Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Mechanism of Impact

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence376 is elevated when conflict interventions create safe spaces for the facilitated expression of emotional states, provide trainings that enhance the external perceptivity and internal regulation of such states, encourage social perspective taking,377 and ambiently model378 constructive emotional frames both during and toward conflict. Service recipients’ elevated emotional literacy, in turn, enhances their sense of perceived justice,379 reduces their probability of subsequent harmful escalations, rebalances their criminogenic risk profiles, and results in lower rates of offending.380

Facilitated expressions of complex, difficult emotional states are the cornerstone upon which much of the success of conflict- assistive interventions rest.381 They depend upon participants’ bravery and facilitators’ responsive intrasession navigation. The expressiveness elicited through the RHPP is particularly notable, though seemingly routine mediations are not without their own exposed and deftly tended quicks. The benefit of these facilitated expressions lie in their ability to re- humanize and re-individuate contested others382 and in their contribution to greater perceptions of justice, both of which contribute to reductions in the probability of future violent or otherwise harmful exchanges.

Trainings that sophisticate Theory of Mind executions383 and assist in the regulation and constructive expression of one’s own emotional states contribute to the prevention of future criminal activity. Training content used by the service providers contains numerous topics along these lines, including content on empathy,384 kinesics and vocalics,385 conflict management strategies,386 perspective taking, and many others.


376. A revised definition of emotional intelligence, as provided by Mayer and Salovey (1997), is as follows: “Emotional intelligence involves the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”

377. Social perspective taking is a common technique employed in conflict-assistive services that offers numerous benefits, many of which directly contribute to not only the resolution of the presenting conflict, but the further development of participants’ overall emotional intelligence. Some of the specific benefits of social perspective taking, as outlined by Roan and colleagues (2009), include: cooperation, promotion of moral reasoning and development, encouragement of altruistic behavior, reductions in prejudice, and facilitation of conflict resolution.

378. According to Tony Yost, Training Director at the NYPI, “Procedurally and interpersonally modeling for the clients the Institute’s values is one of its primary goals.” Not simply noble, effectively modeled emotional intelligence has a direct effect on targets’ preference for integrative approaches to conflict management (Rahim, M.A., et al., 2002).

379. Efforts to influence offenders’ emotional competencies may contribute more than improved perceptions of procedural justice. It may also provide what Sherman (2003) has termed ‘emotionally intelligent justice,’ “the explicit recognition and management of the effects of emotions in causing the behavior of both officials and offenders.”

380. Our appreciation for the nuanced relationship between criminal offending and empathy (i.e. the cornerstone of emotional intelligence) is evolving. Still, some of the more careful investigations have noted strong correlations between low cognitive empathy and offending, as well as a more modest correlation between low affective empathy and offending (Jolliffe, D., Farrington, D.P., 2004).

381. The success of service providers in securing clients’ active engagement on sensitive topics is, in part, a product of their strong deference toward empowered self-determination. From such a position, clients can explore the content of their conflicts and begin to explore their options for how they may more productively respond to future conflict stimuli (i.e. informed ‘choicefulness’; Sparrow, T., Knight, A., 2006).

382. Both victims and offenders benefit from participating in providers’ expressive-friendly interventions. For example, one-on-one interaction between victims and offenders helps re-individuate the offender and subsequently increases their sense of personal agency over the harm induced. This is in opposition to the traditional systematic processing of crime through amorphous institutions that serve to deindividuate offenders, allowing them to avoid self-blame through clarifying behavioral responsibility within a broader social narrative of an us versus the system construct in which the offender maintains negligible influence or responsibility. In short, deindividuation commandeers personal agency through a collective narrative. For an articulate review of this process, see: Wortley, R. (1996).

383. Theory of Mind (ToM) refers to the cognitive capacity to perceive and attribute mental states to oneself and others (Goldman, A.I., 2012). Though a hallmark of early childhood development, the continued development of ToM into adulthood assists in navigating increasingly complex social interactions and demanding conflict contexts. Activities such as perspective taking and other interpersonal skills commonly included mediation trainings can help enhance the spontaneous, sophisticated application of ToM that is, unfortunately, often absent among adults (Keysar, B., Lin, S., Barr, D.J., 2003).

384. Criminologists view empathy as a protective factor, such that when its combined cognitive and affective attributes (Cohen, D., Strayer, J., 1996) are sufficiently present, it decreases the “probability of certain types of criminal behavior, [as the] ‘ability to imagine the distress of another may inhibit harmful behavior’” (Jolliffe, D., Farrington, D.P., 2004; citing Blackburn, R., 1993). Specifically, a high level of “empathy is negatively related to aggression, externalizing and antisocial behaviors, and enactment and receipt of physical abuse” (Miller, P.A., Eisenberg, N., 1988); and a low level of empathy is strongly correlated with violent offending (Jolliffe, D., Farrington, D.P., 2004).

385. The importance of nonverbal body language and vocalizations has been widely studied by conflict professionals. Their subsequent training of others (e.g. community members, criminal justice actors, education personnel, and offenders) in the importance of these signals serves to enhance those recipients’ emotional intelligence in ways that discourage participation in and enhance constructive responses to criminal activity.

386. Findings reported by Desivilya and Yagil (2005) “indicate that emotional states are closely linked to conflict management or resolution strategies” (Nair, N., 2008), such that positive emotions correspond with cooperative strategies, both positive and negative emotions correspond with competitive strategies, and negative emotions correspond with avoidance strategies.