At year’s end, it’s time to look back at the biggest story for Connecticut mediation in 2011. A few months ago, the Judicial Branch, faced with the challenge of meeting its budget restrictions, decided to cut funding for mediation services provided by not-for-profits in the Superior Court. The defunding was a tough hit for the three Connecticut mediation agencies: the Hartford Area Mediation Program, the Dispute Settlement Center, and Community Mediation, Inc.
The loss was direct for the programs these groups staffed and the courts they worked in. Mediation of minor criminal offenses and other matters came to a halt. Both defendants and victims lost the opportunity to work with a trained mediator for dispute resolution that worked for their particular circumstances, as well as a chance to address underlying issues that could bubble to the surface again — perhaps in a more violent manner — in the future.
The loss is indirect, too. Many people have no direct experience with mediation, but hear about it through others who participate or through the results it can achieve. As more people learn about the benefits of mediation, more see it as an option for their own conflicts, of whatever nature. The loss of these court programs diminishes the opportunities for more people to learn how mediators work and mediation as a method of conflict resolution.