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Solving conflicts outside the court system: experiences with the conflict resolution boards in Norway.

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 systems which have much in common with the Norwegian. The principal goals for the English, Dutch, and Norwegian systems are very much alike. First of all they offer an educative response to the offence, without the stigmatizing side-effects of a judicial contact, and so seek to prevent further offences. The victim has the opportunity to receive an apology as well as compensation for damages. The Norwegian Resolution Boards, the majority of the English schemes, and the Halt project (the title of the Dutch programme) are all concerned with relatively minor offences and offenders with a limited criminal record.(1)

How have the Conflict Resolution Boards functioned, and to what degree have their goals been reached? Results in Norway will be compared with the systems in place in England and the Netherlands.

How Have the Conflict Resolution Boards Functioned?


Most of the Conflict Resolution Boards are based in the offices of the social services. A child welfare specialist or social services case-worker is generally the responsible individual, for whom the work of the Conflict Resolution Board generally makes up only a portion of total work responsibilities. All of the boards have several mediators working with them. There are no formal educational requirements connected with being a mediator, but many have some experience of working with children and young people, either through their professions or through volunteer work. The mediators generally receive a standard fee for each case for which they are responsible. The fee is small and generally covers no more than the actual costs involved for travel, telephone, etc. The organization of the Norwegian boards is similar to that of the Halt projects and the pre-prosecution schemes in England (Kruissink 1990; Davis el al. 1987). Two-thirds of the Halt projects are municipal; the remaining ones are organized as welfare institutions or as part of existing welfare institutions.

Most of the Conflict Resolution Boards work in conjunction with the local police or bailiff. In some cases, the police will identify a particular person who will liaise with the board, but there is no formal position to cover this. It is often up to the individual mediator him- or herself to determine how the contact will be made. This system seems to work well for some of the boards, but others find it difficult and feel it does not function adequately. There are complaints that the police show little interest or trust in the work of the Conflict Resolution Boards and that the police refer fewer cases than they could. The Norwegian experience in this respect mirrors that of the English schemes in that in general it seems to be easier to gain relatively unequivocal support from senior management within the police than from officers lower down in the hierarchy (Davis et al. 1987). My impression, based on interviews in one of the cities which has put the resolution boards into practice, is that most police officers support the scheme in principle; in practice, however, results fall short of intent.

The Norwegian Ministry of Social Affairs has set up a training centre to assist counties wishing to start a Conflict Resolution Board. However, this centre was not created until some time after the programme began, and for most of the time there has been only one employee working there.

Number of conflict boards and number of cases

At the end of 1989, there were eighty-one Conflict Resolution Boards in Norway (seven more than in the previous year), covering a total of eighty-five counties. There is a great deal of variation in the population size of the counties which have started Conflict Resolution Boards, the largest having 135,000 inhabitants and the smallest 800. The number of actual cases varies, of course, from the largest to the smallest counties. Most of the counties in Norway (45 per cent) have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Relatively speaking, there are fewer Conflict Resolution Boards in the smaller counties than in the larger ones.

During 1989, the boards accepted 268 cases; in 1988, the number was 266. There have been wide variations in the numbers of cases dealt with by the various boards, with more than half of the boards (forty-five, or 56 per cent of the total) not dealing with any cases in 1989. During the previous year there were fewer boards taking on no cases (thirty-three, or 45 per cent). During both years there were a few boards (five) which clearly had a greater number of cases than the others. All of these boards had responsibility for relatively large cities or counties with large populations (between 80,000 and 150,000), and each had an identified employee functioning as conflict resolution leader. These five boards dealt with two-thirds of all the cases brought before the Conflict Resolution Boards during the year. These cases apart, the other Conflict Resolution Boards dealt with an average of 1.4 cases each in 1989, and 1.2 cases in 1988. The figures for 1990 are incomplete because a third of the respondents have not provided statistics. Of those who responded to the survey, only twenty-six of eighty-six Conflict Resolution Boards (30 per cent) had received referrals during the year. Figures are not yet available for 1991.

Most of the cases (nine out of ten) brought before the Conflict Resolution Boards in each year were referred by the police. There were virtually no cases referred directly by the public. Table 1 shows how the cases brought before the Conflict Resolution Boards during 1988 and 1989 break down with respect to type of crime. The table does not include non-criminal behaviour. The most common types of cases dealt with by the boards were breaking and entering, vandalism, and motor theft. These made up almost two-thirds of all the cases handled by the boards (65 per cent). These categories of offences are more or less the same as those covered by the programme in the Netherlands.
Table 1 Cases Dealt with by the Conflict Resolution Boards in 1988
         and 1989, According to Type of Crime (%)
                          1988           1989
                          (N = 234)(a)   (N = 265)(a)
Assault and battery         1              4
Vandalism                  23             21
Breaking and entering      24             24
Motor theft                 7              2
Theft of other vehicles    11              8
Shoplifting                 5             16
Misdemeanour theft          9             11
Felony theft               16              9
Other crimes                3              3
Non-criminal cases          1              2
(a) Figures vary because it was not specified in every case what types of case t
Conflict Resolution Board had dealt with.

