Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

Nearly a year ago, Marcia received a frantic call from her teen daughter, Denise. Denise was at school and had been in a fight at the end of the school day. Marcia rushed to the school to find a chaotic scene. Her daughter, four teenage girls, and a mother of one of the girls were all recovering from a physical fight. Denise told her mother that she had been attacked by two of the girls, that her friends had tried to help her, and that an adult had also gotten into the fray. Marcia was furious and called the police. She pressed charges against two of the teenagers and one of their mothers.

Over the coming months all five teenagers and their mothers spend time dealing with the consequences of the fight. The school held a peace circle, but not everyone was able to attend, and it was not rescheduled. There were multiple court cases and charges against each of the teenagers and the one mother who had been involved in the fight. Eventually, the case came before a judge in Cook County’s Juvenile Justice Division who had recently heard an update on CCR’s mediation programs. All ten parties (five mothers and five teenage daughters) were referred by the judge for mediation.

CCR scheduled the session for a virtual mediation so that everyone could participate from the privacy and convenience of their own home. CCR assigned two mediators to the case – one to work primarily with the mothers and one to work primarily with the daughters. They began the session using an early caucus check in for each individual family. These conversations helped prepare the participants for the process. Eventually, the session began with all ten participants in the same zoom room. The mediators helped review the incident that had brought everyone to mediation, helped set goals for the time in session, and then the groups separated.

The teenagers were quick to identify how challenging the consequences had been for the fight. They all agreed that things had gotten out of control and that they wanted to find a way to move past the incident. There were two friend groups in the room and they were not interested in all becoming friends as part of a resolution, but they were able to identify the ways they wanted to communicate with one another during their final year of high school. They all wanted respect and the mediator helped them identify specific behaviors and expectations they had for one another.

The mothers were all very frustrated with their experience with each other, the school, and the court system. Early in the session, the mother who had participated in the fight asked if she could speak. The mediator gave her space and she told everyone she wanted to clear the air. She explained that it had never been her intention to get involved in the fight, but that she had been trying to separate the young women when the physical altercation escalated. The other women in the room were understanding and thanked her for being candid. The women all shared how hard the situation had been for their daughters and what a big impact the situation had on their homes and families.

With the creation of a neutral space, the mediation gave the mothers the chance to get clarity on what was happening with their daughters. As the women talked, it became apparent to everyone that there were more than a few misunderstandings that had taken place between the two groups of teenagers. They agreed that their daughters did not need to become friends but that they needed to leave each other alone and be respectful. They all agreed that things can happen in high school among groups but it should never have gotten to the level of such a serious altercation. They were united in their dismay with the schools handling of the situation as they had not given their daughters any real guidance in how to manage the situation. The mothers discussed that this mediation was their chance and responsibility to help and guide their daughters. They concluded their session by drafting a document with their email addresses and agreed that they would communicate via email with each other should any new issue arise.

When both groups gathered again they shared their plans for moving forward. Then just as the mediation with both groups was coming to an end, Marcia and Denise both spoke again to say that that they did not want any of the other teenagers or women to have a police record. Everyone was really relieved to hear them say that and they agreed to take their plan to the court and update the judge. The mediation gave the 10 voices an opportunity to dialogue and engage with one another. After months of confusion and powerlessness, they were able to leave their mediation session with a plan to move forward.

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Kevin, a teenager working part-time at a popular sandwich chain, was referred to mediation. After an argument with a customer became heated, the police were called and Kevin was arrested for misdemeanor battery. A mediation was scheduled to give Kevin and his mother, Sharon, a chance to sit down with the other party to the conflict and a neutral mediator to discuss the incident and its impact on all of their lives.

Victoria, the customer with whom Kevin had the altercation, was eager to participate in the mediation. When the incident occurred, she had no idea Kevin was a minor. At the beginning of the mediation Victoria expressed her surprise at Kevin’s age and, since she has a child the same age, her concern about the rage he expressed during the fight at the sandwich shop.

