Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

Anthony was arrested during the Puerto Rican Pride Festival in early June, just a little before his seventeenth birthday. He and his two sisters had taken their father’s car without permission. Anthony’s older sister, Angela, had a license. But Anthony really liked to drive, and she let him that day, even though he didn’t have a license.

Angela had been waving a flag out the window, enjoying the day along with their fellow community members. When the officer pulled them over, the younger sister, Aracelis, got into a verbal altercation with the officer, claiming that he had stopped them because they were “young Latinos making too much noise.”

The police ended up charging both Anthony and Angela as minors with possession of a stolen vehicle and driving without a license. Since the car belonged to their father and he wasn’t pressing charges, the matter ended up with a social worker partnering with the Chicago Police Department. The social worker referred the family to CCR after their interview, citing a lack of communication and oversight between the children and parents.

During the mediation, the mediator asked about how things were at home before the arrest. The mother, Celia, expressed that what the social worker said was true, especially between herself and Anthony. Most of their communication was by texting or having other family members pass messages.

As a result of working two jobs, raising four teenage children, and caring for her mom who had Parkinson’s, Celia didn’t have much energy left over to fight battles or watch over her kids. She relied on Anthony to be a leader and make good decisions. She said that for the most part, he was a good kid, but that he often ended up getting influenced by other kids and making poor choices.

When asked how he felt about this, Anthony told the mediator that he felt isolated and unsupported. He hadn’t been going to school for the last few months because he had been hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting incident that one of his friends was involved in. He was still wearing a cast and he said that while he had been recovering, all his mom did was ask him to clean the house, get his younger siblings off to school, and run errands.

The mediator then checked in with Angela to get her perspective. She said that she was really frustrated that no one in their family seemed to talk much. She first blamed it on the fact that they were all busy and tired, but with some probing by the mediator, ended up talking about how no one ever expressed their affection for each other or asked to see how things were going.

Anthony and Celia agreed, and Celia said that’s just how she had been raised. She also disclosed that her relationship with their dad had suffered because of this pattern and that even though they were still married, things weren’t good between the two of them either.

Anthony expressed that he was hurt and concerned by this. When the mediator asked what each of their goals were for the future, Anthony talked about wanting to be a truck driver but that he was scared about how these kinds of incidents would affect his future. Celia echoed this fear right away, saying that she just wanted him to finish school and get this arrest expunged from his record.

At this point, the mediator gently asked each of them what they thought they could do to change any of this. Celia said that the past year had made her realize how much her family needs her to be present emotionally. She said that she would commit to asking each of her kids how they were doing at least once a week. Anthony said that he knew how much his mom needed support too, and promised that he would make better choices with who he chose to hang around.

They also agreed that Celia would take him to do his driving test so he could get his license, and Anthony would start looking for a part time job so he could earn money to pay for truck driving school.

In ending the session, the mediator asked if there was anything else they wanted to say. Anthony looked at his mom and said, “I love you. I’m proud of how much you do to keep our family together, even though you can’t always be a part of things day-to-day.”

Celia began to cry and said how proud she was of him too. And all the kids. All three of them hugged and said they loved each other. Then, through tears, they all started laughing about how this kind of thing had never happened before. They joked about how it felt a little awkward, but they liked it and hoped they could do it more in the future. Through mediation, Anthony, Angela and Celia were able, for the first time, to talk openly and plan for a future with improved communication and more fulfilling relationships.

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Sergio and his mother Carla came to mediation at Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) after Sergio was arrested for battery. Sergio had been dating his friend Sam’s old girlfriend, and was upset when he learned that Sam and other friends were talking badly about him. Sergio felt that because Sam had a new girlfriend, he had no reason to be upset with Sergio.

Sergio confronted Sam on a Friday afternoon after school, and their interaction ended with Sergio shoving Sam. Sam’s parents reported the incident to the police, and when school resumed the following Monday, Sergio was called into the principal’s ofce, handcuffed, arrested, and taken to the police station. He was also suspended from school for one week. Sergio’s case was eventually referred for mediation with CCR. Sam declined to participate in the mediation and so a family mediation was held for Sergio and his mother, Carla.

Through a guided conversation, the mediator was able to find common ground between Sergio and Carla, as well as help them recognize ways to improve their relationship. Both Sergio and Carla agreed that work and school were the most important things for Sergio to concentrate on, and that fighting with classmates would only distract Sergio from his goals. It was important to Sergio to finish school, and to continue working at his part-time job that allowed him to buy clothes and save up to visit family in Mexico.

During the mediation, the mediator took a break from having Sergio and Carla together in the same room and met separately with each party. Carla teared up when she explained that she had left Sergio with his grandparents in Mexico for the first 10 years of his life - while she worked to establish herself in the United States. They did not see each once during those 10 years. Carla explained that she was concerned Sergio didn’t understand how she saw their time apart as an important sacrifice she needed to make to ensure a better opportunity for him. She was worried because Sergio has started to lie to her occasionally about his whereabouts.

