Mediation Helps Inmates Create Better Lives Upon Release

Prison inmates about to return to the outside community are being offered opportunities to prepare for success through a new mediation program. Mid ShoreCommunity Mediation Center is working with Community Mediation Maryland (CMM) and the Talbot County Department of Corrections to provide no-cost re-entry mediation to prisoners before their release.
While job and housing programs have been available for released inmates, CMM Executive Director Lorig Charkoudian noted that this is the first program that specifically addresses the relationships that often are key to providing support and encouraging successful re-introduction into the community.

“The first 24 hours after release are critical,” said Charkoudian. She emphasized that actions taken within that initial period can determine the individual’s success outside of prison. The importance of those first decisions made by released inmates has driven the effort to bring mediation inside correctional facilities to work with prisoners prior to their release.
Family members may request re-entry mediation; however, Charkoudian wryly noted that the inmates are a captive audience for mediation’s message. Flyers are distributed to them describing the mediation process and benefits. Those interested in participating contact their correctional officers, who in turn get in touch with Mid Shore Mediation.

While the program is new to mid-shore facilities, re-entry mediation has been growing as a resource for about four years and is now being offered in eight state and three local Maryland institutions.  Statistics are still being compiled on recidivism effects for the new program, with initial reports being positive.

According to Choice Research Associates, which is contracted to serve as an independent evaluator of the CMM Prison Re-entry Mediation Program, of the 864 inmates who were educated about the mediation services from February to September 2009, 290 accepted the invitation to participate. Inmates participating in re-entry mediation have been found to be better prepared for release, more hopeful for the future and better able to think through their options.

“Generally, inmates really do intend to do things differently,” said Charkoudian. Without compromising the confidentiality that is one of the hallmarks of the mediation process, she described the first mediation recently conducted within the Talbot CountyDetention Center. “The inmate was a repeat offender who clearly recognized that he needed to do things differently and couldn’t do it on his own.”

Inmates can use mediation to reach out to family members and friends to diffuse anger, mend relationships and create plans for their lives on the outside. The MediationCenter contacts those with whom the inmates need to work on issues.

About half of those contacted agree to participate, a statistic not unlike that for other types of mediation.
Charkoudian indicated that some of the standard issues worked out in the mediations are communication, living arrangements and addiction. On occasion, some inmates recovering from addiction may use the sessions as a way to tell other users with whom they have previously associated that they can no longer maintain the relationships while the others are still using. “That says a lot about the shift in thinking that inmates have made about what they need in order to be successful,” she said.

Sometimes the actual crime for which the inmate is serving time never comes up in the course of the mediation. “Unless the inmate feels it is part of what they need to talk about,” Charkoudian noted, “we don’t ask.”

Alwinta Lake and Connie Miller are AmeriCorps volunteers who are working with Mid Shore Mediation on its re-entry services. Lake described one of the Center’s first re-entry mediations, which took place outside of prison between an inmate and his girlfriend on the day he was released. “They wanted to reach an agreement right away for the sake of their relationship,” she said. “They agreed to work on their communication issues, and subsequently decided to get married.”

The Mediation Center will offer specialized training for its mediators on April 28 in order to begin handling the expected demand for its re-entry mediation services. The volunteers often also are trained in parenting plan mediation, as issues frequently involve the inmate and spouse working out child-rearing plans. The nonprofit organization expects eventually to expand the program to Caroline and Dorchester counties’ detention facilities.

Lake thanked Talbot County Department of Correction’s Captain Leone Tillman for his efforts in getting mediation up and running there. Charkoudian particularly commended the Department’s Director, Douglas Devenyns. “Having worked with correctional facilities across the state, I am incredibly impressed with Director Devenyns, Captain Tillman and the staff in being willing to try something new and making it happen so quickly,” she said.

CMM’s vision is to begin the mediation process as soon as the individual is incarcerated. “We want to work with inmates to help them change their lives while they are there,” Charkoudian explained. By setting up a series of mediation sessions over six to twelve months prior to their release, inmates can begin working on plans for their future outside of the correctional facility and make the transition more successful.

Charkoudian described one grandmother of a repeat offender, who had told her that every other time that her grandchild had been released, it had been terrifying, with the family not knowing what to expect. After re-entry mediation, the woman had found the entire experience different, with everything planned out and appointments made and kept.

Follow-up services are offered and available upon request by the inmate or family.

After a re-entry mediation with his girlfriend to work on their relationship, one inmate was surprised at the positive outcome. “I think it’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” he said. “I didn’t think it would do any good. I didn’t expect this.” For area inmates and their families, Mid Shore Community Mediation Center is now able to offer one more tool to help them create better lives for themselves.

For more information on mediation, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mediator, call Mid Shore Community Mediation Center at 410-820-5553 or visitwww.midshoremediation.org.

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