Primarily, it takes staff or volunteer time. Our experience is that the case management of prisoner re-entry cases is so loaded with detail that it requires paid staff attention. It is possible that the program can be run with limited staff time supported by the help from some dedicated volunteers, who want to learn the case management process and also have time in their schedules to work in the office.


Institutions are asked to do five things for the program: screen incarcerated individuals for eligibility, screen outside participants, prepare their required paperwork, schedule sessions and provide whatever security they deem to be necessary. Screening incarcerated individuals is the process of gathering names of people who are nearing release back into the community and informing them of the opportunity to hear about mediation services at the orientation. Screening outside participants involves ensuring that there are no restraining orders, they are not on the victim’s notification list and that they pass a criminal background check, most of which is determined with on-line databases. Scheduling sessions and reserving rooms is based on availability and room reservations. Each institution has systems in place for these tasks. To help coordinate sessions, it is helpful for the institutional contact to give the mediation center a schedule of general room availability. Providing security varies, depending on where mediations are held. The best scenario for the institution is to hold mediations in a private room in a corridor where security personnel are already scheduled to be. It is worthwhile to identify locations and schedules that minimize the need for extra security.

Many incarcerated individuals will be introduced to mediation because they will automatically be placed on the list when they have 12 months to release and provided with a memo to attend an orientation session. It is helpful to do additional education within the prison so that there is a broader understanding of the service even before an incarcerated individual receives the memo. Flyers can be developed and placed around the institution. Some prisons have in-house television systems and may be willing to work with mediation centers to create TV spots, or even to record interviews for rebroadcast. Training for staff, including correctional officers, social workers, and chaplains, can put them in a position to educate incarcerated individuals about the service. In some institutions, lifers have become aware of the program and taken it on themselves to refer others to the service. Not surprisingly, the best promotion is word-of-mouth among incarcerated individuals as well as outside participants. As momentum builds, the reentry mediation program begins to prosper more through attraction rather than promotion.

More Information: Introducing Mediation to Incarcerated Individuals

When introducing the service to inside participants it is important to develop a greater understanding of conflict and how mediation can help. Conducting a conflict management training can provide this understanding followed by an intake session to turn this new understanding into mediation referrals. The training portion of the session involves different conflict related activities that get the group engaged in understanding conflict. This training should be held for a minimum of 30 minutes and last for up to 2-3 hours. For the second part of session intake should be conducted with the people interested in using mediation. It is often helpful to have two or more staff members to help intake go more quickly. It can also work to have one staff member giving the presentation/training while another pulls incarcerated individuals aside to do intake while the training is occurring.

More Information: Introducing Mediation to Incarcerated Individuals

It is best practice for the community mediation center staff to explain the program within the context of a conflict management training. This allows incarcerated individuals to grasp the many ways the service can be used to support their transition to the outside and resolve conflict. When explaining the program to inside participants, it is best to explain the variety of relationships through which the service can be most helpful. For example, explain that participants can use mediation in situations where overt conflict exists or in situations where no direct conflict exists but it may be helpful to develop expectations for the incarcerated individual’s release. Giving examples of these scenarios is very effective at helping incarcerated individuals understand the program. After creating this understand of the types of conversations that can be had, it is useful to explain the logistics and constraints of the service that vary from institution to institution. It is also necessary to explain the mediation process and that mediation is confidential, voluntary, and non-judgmental.

More Information: Introducing Mediation to Incarcerated Individuals

This conversation generally happens on the phone. It is helpful to first explain where the community mediation center staff member is calling from, a brief statement about what the service is, and then that the incarcerated individual has requested the service. In these opening statements, one thing that works well is to frame the service as an opportunity to have a conversation about what is going to happen once the incarcerated individual is released. After introducing the service it is necessary to explain the mediation process, explain logistics, conduct a screening process to ensure the participant feels they can speak for themselves without fear of retaliation, and identify potential dates for the mediation.

More Information: Introducing Mediation to Outside Participants

When in presentations and intake sessions it is important to help participants understand that mediation can be helpful in a variety of relationships and situations. Participants are able to choose the people they would like to mediate with and in what arrangement. Often participants request multiple cases (e.g. one with their parents and another with their significant other). The most commonly selected participants are family members and relatives. An incarcerated individual cannot mediate with someone who has a restraining order against them or who is on the victim notification list. After the intake session with the incarcerated individual it is necessary to inform the institution of the outside participants who have been selected by the incarcerated individual. The institution is responsible for communicating with the center that the outside participants meet the criteria. A second screening is done once participants agree to mediation, where the social security number, gender, and race of the outside participant are given to the institution to ensure the prison is comfortable having everyone in the room together.

More Information: Screening Cases

Re-entry mediation sessions must occur in private settings to be successful because direct authentic discussions, without fear of a breach of confidentiality, are necessary for any meaningful mediation. Generally, this means a setting in which prison personnel are not physically present, cannot hear what is being said, and cannot see the participant’s confidential information. Because the prison’s primary concern is safety and security, it is necessary to ensure privacy and security. Mediations should be conducted in a room in which prison staff can see, but can’t hear the conversation.

More Information: Mediation Logistics

Participants and mediator(s) meet in a room in which they cannot be overheard. Only participants and mediators are present. Prison personnel can see the people in the room and look in occasionally during the session. For community mediation centers in Maryland, confidentiality in re-entry mediation is like any other mediation, and is protected state law. The mediators maintain confidentiality concerning what is said, written or otherwise communicated in mediation, and what happens in mediation. This includes phone conversations or other communication. Participants may discuss their mediation outside of court, unless they agree in writing not to do so. Neither mediators nor participants may disclose or be compelled to disclose mediation communication in judicial proceedings. Agreements made in mediation are not considered confidential unless participants agree in writing that they should be. The only exceptions to confidentiality are child abuse, abuse of vulnerable adults, or threats to do bodily harm. These are reported to appropriate authorities.

