by the Massachusetts Office for Public Collaboration, McCormack Graduate School
You are within weeks of release from detention and looking forward to going home but the closer your release gets the harder it is to get on with your spouse. Visiting is now taken up with fights about living together and you are no longer sure you have a home to go to.
This is a typical scenario for prisoners approaching release and reflects the fact that for many prisoners, going back home may not be as straightforward as they hope. Bridges may have been burned, people on the outside moved on and there is no real understanding of the challenges each of them has faced during incarceration. This is one challenging re-entry area which had not previously been tackled until the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) approached MA Department of Correction (DOC) leadership towards the end of 2015.
Armed with the knowledge that the first 72 hours of release is a significant determinant or risk for re-incarceration, and the importance of building supportive relationships on the outside, MOPC worked closely with Community Mediation Maryland’s Lorig Charkoudian to develop skills and programming based on their successful Prisoner Re-entry Mediation Program in operation since 2007. MOPC invested in specialized training of mediators from its existing network of established statewide Community Mediation Centers and case coordinator staff who will do significant outreach, intake, and case coordination work around cases. As always with new programming, finding suitable funding to support a limited pilot programming to bring re-entry mediation to Massachusetts was a challenge which delayed implementation of the pilot. Thanks to a small start-up grant from the Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation and a determination to get services going by the MOPC Program Manager Rosalind Cresswell and the trained and willing mediators and Community Mediation staff, progress was made step by step.
Operating under a Memorandum of Understanding laying out mutual obligations, DOC established broad protocols for the operation of the pilot program which has been agreed at Boston Pre-release Center in Roslindale. Up to three, two-hour mediation session will be offered free of charge to inmates within 12 months of release. Case administration will be done initially during the small pilot by two Community Mediation Centers in the Boston area, Community Dispute Settlement Center in Cambridge and Metropolitan Mediation Services in Brookline with mediators from their centers and two other Community Mediation Centers, North Shore Community Mediation based in Beverly and Middlesex Community College Law Center based in Lowell, all of whom hope to develop similar programming in their own communities in the future.
“By pure happenstance” says Cresswell, “a local college student with interest and experience in working with prison populations joined us for the summer. She was able to make huge inroads into setting out each of the program steps both operationally and for guiding the evaluation process which is so important in terms of proving efficacy. It also turned out she was an amazing role-player when she returned in the fall and helped out at a refresher training for staff and mediators just prior to program launch.”
David Cash, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, says that “with fully researched data from Maryland showing recidivism reduction rates of 10% for the first mediation session, a further 7% reduction for subsequent sessions as well as high rates of participant satisfaction, there is a strong evidence base for this pilot which it is hoped will have similar success in Massachusetts.” Evaluation staff from MOPC will be gathering data to ensure that there is accountability and further evidence gathered for its replication.
Initial outreach is now beginning at Boston Pre-release Center and it is hoped that the first cases will start soon. The pilot will test out process and effectiveness with a long term view of obtaining funding to role the program out statewide through DOC facilities and also to develop similar relationship with sheriffs at their county facilities as well as possible services at federal prisons.
For more information about community mediation and the centers it supports through the grant, please refer to the MOPC website.