Disagreements with neighbors or spouses can be ugly, and they can also be costly for the people and institutions involved. The Dayton Mediation Center has been working for 27 years to stem the social and fiscal costs of conflict by addressing it at its root, using volunteer mediators. The center works closely with neighborhood groups and the Montgomery County juvenile court to take on cases that might otherwise go through police, or result in either criminal charges or expensive litigation.
These days, the Dayton Mediation Center is in a growth spurt. It has recently been hired to help the state of Ohio establish a statewide conflict management system for employees, and the center has expanded to start serving Montgomery County’s suburbs as well as the city of Dayton. In the Montgomery County juvenile court, mediators are starting to help out with civil as well as criminal charges. In January, 2014, the center will become the host organization for an international association of conflict management groups.
Finally, a two-year-old program that works with Dayton-area small businesses to mediate neighborhood conflicts is thriving. Many of the businesses are immigrant-owned and have run into conflict with surrounding communities, sometimes due to misunderstandings.
Zaremba says the Recession created more of a demand for mediation, because people had less money, even in wealthier areas.
“They weren’t able to afford an attorney to go through different processes, or they had to stay in their neighborhoods and they couldn’t just up and leave,” she says, “so they needed another option.”
In the juvenile court system, mediation takes criminal cases out of criminal court, reducing staffing and logistical costs, not to mention the cost of incarceration: juvenile detention averages $253.10 a day, by contrast to $5.80 a day for electric home monitoring. A mediation, which can avoid a criminal sentence for first-time offenders, costs $150 total per case, and Montgomery County officials estimate the recidivism rate for youth who go through mediation is only 4 to 5 percent.
The goal of a mediation is to let all parties be heard, to find a solution to the problem, and ultimately to leave with an agreement everyone can accept. Getting at the root of conflict is more important than finding a punishment or issuing a sentence. Zaremba says in the vast majority of the cases, participants come to a solution and go out feeling respected, even if they came in hating each other’s guts.
“Not everybody leaves here holding hands and singing Kumbaya,” she says, and that’s beside the point.