I do mediation, and in New York, the state provides a certain amount of funding for Community Dispute Resolution Centers in each county. The centers provide free and low cost mediation/dispute resolution services to the community for cases including child custody and visitation, neighbor disputes, parent-child disputes, elder transitions, special education decisions, landlord-tenant disputes, and restorative justice. Short of felony offenses that must be handled in criminal court, we could handle any type of dispute. But we do not have the funding nor the capacity to take on the full array of cases because the state only allocates $5.4 million dollars a year to be divided by 20 mediation centers that cover all counties in New York.
Why do the mediation centers receive $5.4 million while the Unified Court System receives approximately $1.9 billion dollars each year? The fact is that the state, the courts, and people in general do not see the centers as a clear alternative to the courts. We are seen as part of the court system, and currently our funding is allocated within that framework… but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Imagine a world where the mediation center is a large stone building with a dome and security guards and rotundas and clerks offices and meeting rooms. Imagine a world where people only go to court as a last resort, after they have tried to work things out with the opposing party. Imagine if you could handle a dispute with any person or company in a confidential setting. Imagine knowing that you will always have a say in the outcome of the dispute. Imagine if we had a system that built and maintained relationships instead of fomenting adversity and distrust.
New York State could create an alternative dispute resolution system that equals or exceeds the jurisdiction and power of the state courts. And it would not cost $1.9 billion. I have not done the budgetary projections, but I promise you that it will be cheaper than $1.9 billion per year. I would bet that it would cost less than half that amount.
Statewide, 74% of the people who come to a mediation center reach agreement, and 92% are satisfied with mediation. Are 92% of the people who go to court for a civil (non-criminal) matter satisfied? I doubt it.