objectives is ambitious in both proposition and parameter. To proposition, this evaluation seeks to comprehensively identify the range of prevention-relevant impacts from both community dispute resolution and restorative justice oriented programming which operate within varied geographic contexts and engage a clientele as diverse as the City itself. To parameter, the evaluation has been structurally constrained to conclude – from award to report – within a curt six-month window.

Rapid Ethnographic Assessment

Navigating within these conditions, the chosen methodology was a rapid ethnographic assessment with heavy reliance upon the integration of extant service provider and criminal justice system data. This approach allowed for a broad, research-informed, narrative-focused, and data-augmented review of the programs, while also producing actionable recommendations for both MOCJ and the service providers. While the rapid design satisfied the key structural limitation of the evaluation, its ethnographic nature ensured it would benefit from the contributions of a broad network of stakeholders variously situated to experience impact of differing sort and strati. It also meant the assessment could incorporate a mixed methods approach, including literature reviews of the applicable research corpora, a document review of both internal and externally-facing programmatic materials, multimodal interviews, observations of numerous services, online surveys, and various data analysis techniques.

As with any methodology, a rapid ethnographic assessment itself presents certain limitations. Most notably, this includes the difficulty in categorically quantifying impact specific to the reviewed programs. To address this limitation as responsibly as possible, this review employs extensive referencing of studies from conceptually and contextually sistered services implemented elsewhere that have themselves secured statistical certainty. Thus augmented, the abilities of a rapid ethnographic assessment to empirically, holistically, and hastily address the identified objectives, and to produce actionable, insightful recommendations, are roundly supportive of its choice for this foundational evaluation.

Evaluation Milestones

To achieve these objectives, an aggressive timeline of mixed evaluation methodologies was employed. Collectively, they coalesce to produce a moving snapshot of the service providers’ practice and impact.

Literature Reviews

From its very beginning, the abbreviated nature of this evaluation ensured reference to external research would be critical. Care was taken, however, to refrain from artificially limiting the spheres of potential influence through exclusively focusing on the obvious fields of contributing research, namely criminology, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and restorative justice (RJ). Though these were heavily reviewed and constitute much of the resulting foundation upon which the findings and hypotheses are built,6numerous additional fields were also explored and imprinted their own unique frames. In total, nearly 600 peer- reviewed studies and reports from a broad range of fields were reviewed for their insights and creative inspirations.

Document Review

A review of the service providers’ own materials was undertaken, including over 2,000 pages of internal and externally-facing materials related to program administration and assessment. These materials included MOCJ proposals, budgets, contracts, and quarterly reports; training materials; client, mediator, trainee, and program-specific evaluations; screening protocols; annual reports; and responses to a custom evaluator-designed reporting instrument intended to uniformly capture prevention-relevant information from each of the providers.

Stakeholder Interviews

Over 160 interviews were conducted with stakeholders representing key constituencies, including MOCJ administrators; service providers’ executive and front-line staffs; Board members; volunteer conflict coaches, circle facilitators, mediators, and Peacemakers; clients and their support networks; trainees; traditional criminal justice system representatives, including judicial officers and their personnel, legal aid and prosecution staff, and police and probation officers; school administrators and teachers; and other key referral partners. These interviews were multimodal, using both one-on- one and small group settings, and occurred in- person (85%) or through telephone or email. They were wide-ranging in content and duration, including everything from wonkish procedural reviews to impassioned, tearful testimonials, and lasting as long as three hours.

Training and Service Observations

So much of the power of mediative and restorative interventions lay in the dynamic, unscripted exchanges scrupulously shielded by confidentiality’s closed doors. As a result, much of the research from these practice areas tends to be theoretical or autoptic retrospectives. Direct observation by external evaluators is as rare as it is brilliantly illuminating. Witnessing the subtle, yet significant shifts intrasession, the rediscovered humility of shared humanness, and the creative co-conspiracies toward less conflicted tomorrows, is to experience the capacity of these services, the craft of their facilitators, and the courage of their recipients.

Entrusted by staff and mediators, and always in deference to party preference, this evaluation was fortunate to have been able to incorporate direct observations of numerous services, including conflict coaching, mediation, Peacemaking, and restorative practice-oriented support circles. In almost every instance criminal activity – whether previous, ongoing, or threatened; alleged or affirmed – was of cardinal or collateral concern. The product in nearly every instance was, in part, a discussion surrounding and resolution addressing the underlying conflict that gave rise to those criminal incidents and inclinations. As such, these observations provided an invaluable opportunity to witness firsthand the powerful forces which link conflict to criminality, and the equally powerful mechanisms employed toward their decoupling.


To help augment the extensive qualitative interview and observational data, custom online surveys were also utilized. These surveys explored select aspects of ongoing and notable conflict experiences, including their context, duration, outcome, and severity; inclusion of aggressive behaviors; incidents of and predictions on future law enforcement involvement; and support for judicial and third- party intervention services, to name a few. Over 12,000 responses from New York residents were analyzed and have been incorporated throughout this report’s numerous segments.

Figure 2. Evaluation Milestones

The mixed-methods approach of this evaluation assembled data and insights from observations, interviews, extensive literature and internal document reviews, and micro-surveys on targeted areas of investigation.


5. A Theory of Change (TOC) is a “comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out... what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how [those] lead to desired goals being achieved” (Center for Theory of Change, 2016).

6. Additional academic and practice fields consulted in the performance of this evaluation included cross- sector partnerships, demography, instructional pedagogies, knowledge management, legal studies, morality, network sciences, organizational development, psychology, policing, public affairs, social policy, sociology, victimology, and numerous others.