From 23- 25 September, CEP and the Probation and Mediation Service of the Czech Republic will jointly organise a conference focused on the use of restorative justice during probation, the use of mediation between offender and victim during the criminal proceeding and counselling, and the support and cooperation for the victim within the probation service. As a warm up for this conference, CEP asked Ms. Čádová, Director of Probation and Mediation Service of the Czech Republic, to tell something on the views and daily practices of mediation in the Czech Republic.
- What is in your opinion, the great advantage of mediation? In both idealistic, and criminological aspects?
“Mediation between the offender and the victim contributes to a settlement of a conflict caused by commiting a crime. We see the benefit of mediation in the possibility of mediating the dialog between the offender and the victim (directly as well as indirectly), during which all the questions the victim asks are answered regarding the commited crime and the offender has the opportunity to respond, i.e. he can explain the circumstances of the crime and incentives leading to his behavior. This way, the offender can better understand the actual impact of his crime on the life of the victim and the victim can actively influence the restoration of the crime consequences. By expressing his needs, wishes and interests, the victim has the opportunity to affect the way in which the incurred damage can be redeemed by the offender.
The Probation and Mediation Service has more experience in arranging mediation at pre-sentencing level of criminal proceedings. Nevertheless, mediation at post-sentencing level of criminal proceedings has been developed more and more in the last years, as well. We are persuaded (and this was also confirmed by a research carried out at the Institute of Criminology and Social Prevention during the years 2006-2008  that both offenders and victims who participated in mediation perceive it positively in most cases. During the years 2006-2008, we arranged mediation in every ninth case out of a total of 14 942 incentives to initiate our activities at pre-sentencing level of criminal proceedings. The research shows that although in the beginning of mediation 51 % offenders and 56 % victims had doubts about its successful result, a mutual agreement was achieved in 89 % cases.
The most common reasons why the victim decided to take part in mediation are as follows: desire to understand the motives that led the offender to his crime, to avoid lengthy judicial proceedings, to hear an explicit apology from the offender, to help his remedy and to be compensated. The main reasons why the offender wanted to participate in mediation were the possibility to reach an agreement with the victim about how to restore the incurred damage, how to make the overall hearing of the case faster as well as how to get a more moderate punishment for the commited crime. More than a half of the offenders felt they should apologize to the victim in person and tell him they were sorry about their behavior.
The Probation and Mediation Service in the Czech Republic has strived to use the restorative justice approach in practice since its foundation in 2001, in particular through arranging mediation between the victim and the offender. During the last two years, we managed to create methodical instructions and to implement a new restorative program – the so called family group conferencing that is being developed particularly with regard to juvenile cases.“
- Can you give a few of your best practices in mediation, especially in connection with probation?
“Our present practice shows that we apply mediation between the offender and the victim more often at pre-sentencing level of criminal proceedings, i.e. during the time when investigations are conducted and before the court or the public prosecutor has decided the case. This follows from the fact that the initial implementation of mediation between the offender and the victim was historically connected with the time when the Czech criminal law introduced into practice the so called diversions of criminal proceedings, i.e. conditional suspension of criminal prosecution and reconcilliation. Hence initially, mediation was perceived as a means to prepare the conditions for using these diversions in practice.
Only later, inspired by Nordic countries as Great Britain and Canada, mediation began to be used as a way of cooperation with the victim and the offender during the alternative sentence, i.e. during the probation/parole. This trend has been developed especially since 2008 through our cooperation with the Prison Service of the Czech Republic within the scope of the Commissions for conditional release (inspired by the parole boards from abroad). Currently, these Commissions are involved in preparing the conditions for conditional releases in nine prisons in the Czech Republic. This number will increase up to 15 from next year (there are 35 prisons altogether in the Czech Republic).
An example of mediation between a convicted offender and a victim is a case of a man sentenced to three years of prison for a crime of bodily harm caused in a traffic accident (the offender injured a woman crossing a road while exceeding the speed limit on a motorbike). Under preparations of conditions for the conditional release, the probation officer made contact with the husband of the injured woman who was appointed her curator due to her fatal health conditions. It was only at this stage and by the means of the Victim Impact Statement that the offender realized how grave the injury of the woman was and how serious were the health, psychological, emotional and financial impacts of his crime on her life and on the life of her family. Subsequently, through mediation, an agreement between the then already conditionally released offender and the husband of the victim was reached that obliged the offender to voluntarily (i.e. not legally bindingly) pay the costs of medical care for the injured woman.
The Probation and Mediation Service offers mediation as a standard part of our probation activities. It is arranged by probation officers both with regard to the offender serving an alternative sentence and to the victim or his survivors. Based on the mandate following from the Act on victims of crimes from 2013, the Probation and Mediation Service is authorized to offer victims restorative programs, i.e. to arrange mediation or restorative conferences.“
- In your 15 year experience of probation and restorative justice, what would you say is the view of probation workers related to mediation?
“From the very beginning, the vision of the Probation and Mediation Service has been to advance and implement the principles of restorative justice in practice. Our employees are aware of the fundamental mission and principles of our organization from the moment they join our ranks. Hence, they are in favour of this approach from the very beginning and are encouraged to apply it in practice and to develop their capabilities by means of further education. This aim is systematically supported from the moment they begin to work at our service through a basic qualification course that all probation officers and assistants have to attend and finish by successfully passing the final exams.
Although promoting the restorative justice approach cannot be assessed as an unambiguous triumph after the 15 years of our activity, we managed many successes in our daily practice through the way of our work and its results. Also, we managed to find active supporters of the restorative approach both among police, public prosecutors, judges and prison service employees. Thanks to our still growing practical experience from the work with offenders and victims, we managed successfully to go through an internal expert debate on how to handle the traditional prejudices, such as that the dialog between the victim and the offender cannot moderate impacts of a crime, that the contact between the victim and the offender leads to further traumatizing of the victim rather that to be helpful, that the victim cannot be helped in any way and that it is better not to open the old wounds during probation.
Nevertheless, our approach to the work with the offender and the victim during probation and parole shows the potential that restorative justice actually has. This potential is further confirmed by the more and more frequent practical experience of our probation officers. The most experienced of our employees discuss their case work and results not only at our own educational events but also at international conferences and seminars. On the international level, they are often invited to participate in discussions in expert round tables which makes us believe in the benefits of restorative justice and in the meaning of our work even more strongly. Last but not least, this year we were asked as experts to take part in the project that supports implementing the system of mediation in Albania.“
 Institute of Criminology and Social Prevention, Prague, 2010, ISBN 978-80-7338-097-7. The English summary of this research can be found under the name „The research of the Application of Mediation in the Criminal Justice System II“ on the website http://www.ok.cz/iksp/en/docs/s372.pdf.