Family and Other Positive Relationships are Important to Reduce Recidivism
Criminal justice research highlights the importance of family and pro-social relationships in reducing recidivism. A Vera Institute of Justice Study found that family support was important for material and emotional needs of returning inmates and that strong family support was a strong predictor of success (Nelson, Dees, and Allen, 1999). Given the importance of family and pro-social support people for offender reintegration, researchers have called for greater inclusion of the family in the re-entry process so to “facilitate informal social controls – those interpersonal bonds that link ex-inmates to churches, law-abiding neighbors, families and communities” (Petersilia, 2003, p. 19). While families provide crucial support to releasees, these “relationships are complicated and made more complicated by the prisoner’s return” due to past harms and “fear of recurrence” (Travis, 2005, p. 222). Nonetheless, inmates often have high expectations about the level of support and assistance they will receive from family. In turn, families often feel ambivalent about letting the returning individual stay with them, but they also may not turn them away (Travis, 2005).
Prisoner Re-entry Mediation
Re-entry mediation provides space for an inmate and family members or other support people to meet, with the help of a non-judgmental mediator before release, to have an open, honest, and often difficult dialogue to prepare for the transition back into the community. Sometimes there is lingering conflict from before the incarceration. Sometimes there is resentment, anger, and shame as a result of the charge or things which took place during the incarceration. Re-entry mediation creates a space for everyone involved to talk about their experiences, be heard by each other, and establish a plan on how to move forward productively before the individual is released. For some families, there is an understanding that an inmate will return home, but there may be anxiety about the different expectations everyone brings to the transition. Re-entry mediation provides an opportunity to manage divergent expectations for all participants through a discussion of issues and resolution of, or prevention of, conflicts.
By rebuilding relationships between inmates and family or support people in the community, Prisoner Re-entry Mediation taps into the resources indigenous to the community, strengthens these connections, and allows for collaborative transition planning, involving the inmate and their family members.
Program Evaluations Have Shown that Re-entry Mediation Supports Strong Relationships
Between February 2009 and June 2012, 310 cases have been mediated in Maryland prisons.
In evaluation forms completed after the first session, 510 participants reported the following:
- 99% felt they could express themselves freely during mediation
- 90% agreed they understood the other participant better as a result of mediation.
- 88% thought the other participant understood them better
- 92% agreed they were satisfied with the results of mediation.
- 96% would recommend mediation to others involved in conflict.
There is a statistically significant and positive shift in a sense of empowerment in the relationship and in the attitude towards conflict before and after the mediation. Two questions are asked at intake and again immediately following mediation: 1) “I feel I have no control over my relationship” and 2) “conflict can be dealt with productively”. Participants are asked their level of agreement with these statements on a scale of 1 to 5 (with the question about control set up so that higher values indicate a more positive response – a greater level of empowerment). With 446 participants reporting, there is a statistically significant gain of .60 (p<.000) in the average score on feeling more in control in the relationship, and a gain of .36 (significant p<.000) in feeling that conflict can be dealt with productively in the period between intake to the conclusion of the first mediation session.
Participants are also surveyed 3 months following release from the facility. Of the 96 respondents with follow-up data:
- 54% advised both communication with the other party and ability to work together was better after mediation.
- 80% agree they are both more likely to think of a lot of different ways to solve conflict before they make a decision.
- 80% agree when a conflict arises, they try to think things through before responding.
- 56% of outside participants and 80% of inside participants reported they felt that the inmate was more prepared to return home.
- 62% of outside participants and 60% of inside participants had more hope for the future as a result of mediation.
Current Service Provision
Community Mediation Maryland (CMM) works with 17 community-based mediation programs throughout Maryland. CMM provides training, technical assistance, program evaluation, and coordination of centers’ work in the prisoner re-entry mediation program. CMM works in partnership with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Re-entry mediation services are available in almost all of the state correctional facilities in Maryland. CMM also supports local centers to provide re-entry mediation services in several local detention centers.
Offering mediation before release is a critical component to this model. An Urban Institute study highlights that because the “moment of release” is a crucial period of time, and actions taken within that 24 hour period after release can determine individuals’ success on the outside; the report recommends moving the re-entry preparation into the prison itself, prior to release. (Travis, Solomon & Waul, 2001)
Mediation is offered to inmates within 6-12 months of release. If inmates choose to use the service, the staff contacts family member(s) and/or support person(s) on the outside and offers the service. If the outside participants choose to mediate, up to three 2-hour mediation sessions can occur pre-release. After the inmate has been released, the mediation center in the jurisdiction to which they have been released is available for follow-up mediation sessions in the community.
Petersilia, J. (2003). When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Re-entry Oxford: University Press
Travis, J. (2005). But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, p. 222
Travis, J., A. Solomon & M. Waul (2001). From Prison to Home: The Dimension and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.