Mediation is not a visit. While incarcerated individuals will be sitting in the same room with people from the outside who are important to them, they are there to work through their conflicts and make plans about what life will be like when the incarcerated individual returns back to their community. Mediations happen in private settings, with two mediators present. Sessions usually last for quite a while, up to several hours, and are often scheduled at different times from visitation. The mediators will have a process that they will follow lead participants through.

Participants often discuss housing, communication, child access, finances, employment, and substance abuse/recovery. All of these topics are important for participants to have clarity on before the incarcerated individual is released. Participants often understand the opportunity they have been given in mediation to have a conversation of great detail and depth. It is at these levels that significant changes can be made to support the relationships participants need to be successful on the outside.

It is not uncommon for the incarcerated individual to request mediation services with a number of people who are important to them from the outside. They may request mediation to make apologies to some people, want to find out about living arrangements, discuss job opportunities with others, make plans with the parents of their children to find out when they will see them or rekindle a relationship with others. Getting multiple outside participants together in one session makes sense for example when everyone involved are family members. In other situations, it makes sense to have separate mediations with different participants. Mediators will be as responsive to these considerations as they can. There can be limits to the number of outside participants that prisons will allow in one session, generally based on the size of the room available. The largest number of outside participants that have been referred for one case is seven while the most participants to actually attend a mediation session is four. Typically, there are one or two outside participants.

Sometimes simply finding a place where private mediation sessions can be held is a challenge. Most prisons have limited space in which to provide programming. An ideal location will be a room that is in a corridor where there are already officers on duty, where there is a window so they can look in from time to time, but where conversations cannot be overheard or recorded. Having identified one or more locations for sessions, the institution will then need to make sure it is reserved for mediation at appropriate times. Places where mediations have been held include libraries, chaplain’s offices, program personnel (ie, volunteer activities coordinator) offices, visiting rooms (but only when other visitations are not going on), classrooms, auditoriums and meeting/conference rooms.

In mediation, participants’ conversations sometimes become heated. Heated conversations are discouraged in most prisons due to security concerns. However, discouraging mediation participants from saying what they need to say, and from authentically expressing their feelings, is not likely to foster the kind of understanding that mediation promises. Mediators are trained to deal with emotionally-charged situations and to ensure that the mediation setting allows all participants to feel safe saying what they need to say. When participants feel heard, they almost never become overwrought. In fact, many participants remark about how they felt a sense of relief being able to talk about what they wanted to talk about without feeling judged, even when they heard something they did not want to hear in the session.

More Information: Mediation Model and Key Components

People often think of going to prison is a dangerous activity but there are several safeguards in place to ensure participant and mediator safety. The first safeguard is using a co-mediation model so that mediators and participants are never alone with either participant. The second is that the mediation process itself harnesses intense emotion, allowing people to move through the emotion rather than explode from it. Sticking to the process, listening deeply to the intensity, and using strategic listening keeps the situation safe and transforms relationships at the same time. The third is that generally mediations occur in place in the prison that is separate from general population and a correctional officer is assigned to look in the window occasionally. Finally, incarcerated individuals value the opportunity to use mediation and are not interested in jeopardizing the service. Participants are genuinely interested in having this conversation and creating a quality plan for the future is most important to them.

Prison personnel may inquire what affect mediation may have on the incarcerated individual’s emotional state if they hear something in a mediation session that they either did not want to hear or were surprised to learn. Mediation allows participants in a conflict the opportunity to openly express their feelings and to talk about what is important to them. Even after finding out something upsetting that the incarcerated individual did not like or want to hear, being able to have a discussion about it with others who are important to them usually reduces the likelihood that they will cause a disturbance at the prison after the session ends. Having a private conversation with two mediators to help everyone be heard is much better for incarcerated individuals than attempts to whisper about those private things in a limited phone conversation. Prison personnel deal with the latter situation every day – mediation will help here, not make the situation more difficult.

More Information: Mediation Model and Key Components

One of the major logistical challenges to conducting mediation in the institution is getting everyone cleared and into the institution. The institutions require that all participants coming from the outside, including mediators, are cleared to enter the institution. Generally this clearance process happens several days in advance of the mediation. It is important to confirm that the case has been cleared before sending mediators and outside participants to the institution. This confirmation can happen through an emailed copy of the gate pass or checking with the front gate that the mediation and participants are on the books for the session. Volunteers should go through the prison’s orientation well in advance of the mediation and are in effect pre-declared for entry, but they often need to be included on gate passes for entry. Another significant challenge to entry is getting everyone past the front gate. Best practice is to ensure all outside participants and mediators are aware of the specific requirements for entry including clothing, contraband, and cooperating with correctional officers. Participants and mediators are required to have filled out commitments to follow DOC guidelines before entry.

More Information: Mediation Logistics

Some mediation centers receive requests for certificates which state that the incarcerated individual participated in mediation and/or that the incarcerated individual attended a group presentation/intake session. Certificates should not be provided for participating in mediation. For the dialogue during mediation to be as authentic as possible, it is important that there be no motivation for participation other than the desire to mediate. Centers can decide if they wish to provide certificates for participation in the orientation or training that is provided to the entire group.

There is generally no interaction between the mediation center and the department of parole and probation in the pre-release services. Sometimes a center will contact the parole or probation agent to get the individual’s contact information post-release in order to offer the additional mediation sessions on the outside. However, if a department of parole and probation is interested in participating in encouraging clients to use mediation pre or post release, this partnership may help the program reach more individuals.

More Information: Post-Release Services