Re-Entry Mediation: Reducing Recidivism by Building Relationships
Shawn M. Flower, Principal Researcher, Choice Research Associates, and Lorig Charkoudian, Executive Director, Community Mediation Maryland
The criminal justice research community acknowledges the important role family plays in an offender's transition from incarceration to community through the creation and maintenance of prosocial bonds and consequent informal social controls, but few strategies actively and/or directly engage the family as part of a comprehensive integrated rehabilitative reentry approach. Fewer still have evaluated the impact of their efforts on recidivism. Community Mediation Maryland (CMM), an organization that supports Maryland community mediation centers through training, technical assistance, and the development of partnerships with statewide agencies and organizations, developed Re-entry Mediation, an innovative program that supports offenders in the process of reentry by helping them build and repair relationships with family and other important individuals. CMM recently completed a study that found that participation in reentry mediation has a statistically significant impact on the likelihood that an individual will be arrested post-release (p < .05), with mediation decreasing the probability of arrest. This article describes the mediation process and summarizes the methods and results of this recidivism study. The criminal justice literature highlights the importance of strong prosocial relationships to support successful reentry and to reduce recidivism.1 Family bonds and development of prosocial community ties are important because offenders influenced by informal social control (as a result of social bonds established through family, work, and/or community members) are more likely to desist from crime.2 The CMM Re-entry Mediation model responds to this need by supporting inmates and their families (or other support people), before release, in an open, honest, and often difficult dialogue to prepare for the transition back into the community. By rebuilding relationships between inmates and family or support people in the community, Re entry Mediation taps into the resources indigenous to the community, strengthens these connections, and allows for collaborative transition planning.Program History
CMM and member centers have been providing reentry mediation services to inmates preparing for release and their family members or support people for over five years. In February 2009, CMM centers began collecting comprehensive data on all inmates who requested mediation in preparation for the eventual recidivism study. Many of these individuals were not able to receive the service because family members could not be reached, family members declined the service, inmates were released or transferred earlier than expected, or because of institutional issues. Those who did not receive the service form the comparison group because they have the same motivation as those who requested the service and they agreed to participate in the study through signed consent.3Re-entry Mediation
Six to 12 months before release, community mediation center staff present inmates with information about the Re-entry Mediation program. Inmates have a chance to identify someone on the outside (family or other community member) who can play a positive role in their return and meet with that individual to prepare for release. Two mediators support the participants to build understanding, get to underlying issues, and develop release plans that meet the needs of everyone involved. These mediations focus on healing past hurts and on planning for housing, employment, recovery, and family reunification. The mediation process is confidential and voluntary, thus ensuring that participants can talk openly about anything and freely choose what to discuss and what they will agree to, without coercion from the mediators. While participants in mediation are able to focus on whatever they choose to discuss, common topics include housing, employment, substance abuse, children, and communication.Sample
This study was of 620 individuals - 123 who received mediation (treatment group) and 497 who requested and were eligible to participate, but did not receive mediation (comparison group) between February 2009 and June 2012. Self-reported data provided during intake and official state criminal history records provide a portrait. Participants were on average 35 years old, (ranging in age from 17 to 65), male (84%), African American (77%), Caucasian (19%) and of other racial backgrounds (4%). Approximately half were single/never married (52%), 17% were married/cohabitating, and 76% had children. Among those who had children, they had on average 2.6 children, with at least one child under 18 years old. Among these inmates, 68% had been convicted two or more times; 21% were experiencing their first incarceration. Most (54%) had been incarcerated 12 months or less, while 26% had been incarcerated from one to three years, 10% three to five years, and 10% over five years. These participants reported that on average, their first involvement in crime (whether or not they were caught or arrested) was at 15 years of age, ranging from the age of four to 62. Criminal careers ranged in length from 28 days to over 40 years, averaging 14 years. The most common type of offender was a person offender (70%), followed by drug (21%), property (6%), and sex offender (3%), based on the most serious conviction over their criminal career. At the time of the analysis, participants had been released on average 16.5 months, ranging from 4.7 to 48 months.
