Counties Use Mediation to Manage Change

by Bryana Nelson

It’s easy to see that Adams County has been changing over the past decade, even the last several years. One major difference is an increased population, “Over the last 36 years population growth in Adams County, Pennsylvania has outpaced Pennsylvania and the nation” (Headwaters Economics, A SocioEconomic Profile Adams County Pennsylvania, February 14, 2009). With increased population comes diversity: people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, histories, education, and life experiences. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that with changing demographics inevitably will come the need to be able to manage conflicts generated by these differences, which inevitably put more strain on the existing justice system and community agencies. Mediation offers an alternative method of efficiently and effectively helping to manage conflicts and differences.

It has recently become an accepted policy to be proactive and less reactive. Early intervention is another concept that has gained momentum and support. Mediation is a process that can enter a situation at any time. However, its success is also evident when used as early as possible in an intervention. Surrounding counties have found mediation successful in getting to the root of issues, not just addressing surface conflicts. For example, Dauphin County has partnered with its police departments to offer Mediation as an option to police officers responding to certain calls.

Our bordering county, Carroll County, is part of a state-wide unified Mediation system. This system, funded on the state level, receives grants to help sustain it and also has support of local justice systems. In some counties in Maryland, liaisons review cases in the States Attorney’s Office and make referrals for those cases that are suitable for mediation. They work cooperatively with school districts and prison systems as well. In a study done on the effect of using community mediation to reduce repeat police calls, it was found that “the financial savings to the police department in a six month period from one mediation lies somewhere between $1649.27 and $208.00… {or} 4 hours and 33 minutes of patrol time.” (Charkoudian, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, vol 23).

Of course, in order to mediate, one must be trained to do so successfully. Pennsylvania lacks a formal Mediator Certification program. This gap allows anyone to mediate without having specific training, although Community Mediation Centers offer the appropriate training and also require it of their volunteers. Mediation Services of Adams County requires its mediators to complete at least 22 hours of mediation training as well as yearly continuing education given by members of the legal community. In addition, we adhere to the certification standards recommended by the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators.

The success of the system in Maryland was not attained overnight or by one person. Rather, it evolved collaboratively with support of the judiciary and other agencies. Here in Adams County, we have the opportunity to use mediation to actively assist the police and other agencies in reducing recidivism and repeat police calls, as well as to promote community togetherness. With trained personnel available, mediation can be both voluntary and recommended. As an alternative way of dealing effectively with conflict and differences, mediation is available for the asking.

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Bryana Nelson is a Board Member of MSAC. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Management and Conflict Negotiation. MSAC thanks Patricia Ryan of Carroll County Community Mediation Center for her contribution to this article.