The mediator created an environment where Kevin and Victoria were able to speak freely and learn that they shared common ground: working for rival corporate sandwich chains. Before securing her current job, Victoria had left another sandwich shop because she disagreed with some of their practices, including the same rules that Kevin was forced to follow at his current job. For instance, Victoria had been furious that Kevin attempted to correct her mistaken order by remaking the sandwich using the same bread. Kevin was able to explain to her that if he had thrown the sandwich away and used new bread, he would have personally been charged 25 cents for the bread. The were able to compare notes and come to a better understanding of Victoria’s expectations and Kevin’s job responsibilities. Kevin didn’t realize that his physical size and behavior had frightened Victoria, because he saw her as an “adult” who wouldn’t be afraid of a minor. And Victoria was unaware that Kevin was at the tail end of an exhausting 12-hour shift.

Victoria and Sharon also had a lot to talk about: they spent much of the mediation talking about mothering teenagers in a pandemic and the challenges that come with it. While Sharon and Victoria talked, Kevin stayed engaged and learned things about his own mother’s struggles that he hadn’t known.

The mediation ended with a verbal agreement among the parties. Victoria promised that she would stop in for a sandwich during one of Kevin’s shifts and he agreed that he would keep an eye out for her and make sure she had a good experience. The mediation gave everyone a chance to tell their story and get new information. All three parties learned they had more in common than they realized and they were able to move forward from the experience with a sense of resolution.

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Nick came to mediation at CCR with his mother and father, after an incident at school. As his father described it, “Nick had been in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

One day after middle school, Nick’s sister, Janie, and her boyfriend picked Nick up to go visit family. After a few minutes of driving, the police pulled over the car and arrested Nick and Janie’s boyfriend. Janie quickly called their mom to let her know that Nick had been arrested.

 As the parties told their story in mediation, it became clear that Nick and his family went through a lot that day. Despite being middle-school aged, the police officers had mistaken Nick for an adult and treated him like one. Both his mom and dad had no idea why he had been arrested or where he had been taken. Everyone found out much later that the vehicle Janie’s boyfriend was driving had been stolen.

During the mediation it became apparent that Nick and each of his parents had been impacted differently by the incident. Nick had since developed a fear of going out in public, his dad had become more protective, and his mom had become concerned because she was no longer seeing Nick as much as had in the past. Nick’s parents were separated and before he was arrested he would usually travel with ease between his parents’ homes. Both parents had created a strict new rule: Nick was not allowed to ride in anyone’s car except for their own.

During the mediation Nick began to open up as the mediator asked questions about his interests and passions and asked how his parents’ responses were impacting him. Nick revealed that he was eager to try out for the high school football team and that he loved to play Fortnite. He said that he felt safer following the new rules his parents had put in place. Nick also told the mediator about his plans for a summer job. The mediator asked Nick about what he needed from his parents to pursue these plans, and he said that he just wanted them to show up to football practices and games.

With the support of the mediator, Nick, his mom, and his dad were all able to talk about the new rules in place and how to support Nick’s interests. When asked about Fortnite, his mom and dad agreed that this hobby was expensive, which was part of the reason why Nick was getting a summer job. The whole family and the mediator laughed as Nick’s parents complained about the cost of Fortnite while Nick continued to explain the game to a curious mediator, and suggested that she check out the game. It was a special moment where everyone realized that supporting Nick was what brought everyone to the table.

When asked about the football team, Nick’s dad revealed that he had been a football player and was excited about supporting his son. When asked about balancing school and sports, Nick’s mom and dad said that they had a plan for taking turns supporting Nick with football. Nick’s parents reassured him that they would be there for practices and games.

The mediator helped the family think about their plans were in light of the new rules. Nick’s dad shared that he had secured his son a job with him during the summer and that his work was flexible enough to support Nick during football season. Nick’s dad said that Nick’s summer paycheck could all go to Fortnite – which made everyone laugh. Nick’s parents agreed that he is their number one priority and they would continue to support his passions, but keep the new agreed-upon rules in place for now. Nick agreed that the new rules were okay as long as he got to play Fortnite and his parents would let him play football.

Through mediation the family was able to express themselves and share with one another how much they had been impacted by incident with police. The mediator helped them move past that incident and find a collaborative plan for moving forward. 

