Mediation Services — What do New York, California, Maryland, Michigan and North Carolina have in common?

by Andrew Miner

According to mediation experts these five states have the best run statewide mediation programs, all of them started within the past thirty years. What they offer in common is a structured, volunteer driven, non compulsatory forum for mediating minor neighborhood, landlord, domestic, or similar disputes that left to simmer could erupt into police or judicial intervention and expense. Mediation is a low cost alternative to litigation or arbitration. The largest and oldest statewide dispute mediation program is in New York State and was initiated thirty years ago when the new statewide Unified Court System commenced funding of all courts in the state. At that time the dispute mediation program was established statewide for fiscal policy reasons, to encourage the use of cheaper mediation and potentially avoid costlier court litigation. State matching funds were made available to local mediation centers to encourage their use. From the beginning of the program, this approach met the needs of the urban and populated counties but the program was later changed to a set funding level per county to encourage rural counties to also set up mediation programs. By 1987 all the counties in the state had the programs due to the funding and the free training made available by the State court system. To date no other state can claim to have mediation services in all their counties.

Similar to our local Mediation Services of Adams County, mediation programs in New York State are independent from governmental entities. All 62 County run Community Dispute Resolution Centers in New York State are operated as not-for-profits. State funding through the courts perforce prohibits funding Executive branch entities. Not-for-profits offer additional advantages including neutrality, certification, independence, as well as cost savings.

Mediation services in New York and elsewhere were expanded in the 1980s as school based peer mediation programs gained interest. Here California led the field with it¢s Community Boards Program, followed in New York City with the S.M.A.R.T. program which utilized trained students to mediate and resolve conflicts. By 1989 when the Brooklyn Crown Heights race riots occurred, school based mediation programs were used with good effect to address the racial tensions. A City wide Board of Education contract was put in place to train students across the city in conflict resolution. By 1996 dispute mediation centers in New York received the statewide contract for administering the State¢s Lemon Law arbitration program. At that time mediation was also initiated in selected victim/offender cases in NY State prisons.

Here in Gettysburg our own Mediation Services of Adams County is ready to offer help to individuals and organizations by making available certified volunteer mediators. Similar to the other 14 community mediation programs in Pennsylvania, the fees are on an income based sliding scale of $5 to $35 for parties, and $50 for organizations. Call 334-7312 for information

Andrew Miner is a retired Deputy Superintendent of Administration from the NYS Department of Correctional Services and is a Board Member of Mediation Services of Adams County.