Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents


Crime is a grim symptom and glaring signal of conflict.1 These symptoms contort casual encounters, pain private moments, and become the broadcast of harrowing headlines that sow fear within and suggest the futility of the communities they affect. In each of their many forms, preceding and streaming forth from criminal offenses are underlying, often unattended conflicts with context and consequence that lies well beyond the imputed criminal codes they often eventually acquire. Destructive conflict is the provocation for a vast number of criminal activities, the fuel for reflexive cycles of harm, and a substantial deterrent to participants’ and the broader public’s quality of life. Addressing these conflicts, then, is key to preventing crime, to stemming recidivistic behaviors, and to securing greater states of personal and social safety. Through their well- studied abilities to transform destructive conflict and distribute constructive skillsets, resolution- and restoratively-oriented approaches to conflict engagement are powerfully performant mechanisms for criminal justice policy and prevention practice.

This report presents the merged and consonant findings from two concurrent evaluations of the capacity of local community dispute resolution and restorative justice organizations to influence crime within New York City (NYC), both at the Borough-wide and specific Catchment Area levels. It serves as a review of these service providers, their eclectic programming, and the long-standing investment from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) that supports their interventions.

After establishing the character and contour of this evaluation, the report provides an overview of key concepts connecting conflict with crime and its prevention. It introduces each of the evaluated service providers and their respective programming, including: Community Mediation Services (CMS), the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution (IMCR), the New York Center for Interpersonal Development (NYCID), the New York Peace Institute (NYPI), and the Red Hook Peacemaking Program (RHPP) (collectively throughout: ‘service providers’). A review of their prevention relevant programming and targeted geographies is provided. Next, the empirical evidence for and NYC experience with twenty categories of impact are presented as accessible two-page policy briefs full of supporting references and nuanced endnotes. Beyond answering whether the studied interventions influence crime, a set of twelve known and newly hypothesized mechanisms are then presented to more fully articulate how this influence occurs. These mechanisms represent functional Theories of Change to help move administrators from aspirational abstractions of their criminal justice contributions to an analytical appreciation of the ground truths that gird and guide their actualization. Finally, as a policy- oriented evaluation, the report concludes with a set of policy and programmatic recommendations intended to align future investment and performance with providers’ broader potential.

This report is approachable either in its substantial whole, or as a series of deep-dives into its largely discrete segments. It employs extensive endnotes to balance the competing needs from those seeking executive-level overviews and those desiring detailed research findings and in-the- weeds implementation guidance. These endnotes read as exploded-view concept diagrams, revealing behind a word,2 turned phrase,3 or statistic4 nuance, implications, and many, many supportive citations. In total, the following contents provide both a strategic and sweeping review of the use of conflict intervention as a powerful, proficient approach to crime prevention.


1. Here, and throughout this analysis, crime, criminally relevant activity, and their resulting legal implications are contextualized as eminently relational and sociological in nature. From this stance, the centrality of conflict to criminal activity is firmly rooted within the cannon and threads the expanding horizon of criminology theory. From the conflict theory of criminal law (Sheley, J.F., 1995), crime events theory (Byun, S., 2014), dispute transformation theory (Felstiner, W.L.F., Abel, R.L., Sarat, A., 1981), general strain theory (Agnew, R., 1992), interpersonal conflict theory (Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J., 1990), nested ecological theory (Dutton, D.G., 2006), routine activities theory (Cohen, L.E., Felson, M., 1979), theory of criminogenic needs (Andrews, D.A., Bonta, J., 2010), theory of peacemaking criminology (Quinney, R., 1989), unified conflict theory of crime (Vold, G., Bernard, T., 1986), and many others, the influence of and consequence from conflict upon the risks and realities of crime is widely acknowledged and studied.

2. At more than 70,000 words (excluding its 568 citations), this report is one of the weightier works of recent note from within the alternative dispute resolution realm, and possibly the most extensive review of community dispute resolution consequence ever. Through its coverage, the author is hopeful readers will discover many interesting connections, insights, and statistics; discoveries that propel further investigation and deepen appreciation for both the services the reviewed and similar programs and practitioners provide their local communities, and the opportunities they represent for those in need of help. Ultimately, regardless this report’s performance on the tests of attention and time, for the interest that led you to this moment right here, ‘thank you.’

3. Among the many enjoyments of this project and the resulting report, have been the opportunities to think creatively about the many ways mediation and other conflict assistive interventions affect the clients, collaborators, and communities they serve, and the liberty to then articulate thusly. In this vein, the author hopes readers enjoy – or at least excuse – such creative indulgences as ‘agentic choicefulness,’ ‘annexated endearment,’ ‘constructive propagation,’ ‘criticality interference,’ ‘decidivative interventions,’ ‘Dukian cousins,’ ‘effectuative scarcity,’ ‘heirlooms of harm,’ ‘justice- adjacent institutions,’ ‘low-dose anticonflictants,’ ‘proactive civersion,’ ‘procedural palliation,’ ‘rescuitive justice,’ ‘signal ministrance,’ ‘social stenocentrism,’ ‘sublimated criminalism,’ ‘synchronously prosarcuate,’ ‘therapeutic interactionism,’ and ‘upregulative offloading.’

4. While the primary methodology of the informing evaluations was ethnographic in nature, it has been supplemented through extensive reference to existing and originally sourced datasets. These include analyses of data from the service providers themselves, 311, criminal courts, the Criminal Justice Agency, MOCJ, NYC Analytics, NYC OpenData, NYPD, NYS Unified Court System, NYS Division of Criminal Justice, numerous other City and state entities, and commissioned surveys of NYC and NYS residents covering various evaluation-related topics.