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Stephen was walking home one afternoon when a car full of teenagers pulled up next to him and offered him a ride. Never one to miss the opportunity for a good time, Stephen hopped in the car and found himself crammed in the back seat next to strangers. Stephen realized that while he knew the driver of the vehicle and one of the guys in the car, he didn’t know anyone else, and he deduced that the car was stolen. After a few blocks, Stephen noticed a car was following them. The driver saw the car as well and decided to try to race the car to get away. The vehicle was an unmarked police car and things escalated quickly. The car full of teenagers was in a chase with police vehicles and a helicopter got involved. Stephen realized things were serious when the vehicle was cornered, so he jumped out of the car and ran the first chance he got. Police officers chased him and, while attempting to jump a fence, Stephen cut his leg open badly. He was arrested and eventually his case was referred for family mediation at the Center for Conflict Resolution.

The day of the mediation, Stephen’s mom, Cheryl, was in no mood to talk to anybody. She had forgotten about the scheduled appointment and when CCR staff called to remind her she reluctantly appeared on the Zoom call. Stephen had not forgotten, though, and was ready to participate in the conversation. The mediator started the conversation by asking both Cheryl and Stephen about what occurred and gave them a chance to tell their stories to the mediator and to one another.

Chery talked about how frustrating it had been to get a call from the police that Stephen had been arrested. When she arrived to pick him up from the precinct, she was told that Stephen had been taken to the hospital. No one was able to give her any information about how seriously he was injured (or even how he had been injured) and her frustration turned to terror as she rushed to the nearby hospital to check on her son. Once she arrived at the hospital, she was told he had been discharged and sent to a different police facility for older teen offenders. It took hours for Cheryl to find Stephen and it had been a stressful and frightening experience for her. The mediator helped Cheryl talk about her experience, employing a trauma-informed approach and worked with Cheryl to express how serious the consequences for his behavior had been.

Stephen did not seem very moved by his mother’s story, but when she started to talk about the impact his behavior would have on his younger siblings, Stephen had more to say. Stephen recognized that getting arrested and being in danger was going to have serious consequences for his younger siblings. Stephen was proud of his role as big brother and the mediator spent time with Stephen talking about the influence he has on his siblings.

During the conversation, Cheryl became more and more engaged in the process. The mediator’s techniques of asking questions and facilitating the dialogue had created an environment where mother and son were able to communicate in a focused manner. Cheryl told the mediator it had been helpful and productive to talk about what was happening. By the end of the conversation, Stephen had agreed that he would not get into stolen cars and the two were working out ways to rebuild trust.

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Dion came to mediation at CCR with his father, Michael, after he was arrested for aggravated assault. He threatened a classmate with violence after being called names on social media. The mother of his classmate called the police and made a complaint about the threats. Dion was arrested and taken to the police station. The case was referred for mediation with CCR. The classmate declined to participate in the mediation and so a family mediation was held for Dion and his father. Dion wanted to put the whole incident behind him and Michael wanted to open up lines of communication with his son. 

Through a guided conversation, the mediator was able to find common ground between Dion and Michael, as well as help them recognize ways to improve their relationship. 

Dion shared that he spends most of his free time rapping. He discussed the fact that his Dad worked long hours and, as a result, he spent more time with his aunt who cared for him. The mediator asked Dion’s second favorite thing to do and he said he was really good at basketball. When asked how he got so good he replied that his Dad taught him. 

After explaining that Dion’s Mom died during COVID, Michael said he felt basketball was the most important thing for Dion to concentrate on. Michael felt Dion’s trouble at school was caused by the loss of his mom. The mediator asked Dion if he agreed but he did not. The conversation gave Michael an opportunity to hear new information about his son’s experience losing his mother and its impact on his life. 

With the mediator’s support Michael and Dion were able to come up with a plan for moving forward from the incident in a safe, neutral space, and to develop solutions that worked for them. Michael agreed to contact the local church to inquire into a grievance support group and family counseling. Dion agreed to participate. This discussion allowed Dion to express how his father taught him how to play basketball but that now he works very long hours. The mediator inquired into the work schedule and discovered that Sundays and Saturday afternoons are free, if needed. Father and son agreed to every other Sunday which included either lunch and chat or basketball andlunch. They both agreed to use the time together on Sundays to communicate better and prevent incidents from happening again in the future. Michael expressed his appreciation and both seemed happy to have a plan to move forward together.

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Center for Conflict Resolution

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
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Project Leader:
Cassandra Lively
Chicago, IL United States
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