Recently released statistics on the Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire’s Community Conferencing program indicate that the initiative makes a key difference when utilized by area youth.
Community Conferencing, which is overseen by Mediation Center Youth Programs Director Crystal Commodore, provides a safe and structured space for people involved in a conflict or crime to meet and resolve the incident. The process helps people respond to destructive behavior in constructive ways by inviting everyone who has been affected to the conference and encouraging them to share their feelings and thoughts. Community Conferencing can be used to resolve a multitude of situations, such as minor assault, breaking and entering, shoplifting, property destruction, burglary, trespassing and auto theft.
The program, which is a currently a partnership of the Mediation Center and Chatham County Juvenile Court, has reduced the recidivism (criminal relapse) rate of program participants to 13.5 percent. From August 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018, the program saw 59 youth participants ages 7-17 (and 209 other participants, such as others affected by the incident and support resources) and resulted in over 187 charges being mediated. Ninety-seven percent of conferences ended with resolution agreements signed by all involved parties.
Community Conferencing helps participants resolve a variety of charges, such as burglary, assault/ battery, weapons possession, vehicle theft, robbery, arson, credit card theft and obstruction of an officer. Those who take advantage of the program may be referred through a juvenile court probation officer, a law-enforcement officer, someone from the district attorney’s office, the school system, or a community member, such as a parent or youth leader. Conferences are held in neighborhood locations for accessibility and comfort of the parties and have been held at Hubert Middle School, Windsor Forest High School, the Teacher’s Federation, Live Oak Public Libraries, West Chatham Middle School, the Pembroke Library, Juvenile Court and the Mediation Center.
“Over 96 percent of conferences result in an agreement, and over 91 percent of those who help to develop the agreement end up fully complying with it,” Mediation Center Executive Director Jill Cheeks said.