Lots of minor crimes can be resolved without involving a judge or prosecutor.
“We used to have a day each week dedicated to disposal and trial of those kind of cases,” Alamance County District Attorney Patrick Nadolski said, “and since mediation, we have been able to cut that down to one half a day of court to take care of cases that can’t be mediated.”
That is about 88 percent reduction in time and a significant financial savings’ credit to mediators from the Center for Community Based Resolution.
It will start with someone — the prosecuting witness — taking out what is called a private warrant against someone for something like simple assault or damage to personal property. The center meets with both parties and makes sure the case is right for mediation. Mediators do not take on serious violent crimes or domestic violence.
“Let’s say it is communicating threats, and that could have been over the telephone, for example,” said Susan Youngsteadt, executive director of CCBR. “Some of the things that can be on that agreement are person x agrees to no longer contact person y on any form of social media, whether it be by telephone, email text, in any way shape or form, and the individual also agrees to do whatever else both parties see is fit for that situation. And then the last step is for the prosecuting witness to agree to drop the charges against the defendant as long as the agreement is followed.”
The second and fourth Friday of every month, mediators take over one of the District Courtrooms in the Alamance County Criminal Courts Building to settle these cases.
MEDIATION HAS ITS ADVANTAGES.
For one thing, it takes less time and is less stressful than a trial. The person charged has the chance to settle the matter without a criminal charge recorded, and at $60, mediation is about half the cost of going to court, though the Legislature changed the mediation law last summer, so that fee has to be paid on the day of the settlement. Also, some research shows people are more likely to follow through on agreements they made themselves than conditions imposed by a judge.
“More often than not, we hear from individuals who have gone through the process before, and they are much happier with the resolution that comes out in the mediation agreement because they get to have a say,” Youngsteadt said. “It is not up to a judge what happens.”
The center has 10 certified mediators, and in August they handled 37 cases. Twenty-eight were successfully mediated the same day, three were not resolved, and the other six had to be rescheduled for one reason or another. Of those, 26 cases were closed with all fees paid and charges dropped.
THE CENTER CALLS IT a successful mediation when the parties come to an agreement, sign it and part ways. That does not mean agreements are never violated, though in some cases prosecuting witnesses can take 60 days to drop charges if they worry about agreements being violated or they’re owed money.
“We had a case last week where there were two friends that had a misunderstanding and charges had been taken out, and when they left, they were friends again,” Youngsteadt said. “That is really great to see and makes you feel like mediation is a good service to provide the community.”
The first Friday of every month is reserved for trial court cases that the mediators cannot resolve.
The center also helps with Medicaid appeals and operates three youth programs: community service and restitution, Alamance County Teen Court, and the Growing Together mentoring program. It does not offer child-custody mediation, though it will make referrals.