When the mediator met with Sergio, they discussed the fact that Carla has many rules she expects Sergio to follow regarding work and school. The day before the mediation Carla found out that Sergio took a trip to a water park in Wisconsin and told her that he was working. She had been furious. Sergio explained that he wants to follow his mother’s rules, but he would also like to have some more independence to spend time with his friends. Sergio said he was proud to be an important role model for his younger brothers and that he plans to have a conversation with them about what they can learn from his experience of being arrested. He felt he had learned from his mistake, and that he wanted to have a conversation with his mom about what he could do to earn more independence.

Through mediation, Sergio and Carla were able to have a conversation about tough topics in a safe, neutral space, and develop solutions that worked for them. When the mediator brought Sergio and Carla back together, they talked about setting up regular time on Saturdays for just the two of them to spend time with each other. Carla expressed that building a close relationship with Sergio was important to her, and she was able to tell him that she understood that their time apart was very hard for him, and that she felt it was necessary to give him richer opportunities. Having this conversation allowed Sergio to express that he appreciated the sacrifice that Carla made, and that it was also important to him to continue his close ties with his grandparents in Mexico. Sergio asked for Carla’s support in making regular visits, and she agreed. There was conversation about Sergio taking pictures of his grandmother’s Mexican cooking and returning with some of her recipes. They also discussed Sergio’s desire to have more independence to spend time with his friends. Carla agreed to give permission for Sergio to spend time with his friends, as long as he updates her with his whereabouts via text so she will not worry. They both agreed that they would continue to work to improve their communication and trust, and were happy to have a plan to move them forward.

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Dalia, age 16, and her mother, Celeste, were referred to mediation after Dalia was arrested while attending a protest of a City Council meeting with her mother’s permission. They arrived at the mediation ready to share, but were disappointed that the officer involved in Dalia’s arrest had declined to participate. “Communication is good between us,” Dalia’s mother Celeste began, “so I’m not sure how much help we need with conflict resolution. The person I really hoped to have across this table was the officer.” Nonetheless the mediation began.

Without the officer present, Dalia and Celeste got to take a deep dive into the aspects of their relationship that were affected by the arrest. Dalia volunteers for a non-profit that advocates for equity in education and, as she put it, an end to Chicago’s “rapid gentrification that harms those in our black and brown neighborhoods.”

Celeste and the mediator listened while Dalia described her fear at being separated from her group, shouted at, surrounded, slammed against a glass door, handcuffed, not read her rights, questioned without a parent or attorney present and referred to as an animal. Celeste had heard this story before, and was incredibly supportive, but hearing it made her visibly anxious. The mediator helped explore Celeste’s fears as a mother of a 16 year old girl of color. “She’s going to continue her activism. I won’t stop her because it’s who she is. All I can do is pray, but I’m worried constantly about her safety.”

Celeste’s most pressing need was for her daughter’s safety. She also needed to have her motherly concern taken seriously. Dalia’s most pressing needs were for her mother’s trust and to continue her activism. She needed Celeste to know that she was raised right and knew how to avoid and react to dangerous situations. Since both were committed to Dalia’s continued activism, the mediator helped the parties explore ways Celeste’s concern could be managed through both self-care and better communication from Dalia.

Celeste and Dalia also talked about strategies Dalia could use if she found herself surrounded by police and separated from her group in the future. Dalia described how she shut down her emotions in police custody because she “knew they didn’t see me as a juvenile; they saw me as a threat, and being in my emotions could have put me in danger.” This led to discussion about Dalia’s struggles with schoolwork and places Dalia felt most at ease to express her true herself and let those powerful emotions flow. It all came back to family and education--the loudest common values in the room.

It was clear that both mother and daughter felt their needs were heard by the other in a new way in the mediation. Dalia worked to reassure her mother and show gratitude. Celeste worked to demonstrate both pride and trust. The two women were both clearly committed, each in her own way, to strengthening their relationship and their city.

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Leo and his parents, Leo Sr. and Bridget, were referred to family mediation at CCR after Leo was suspended for an incident across the street from his school. When the family met with the mediator, Leo began by explaining some things to the mediator and his family. Before the incident, his ex-girlfriend Sandra had moved away to a different school. Sandra loaned some shoes (sandals that held personal significance as they'd been given to her by her grandmother) to a friend of hers, Laura, and was having trouble getting them back. She had been texting Leo asking him to help her. Leo said he'd mentioned it a few times to Laura, but had no luck; Laura always claimed she couldn't find them or had left them at home. Leo grew tired of hearing about the shoes from Sandra, and he wanted to be done with it. One day when he saw Laura with the shoes on, he approached her in the cafeteria to ask for them. She said no and walked away. After that, Leo left school and spotted Laura across the street standing with her boyfriend, Robert. He went over to her and tried talking to her, but Robert would not let them talk. Leo didn’t know what else to do and he knelt down and pulled the sandals off of Laura's feet, causing her to lose her balance and fall backward. Leo took the shoes and ran home. Robert and a group of Robert’s friends followed Leo.

