Since 2006, the Victim-Offender Mediation Program at the Center for Dispute Resolution (CDR) has aimed to reduce recidivism and increase restitution follow-through in the Springfield community.
The program at Missouri State University uses mediation between the victim and offender to come up with a restitution agreement. Dr. Charlene Berquist, director of the CDR, says that there is a big difference between the process they use and what happens in court-ordered restitution.
“The reason that it’s [restitution completion] so much more likely in these kinds of cases is because an individual has sat across from a victim and they have worked together to create what the agreement or repair the harm will be and they’ve committed to that. And when you’re looking somebody else in the eye, when you have control and input into the kind of agreement, you’re much more likely to follow through on it.”
In 2006 the completion of restitution agreements was at 30 percent. The center says that cases there have now reached almost 99 percent completion.
Cases are referred by the court system that often include first or second-time offenders at the misdemeanor level. Out of those handled at the CDR, no offender has committed the same crime again and the low amount of recidivism has been limited to lesser crimes.
Programs like these often focus on juveniles because there is a sense the process is more likely to change the person, but Berquist states she has found it successful also at the adult level.
“We hear from Juveniles all the time who have participated in this program, but also adults, that hearing from the victim made it much less likely that they would commit this crime again, and we see that borne out in statistics about recidivism,” said Berquist.
The program expanded just two years after it began. At the prosecutor's prompting, the program opened up to adult crime referrals. KSMU reached out to the prosecutor’s office but did not receive comment by deadline.
Another measure of success is the high satisfaction level for victims and offenders as well as the benefits it offers the public.
The CDR seeks volunteers for this program and offers victim-offender mediation training. One volunteer is former MSU Communications Instructor Deborah Craig. She has participated for a little over 10 years.
“I know Dr. Berquist adds new ideas and new programs at the center all the time and it’s just a wonderful place; it’s a wonderful place to be, it’s a wonderful place to volunteer, and it’s a wonderful asset for our community.”
She described a recent mediation where juveniles had vandalized a holiday display of an elderly couple. She said the victims as eager and knowledgeable about mediation.
“They wanted that conversation, they wanted to see the offenders and they wanted to talk to them about how much that short period of time that took them five minutes to destroy the decorations that had taken this family years to collect and how much that affected not just the people that lived in that house but their neighbors, and their family members, and their grandchildren, and their children, and the entire community, actually,” Craig said.
Craig describes the feeling of mediation extremely satisfying, especially when people come with negative feelings and stereotypes then leave in a different way.
“I’ve never been at mediation when I did not see personal transformation one way or another in the people that are having the conflict.”
The CDR began as a community organization in the 1990s called the Center for Conflict Resolution. The CCR was nearly dissolved by 2000, and the organization sought the Communication Department at MSU to take up the mission of mediation.
“A central feature is how can this particular offender or offenders, how can they repair the harm that’s been done; not just to the victim but to the larger community,” Berquist states.
Berquist’s ideas of victim-offender mediation include applications on a larger-scale. She offers a historical example.
“After 9/11 and since in communities there have often times been major conflicts that emerge between Muslim populations and other community members and dialogue; facilitated dialogue, facilitated circles have been used as a way to be able to talk about issues to express feelings about how it feels like to be a Muslim after 9/11 and to have people sort of paint you with that broad brush, and what it feels like to be a community member to have fear,” Berquist says. “So those kinds of open dialogues can be really powerful in understanding perceptions and in moving forward in really positive and productive ways.”
Craig also emphasizes the importance of community.
“Everything the center does absolutely everything they do down there; this has to do with building and maintaining a safe community for everyone here,” says Craig.
The CDR has multiple programs that are geared toward community outreach including involvement in the public school system, and child welfare, juvenile and adult court programs as well community mediation and workshops. Volunteer positions are available.