Prisoner Re-Entry Mediation Recognized; Service Helps Inmates Plan for Life Outside Jail

From Harford County government:

Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Sheriff Jesse Bane, Elizabeth S. Hendrix, Director, Harford County Department of Community Services, and Warden Ellwood DeHaven, Harford County Detention Center, recently gathered to recognize the importance of prisoner re-entry mediation, a service provided to help inmates plan for their future prior to release.

Prisoner Re-Entry Mediation is a free mediation service to help prisoners who are being released to plan living arrangements, discuss reuniting with family members or other important people in their lives, keep a positive relationship going well, and/or deal with conflict of any kind.

When people prepare for release from prison, they face many challenges. Mediation can ease the stress caused by conflict; former inmates often move in with a friend or family member initially after being released from prison and sometimes there is lingering anger, resentment and shame as a result of the charge or things that took place during the incarceration.

Re-entry mediation can create a safe environment for all parties involved to talk about their experiences, be heard by the mediator and each other, and establish a plan on how to move forward productively before the individual is released. Re-entry mediation can be between the inmate and his/her family, friends, and/or with whom they are living. Mediation can also take place between the inmate and the other parent of their children to discuss a parenting plan after their release.

“Mediation greatly supports the transition of individuals from prison back into communities,” stated County Executive Craig. “Nationally, recidivism rates hover at nearly 70 percent, where communities continue to struggle with high unemployment, high rates of addiction, and other difficulties.

Here in Harford County, our re-entry mediation program will work to rebuild positive relationships, a proven strategy to reduce recidivism and increase the rate of successful re-entry,” Craig remarked.

Community Mediation Maryland (CMM) contracted Choice Research Associates to serve as an independent evaluator for the Prisoner Re-Entry Mediation Program. From February 2009 to March 2010, 380 inmates participated in the program.

The inmates identified 572 individuals with whom they wished to mediate. After mediation, feedback showed: 99% felt they could express themselves freely during mediation; 88% agreed they understood the other participant better as a result of mediation; 86% thought the other participant understood them better; 90% agreed they were satisfied with the results of mediation; and 96% would recommend mediation to others involved in conflict.

The Harford County Prisoner Re-Entry Program, which began in May 2011, is a partnership between the Harford County Department of Community Services, Community Mediation Program, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, and the Harford County Detention Center. To date, four intakes have been conducted; one Conflict Resolution class has been taught at the center, and three cases are open/pending, involving six outside potential participants, for a total of nine citizens.

“Prisoner Re-Entry Mediation: Unlocking the Potential of Relationships in Tough Economic Times,” an article about prisoner re-entry providing real-life stories (written by Lorig Charkoudian (CMM Executive Director) and Shawn M. Flower), is available by visiting http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/services/community/doc/1681.pdf.

In general, mediation is a confidential and voluntary process in which two neutral mediators assist participants to develop solutions to their conflict. In mediation, people speak for themselves and make their own decisions; mediation can also help rebuild relationships and empowers people to resolve future conflicts. Mediators are highly trained volunteers who represent the diversity of the community they serve.

Community Mediation Maryland (CMM) is a statewide membership organization with 17 community mediation center members, one of which is the Harford County Community Mediation Program. CMM provides training and technical assistance to its member centers and develops partnerships with state agencies and organizations. CMM also conducts outreach and education to increase the understanding and use of community mediation.

For more information about the Harford County Community Mediation Program, contact the Harford County Department of Community Services at 410-638-4807.