The Minneapolis Center for Victim–Offender Mediation was established in 1985 by the Minnesota Citizens Council on Crime and Justice. The Center is based upon the larger framework of restorative justice, which allows victims to come face-to-face with their offender in the presence of a mediator. The main objective of the Center is to empower the victims as they search for closure, stress to offenders the harm they caused, and compensate victims for the crime they experienced by making offenders pay restitution.
Victim–offender mediation is a subset of the restorative justice framework. Both victim–offender mediation and restorative justice are based on the idea that crime is more than an offense against the state; crime is also an offense against a person, and therefore parties involved in the offense should be brought together to discuss the offense, its consequences, and establish a plan for the future. Restorative justice holds the belief that empowering victims as they seek answers and closure, as well as having offenders take responsibility for their actions, is more important than harsh punishments for the offender. Such an approach does not solely focus on a victim’s loss or an offender’s guilt. Instead, it seeks to benefit both parties as it focuses on a problem-solving plan for the future that allows the victim to feel a sense of closure and receive compensation, while also allowing the offender to understand the harm caused and learn how to be a law-abiding citizen in the future (Umbreit and Coates 1993; Umbreit, Coates, and Roberts 2000).
The Minneapolis Center for Victim–Offender Mediation is one of the first victim–offender mediation programs operating in such a large jurisdiction (it operates in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.). The Center is operated by private, non-profit community based organizations that work closely with the juvenile court. The majority of mediation cases are referred by the juvenile court and probation staff, with a small number of referrals coming from the prosecuting attorney or police. The program operates as a diversion program for juvenile offenders, as well as a program following adjudication of juvenile offenders. Mediators receive approximately 20–25 hours of training to function as a mediator.
The program operates with a four-phase process: intake, preparation for mediator, mediation, and follow-up. The intake phase involves the referral of juvenile offenders from courts in Hennepin and Ramsey counties to the Minneapolis Center for Victim–Offender Mediation. During this phase, each case is assigned to a specific mediator who has received the 25 hours of initial training. The preparation phase involves the mediator meeting separately with both parties to hear their versions of the offense story independently, while also explaining the procedures of the program and finalizing a date for the mediation to take place. The mediation session, which typically lasts an hour, begins with a discussion of the facts and feelings surrounding the crime. Mediation creates an open environment where both parties are brought together and barriers to communication or various stereotypes are broken. Following the initial discussion of the crime, a restitution agreement is reached between both parties. Finally, the follow-up phase includes ensuring that the restitution agreement is followed, as well as scheduling additional mediation sessions if needed.
During the initial year of the program, only juvenile burglary cases in which a plea of guilty had been accepted by the court—yet prior to a disposition hearing—were accepted. However, due to these referral limitations, only a small number of cases were referred to the program. As a result, the program was changed to accept any property offenses or minor assaults that were committed by a juvenile. Additionally, referrals are accepted at any point in the juvenile justice process.
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Umbreit and Coates (1992) found that participating in the Minneapolis Center for Victim–Offender Mediation appears to have a positive impact on a juveniles’ future criminal behavior. At the 1-year mark following completion of the mediation, 22 percent of offenders who participated in the victim–offender mediation program recidivated, compared to 34 percent of offenders in the non-referred comparison group. However, this finding is not statistically significant.
Offenders in the mediation program were significantly more likely to complete their restitution obligation than offenders in the comparison groups who were also ordered by the court to pay restitution. Specifically, 77 percent of the mediation program group completed restitution agreements compared with 55 percent of the non-referred comparison group, a significant difference.
Mediation had a significant impact on victim satisfaction with the juvenile justice system. Eighty-five percent of mediation victims expressed satisfaction with how their case was handled, compared with 64 percent of victims in the referral/no mediation comparison group and 61 percent in the non-referred comparison group (all differences were statistically significant).
Mediation also appeared to have a positive impact on offender satisfaction with the juvenile justice system; however, the impact was not as great as victim satisfaction, and not statistically significant. Eighty-seven percent of offenders in mediation indicated they were satisfied with how their case was handled, compared with 80 percent of offenders in the referral/no mediation comparison group, and 78 percent in the non-referred comparison group.