Victims Meet Offenders In Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s New Community Conferencing Program

Mid-Shore Pro Bono is offering a new service to help people resolve conflicts. Community Conferencing brings victims and offenders, whether adults or juveniles, together in a safe neutral setting that permits all parties involved in an incident to have a say in making things right.

Alicia Myers is Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s new Community Conferencing Project Coordinator. She is a trained Community Conferencing facilitator and enthusiastic about offering the new program for the first time on the Eastern Shore.

A grant from the Department of Family Administration at the Administrative Office of the Courts supports Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s participation. The agency is collaborating on the project with the Community Conferencing Center of Baltimore, on whose model Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s program is based.

“This program has been hugely successful in Maryland for fifteen years,” Myers explains, reporting that 95 percent of the model program’s conferences have ended in agreements, with a 96-percent rate of agreement compliance.

In Community Conferencing, victims have an opportunity to meet with their offenders and speak to them about how the offender’s actions have impacted their lives. All parties can discuss what happened, how everyone has been affected and how best to resolve the matter to keep it from happening again. A trained facilitator supports the parties as they reach their own agreement about what needs to be done to repair the harm.

If an agreement is reached, it is put in writing and signed. The Project Coordinator follows up with the participants to see if the agreement is kept. When the agreement is followed, the Project Coordinator alerts the court or referring agency that the case has been resolved and can be closed.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case is returned to the referring agency and whatever usual procedures that otherwise would have been followed are pursued.

Cases may be referred to Mid-Shore Pro Bono for Community Conferencing from the courts, State’s Attorney’s offices, Department of Juvenile Services, county police departments, the school system and other agencies. Individuals also may request Community Conferencing on their own initiative.

Myers emphasizes the importance of allowing people the opportunity to resolve their conflicts together, using the power of communication to heal. The conferences take place in a neutral setting, such as community centers or publicly available meeting rooms, in close proximity to the parties involved. Both victims and offenders are encouraged to bring supportive family members, friends or others who were affected by the actions in question.

“The benefits of Community Conferencing for everyone involved are substantial,” notes Myers. “Victims feel more a part of the process, rather than like bystanders. It’s less expensive to the community when cases can be kept out of the court system. And it brings offenders face to face with the effects of their actions. When people hear personally and directly what the effects of their behavior have been, they are much less likely to repeat the offense.”

A Maryland Department of Juvenile Services study shows that youth who participate in Community Conferences are 60 percent less likely to commit the offense again than those who go through the standard system.

Even more important, Myers adds, is that solutions stick when those who are affected are able to take part in the process of creating them.

Community Conferencing will be offered in all five counties of Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s service area—Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester.

For more information, call Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s Community Conferencing Project Coordinator at 410-200-5027 or visit www.midshoreprobono.org.

In photo: Working together to bring Community Conferencing to the Mid-Shore are, left to right, Lauren Abramson, Executive Director of Baltimore’s Community Conferencing Center; Misty Fae, Executive Director of the Conflict Resolution Center of Baltimore County; and Alica Myers, Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s new Community Conferencing Project Coordinator.

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