Differences between the treatment and the comparison groups were assessed. Those who mediated were significantly more likely to be African American. This may be attributable to the fact that 62% of the cases mediated were in Baltimore City, and 90% of those who mediated in Baltimore City were African American. Further, transportation, one of the key challenges to providing the service, is more accessible to families in Baltimore City than in other jurisdictions. Another difference was that those who mediated had a higher number of violations of probation/parole charges and convictions. This may indicate that those who participated in mediation had tried to succeed in the past in the community but failed, and now they, and their outside participants, were ready to try something new. Other differences between the groups were that those who mediated felt more positive in their relationship with the person they wanted to mediate with; they had fewer traffic convictions and had less time in the community than the comparison group (highlighting the need for conducting survival analysis). Nonetheless, overall, the comparison and treatment groups are much more similar than different. Finally, with the exception of one relationship measure and total traffic convictions, none of the variables that differed between the control and treatment group were predictors of arrest. This allows us to be more confident in assessing the impact of mediation upon outcomes. A summary of the analytical methods and the results of the recidivism analysis follow.Methodology and Results
Two methods of analysis were used to explore the impact of mediation on three measures of recidivism- rearrest, reconviction, and reincarceration. Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) criminal history data combined with CMM intake and service records were analyzed using two regression models. The first was logistic regression which provides a predicted probability of the outcome--recidivism--based on all of the factors in the regression model. The second was Cox Regression (or survival/hazard modeling), which explores the timing of events, including the time for an individual to "fail" (in this case arrest or conviction). Where appropriate, the analysis included measures to control for relevant factors, including the length of criminal career (in days) and days since release.4 Results indicate that participation in reentry mediation has a significant impact on the likelihood that an individual will be arrested post-release. After controlling for key factors that may otherwise explain this finding (e.g., length of criminal career, gender, age, race, days since release), the predicted probability of arrest for those who participate in mediation is 21% vs. 31% for those who do not participate in mediation. The number of sessions is also a significant factor-with each additional mediation session, the probability of arrest is reduced by 6%. There was no impact of mediation on post-release conviction or incarceration once crucial factors were controlled in the model, which may be related to the small sample size and the low rates of conviction overall during the time period examined. Finally, the Cox Regression survival analysis reveals that mediation reduces the hazard (or risk of arrest) by 37% compared to those who do not mediate. Each additional mediation session reduces the risk of arrest by 23% compared to those who did not mediate.5Conclusion
Most remarkable about these findings is that reentry mediation, short-term and limited though it is, has such a significant impact. In fact, the majority of the 123 mediation participants had but one two-hour session. The impact of mediation is believed to be akin to a critical course correction to turn an individual away from a criminal trajectory through the improved relationship with family and support persons and adherence to agreements and plans negotiated during mediation. These results are very promising. However, the number of subjects who both mediated and were rearrested were few compared to those in the comparison group; thus, these results should be viewed cautiously until a larger treatment group can be included in future recidivism analysis.
For more information about reentry mediation, go to http://re-entrymediation.org/
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Shawn Flower, Ph.D., is a part-time Research Associate with JRSA and the Principal Researcher of Choice Research Associates, providing criminal justice research services that focus on issues of prisoner reentry, female offenders, community corrections, and program evaluations that employ rigorous methodologies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, College Park in August 2007.
Lorig Charkoudian, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Community Mediation Maryland. In this capacity she identifies and develops systems to bring conflict resolution and relationship building strategies to address complex social problems. She has worked in partnership to develop prisoner reentry mediation with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and has supported its development in other states.
Funding for this research project was provided by the Abell Foundation in Baltimore City. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Abell Foundation or the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
1Doeren, S.E. & Hageman, M. J. (1982). Community Corrections. Cincinnati, Oh: Anderson Publishing Co.
2Petersilia, J. (2003). When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry. Oxford: University Press; Sampson, R. J. & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
3All protocols and procedures were approved by the University of Baltimore Institutional Review Board in accordance with federal regulations to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects recruited to participate in research activities.
4It is important to note that the probability of arrest - derived from the logistic regression analysis - is not the same as the hazard or risk of arrest. The probability of arrest is based on the cumulative, or the overall, likelihood of a situation occurring. The risk of arrest, obtained in the survival analysis, considers the timing of the arrest, or the relative rate of this person failing given how long they have survived.
5The number of sessions ranged from one to five, with an average of 1.57 sessions per participant. Only six cases had more than four sessions. This finding does not mean that in these six cases they had a probability of less than zero. The logistical regression model provides an aggregate prediction rate for the group, not a case by case prediction rate.