Leo Sr. saw the teenagers approaching the house and went outside to find out what was going on. He brought Robert inside and Robert said that Leo had stolen his girlfriend's shoes. Leo then rushed to explain that the shoes were actually Sandra’s. Eventually, Leo Sr. told Robert to leave. Bridget, Leo's mom, came in to say she just got a call that Leo needed to go to the police department to give a statement about what happened. Bridget took her son to the station and when they got there, Leo was taken to a different room and the police officer from the school instructed Bridget to go home. While she was gone, the police called her and asked if they could read Leo's rights over the phone. Not fully understanding the implications, Bridget agreed. Later, she spoke with a lawyer and began to feel like she and her son had been taken advantage of. Six hours after entering the police department, Leo was allowed to leave.

During the family mediation all the members of Leo’s family expressed regret about what happened, and also felt that Leo been treated unfairly by the police. Leo felt his reputation and relationships with classmates had been damaged. Leo’s father encouraged him to focus on his own goals, and not to get involved in friends’ conflicts. Bridget became teary-eyed while talking about how she felt she let Leo down by not staying with him at the police station. She felt afraid for her son. Leo was apologetic about what he had put his parents through and emphasized he didn’t want to get into more trouble. He told the mediator and his parents that he has a dream of owning his own business someday, hopefully a car dealership, and that he understood that this kind of run in with police would hinder him in achieving his goals.

Leo was disappointed in how things had impacted his parents and the family spent time in the mediation planning for how to handle similar situations in the future. Leo expressed that he realized that fighting someone else’s battle was not worth the trouble. Leo Sr. and Bridget shared that they wished they had better understood what was happening for their son. Leo seemed especially remorseful for causing his mother anxiety at the police station. After discussing the incident and its aftermath with the mediator and thinking about how to work together moving forward, the energy in the room was lighter; the family understood each other, and had a common goal in helping Leo manage his responsibilities to his friends and meet his future goals.

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Zhang came to mediation because he had been arrested for using a BB gun to shoot out the windows of his old elementary school. Zhang and his mother, Li, met with Patricia and Bernice, the principal and dean of students of the school. Patricia and Bernice had helped Zhang through some behavioral issues when he was a student at the elementary school, and so were familiar with Zhang and his family.

When the mediator convened the session, he first met with both sides privately to ensure everyone understood his role and to hear their concerns. During this initial phase, Zhang and Li expressed that their main desire was to apologize for the incident, take responsibility for it and resolve the issue so it could be put behind them.

Patricia and Bernice were both deeply hurt and angry. This incident caused physical damage to the school; it was fear-inducing incident for students and also for administrators in the age of mass school shootings; and it also felt like a personal betrayal because of all the energy they had invested in Zhang already. The fact that Li had not offered any acknowledgement of the incident for months was even more galling.

When the mediator brought the parties together, he started by giving Zhang a chance to speak and explain what happened from his perspective – the incident was unrelated to his old elementary school, but due to personal frustration about the fact that his mother and father had separated a few years ago and he felt things had been deteriorating in their home life ever since. An uncle had given him a BB gun and he had been using it to shoot out his frustrations on bottles and cans in a back alley near the school. On his way home, he just kept shooting things and happened to be going by the school. Some other kids were around and it developed into some sort of dare and a way to impress the group.

Once Patricia and Bernice heard this, they were relieved to understand that it wasn’t something more sinister or dangerous to the future of the school and its students. However, they still felt betrayed, disrespected, and disappointed that Zhang would do something like this after all they had done for him and his family. Furthermore, they expressed frustration and confusion about why Li never approached them to address the issue or try to make it right. As the mediator helped summarize and clarify the detailed reasons behind their emotions, it became clear that they were primarily looking for respect and acknowledgement that they had been damaged both physically and emotionally by this incident.

 Li was able to address this by describing how she had been angry at Zhang for having the BB gun in the first place and embarrassed that she hadn’t been more aware of his behavior. Because of her shame around the issue, she had avoided the two administrators as much as possible. Additionally, she was told by the police that she should hire an attorney and not talk about the case until she had done so. Since she couldn’t afford that, she felt her only option was to wait until the courts decided the punishment and try her best to swallow the consequences.

By being given the opportunity to tell their story and have it heard by the school representatives, Zhang and Li were able to express remorse about their actions while providing context for them. This allowed Patricia and Bernice to mitigate their fear and anger around the lack of communication and to begin to focus on restoration rather than punishment.

After guiding the conversation to this point, the mediator then helped the parties craft an agreement that outlined a specific schedule of service work that Zhang would do at the school on a weekly basis until the cost of the damage had been worked out. They also agreed that Bernice would communicate with Zhang about his grade reports and if he received good grades, it would reduce his number of service hours by a certain amount. When the mediation was over, they all hugged and promised to stay in communication should anything change or need to be adjusted.

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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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