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Halvor is 27 years old. He lives and works in a medium-sized city in southern Norway. On the way home from a party one night before Christmas, Halvor broke into a store and vandalized it, emptying filing cabinets and shelves and generally making a mess. He did not, however, steal anything. After half an hour the police came and took Halvor into custody. During the ensuing interrogation, Halvor was unable to recall anything of what had happened. He remembered having been drinking but was not drunk. He only occasionally drinks alcohol. This was Halvor's first contact with the police and he was deeply sorry for what he had done. The next day Halvor called the owner of the store and apologized for what had happened. He asked if the owner would be willing to discuss the case with the Conflict Resolution Board. The owner was willing to do this. Damages were assessed at $1,100.
A Conflict Resolution Board is a forum where conflicts can be discussed and resolved outside the formal legal/court system. The parties to the conflict meet for mediation along with a neutral third person. The conflicts most often mediated are misdemeanours, but the board can also mediate other types of conflicts.
The first attempts to set up Conflict Resolution Boards in Norway took place in 1983, under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Affairs. All of the counties in Norway (a total of 460) were encouraged to set up such boards. Both Sweden and Denmark have shown a great deal of interest in the use of conflict resolution, and are considering the introduction of a similar system. The idea of Conflict Resolution Boards in Norway received strong support both from the general public and from professionals, particularly those working in the social services. Politicians from various parties with quite different political platforms have been unanimous in their praise of this approach. The Minister of justice has referred to the use of conflict resolution as being the greatest advancement in the field of criminal justice during the past thirty years (Norwegian Press Association, 21 December 1990).
During the spring of 1990, the Norwegian parliament (with a Conservative majority) recommended requiring each county to appoint a Conflict Resolution Board (Proposition no. 56, 1989 90). During the autumn of that year there was a change of government by which the Labour Party came into power. The Labour government chose to support the recommendation, and in April 1991, the recommendation regarding mediation through the use of Conflict Resolution Boards was made law.
I have had responsibility for evaluating the efforts of the Conflict Resolution Boards (Nergard and Halvorsen 1990). In this article I will summarize the results of this evaluation and discuss my perceptions of the status of the Conflict Resolution Boards today. The data used in this study include statistics obtained from the Conflict Resolution Boards in existence in 1988 and 1990, and material from a survey of those who had responsibility for the Conflict Resolution Boards in the various counties.
Background and Goals of the Conflict Resolution Boards
The thinking behind the decision to introduce Conflict Resolution Boards was in part pragmatic: there was a need to tackle the steadily increasing incidence of criminal behaviour among young people. There was also an ideological motive rooted in increasing scepticism about the traditional approach of punishment for crime. An article by the Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie, entitled |Conflict as Property' (Christie 1977), was influential in shaping the new approach. Christie took the view that conflict is positive because it presents possibilities for activity and participation. Conflict should therefore be taken advantage of and used. He saw conflict as a form of property, and criticized the justice system for stealing the opportunity for dealing with conflict from people in our society - which is what happens, according to Christie, when conflict is moved into the courtroom. Christie proposed that conflict should be returned to the people. The efforts to develop the idea of a Norwegian Conflict Resolution Board also received inspiration from foreign projects. One of the most influential of these projects was the Neighborhood Justice Centers, or Conflict Resolution Centers, which developed in the United States during the 1970s (Lingas 1987).
There are three requirements which must be met for a case to be heard by the Conflict Resolution Board: the parties (both the accused and the injured) must be known; both parties must state their willingness to have the case handled by the board; and the case must not be so serious that it could involve an active prison sentence (although under special circumstances there can be exceptions to this condition). Attempts at resolution through the board are generally reserved for those cases which ordinarily would have involved Child Welfare, cases where charges would have been dropped even though evidence was available, cases involving fines, cases involving postponement of sentence, and cases involving shorter conditional sentences (Public Prosecutor's Circular no. R. 1381/88). The Conflict Resolution Board can also handle cases of a non-criminal nature; the persons involved can contact the board directly without first going through the police. The Conflict Resolution Boards do not, however, have responsibility for investigating cases.
Initially, the boards were directed primarily at cases involving young people under the age of 18 years. However, in 1989, the Attorney, General extended this age limit. Halvor, the young man mentioned in the abstract of this article, is an example of how this extended age limit has been applied. Nevertheless, one of the most important aims of the Conflict Resolution Boards from the outset was to provide an initiative within Child Welfare. The central imperative for this effort was to develop an alternative to the traditional methods of dealing with misdemeanour crimes among young people. Through the Conflict Resolution Boards, the young law-breaker is given the opportunity to settle directly with the victim. The meeting between the two parties is led by a mediator who is an adult from the local community. If the accused holds to the agreement set by the board and does not become involved in any further breaches of the law during a period of six months dating from the initial incident, then all charges are dropped unconditionally. This means that charges will not become part of a criminal record. If the conditions arrived at by the parties and the board are not met, then the case is returned to the police and the probationary period is revoked.
Another important goal for the Conflict Resolution Boards was to deal more effectively with teenage criminality; the boards would be able to reduce the workload of the police and the time required for resolution would be reduced. A third goal was to help prevent criminal behaviour, and a fourth was the strengthening of the local community through participation in the boards.
Both England and the Netherlands have …