Study on mediation in criminal cases in Limburg

Lower rate of recidivism for offenders who receive mediation

The rate of recidivism is significantly lower for offenders who receive mediation than for those who follow the standard criminal procedure. This was the result of a study led by Maastricht University, in collaboration with the University of Twente and the Ministry of Justice's Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC). The results will be published on 4 September in the Dutch law journal Nederlands Juristenblad. The research data was supplied by the Maastricht/Limburg Public Prosecutor's Office, which has mediated criminal cases since 1999.

Mediation in criminal cases has made its way onto the Netherlands' political agenda. This mediation will become even more embedded throughout the country in the years to come. Criminal mediation is expected to more effectively respond to the needs of victims. It is also expected to be cheaper and more efficient than conventional criminal procedures in terms of reducing recidivism.

Criminal mediation for the Maastricht/Limburg area falls under the domain of the Public Prosecution Department (OM). This department offers direct mediation (face-to-face contact between victim and offender under the supervision of the mediator), indirect mediation (written contact or contact in which the mediator quite literally shuttles back and forth between both parties) and partial mediation (contact between the offender and the judge or prosecutor, with the approval of the victim, who does not wish to participate). All mediation processes (more than 1,300) held between 2000 and 2010 were examined. The study found that approximately 70% of the initiated mediation processes were successful in that they were concluded with an agreement between both parties. These agreements took the form of repairs, damage payments, charity donations, therapy for the offender, etc.

The study also found that offenders who had undergone mediation had a significantly lower risk of recidivism than offenders in the control group. The control group consisted of offenders who, according to the Public Prosecution Department, were eligible for mediation but did not receive it because the offender and/or the victim did not wish to participate in the process. The study revealed that the differences in the rate of recidivism cannot be explained by differences in gender, (starting) age, country of birth, type of offense, criminal history, crime frequency (the average number of offenses per year throughout the criminal career) or the year in which the case was settled.

The results showed no difference in the recidivism rate following direct or indirect mediation, which was expected based on foreign studies. Partial mediation did not necessarily show a less favourable recidivism rate compared to direct or indirect mediation. Partial mediation appeared to have added value compared to the control group, which received no form of mediation.

The study also used figures from a recidivism prediction model developed by the WODC's Recidivism Monitor. This model can reliably predict the likelihood of recidivism for all offenders in Dutch criminal cases over the next four years based on several statistical features, such as gender, age, country of birth, offense type and criminal history. A comparison revealed that the predicted recidivism rate was significantly higher in all groups than the actual recidivism rate. The difference between the predicted value and the actual value was also significantly higher in the three mediation groups compared to the control group.

The results of this study seem to suggest that these differences in recidivism rates are linked to the availability of mediation. However, it remains unclear whether this mediation was the sole reason why recidivism rates were reduced. It is possible that the researchers did not have information about other differences between the groups. This study, however, did bring the researchers one step closer to confirming that mediation has a positive influence on recidivism rates in participating offenders. The determining baseline – that criminal mediation does not increase recidivism rates compared to standard criminal proceedings that do not include mediation – was not compromised.

Jacques Claessen, primary author of the NJB article, is optimistic. 'We have every reason to continue with this humane and, in terms of recidivism prevention, effective way of resolving conflicts. After all, what works in Maastricht/Limburg should work in the rest of the country as well.'

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