How much time is required for the Conflict Resolution Board to complete a case?

One of the problems faced by the judicial authorities is the length of time required to deal with a criminal case. It is seen as a disadvantage that young law-breakers must wait a long time to see a reaction to their criminal activities. There are no systematic data available documenting the amount of time taken by the Conflict Resolution Boards to mediate a case. However, I have examined two randomly chosen time periods for two of the Conflict Resolution Boards which dealt with the highest number of cases where the necessary information was available. In total, I was able to obtain material on forty-nine different individuals who had been before the Conflict Resolution Boards for mediation. All cases had been referred from the police.

On average, fifteen weeks elapsed between the time when the police received the case and the time when it was sent to the Conflict Resolution Board. In a few of the cases, the interval was less than four weeks, but in other cases it was as long as eight months. Once the case had been passed to the Conflict Resolution Boards, the mediation meeting took place within two to three weeks. According to the Halt programme evaluation, settlements in comparable cases by the public prosecutor took on average twice as long (about two months) to reach.

How many law-breakers are involved, and who are they?

In 1988 the total number of juveniles (from 14 to 20 years) coming to the attention of the Norwegian police was 6,667, of whom 10 per cent were female and 49 per cent were between 14 and 17 years old. The following year, the total number of juveniles charged was 7,593, of whom 11 per cent were female and 49 per cent were between 14 and 17 years old (Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway 1988: 57; 1989: 53).

Table 2 shows the types of sanctions applied in cases of law-breaking, including criminal cases, for different age groups. The numbers in parentheses refer to sanctions administered by the court (fine, conditional imprisonment, unconditional imprisonment, and so on); numbers not in parentheses refer to sanctions applied outside the court system transfers to Child Welfare, prosecution suspended, or ticket fine).
Table 2 Sanctions Applied in Cases for Different Age Groups
Age        1988            1989
14 years     254  (34)       240  (34)
15 years     424 (147)       400 (163)
16 years     625 (413)       670 (438)
17 years     714 (600)       877 (702)
18 years     932 (813)     1,078 (862)
19 years     941 (788)     1,182 (970)
20 years     876 (729)     1,040 (837)
Total      4,764 (3,524)   5,487 (4,006)
Source: Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway 1988: 104; 1989: 115.

The difference between these figures and those in Table 3 is striking. In 1989 a total of 424 young persons (9 per cent of them female) had their cases handled by the Conflict Resolution Boards. The comparable figure for 1988 was 484 persons, of whom 3 per cent were female. Table 3 gives a breakdown of these individuals according to age for 1988 and 1989. Figures are not available for 1990 and 1991.
Table 3 Ages of Law-breakers Dealt with by Conflict Resolution
                 Boards, 1988 and 1989
                 1988          1989
                 No.    %      No.
Under 14 years    52    (11)    41    (10)
14 years          90    (19)    61    (15)
15 years         109    (23)    95    (23)
16 years          81    (17)    65    (16)
17 years          62    (13)    73    (18)
18 years          38     (8)    29     (7)
19 years          14     (3)    20     (5)
20 years          28     (6)    24     (6)
Total            474   (100)   408   (100)
Note: Figures vary because the age of the individual was not always specified.

There are few differences in terms of age between 1988 and 1989. The 14-17 age group makes up the largest group. Roughly 20 per cent of the individuals involved in these cases were 18 years old or over. All of the Conflict Resolution Boards have a lower age limit of 14 years; nevertheless, about 10 per cent of the cases mediated by the boards during 1988 and 1989 involved individuals under that age. It is most likely that the Conflict Resolution Boards received these cases from the police in compliance with the Norwegian Child Welfare Law (para. 561).(2) The Dutch Halt programme operates within an age range of 12 to 18 years; however, the possibility of deviating from these age limits exists in almost all the forty projects covered by the programme. The majority of the 3,000 clients on whom the investigation was based were between 14 and 16 years old; 2 per cent were younger than 12 years, and 7 per cent were 18 or older. One in ten clients were female.

Norway was the last country in Scandinavia to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 15 years. This law came into effect on 1 January 1990. As a result, children under the age of 15 years cannot be punished by the legal system, nor is it possible to raise charges against them because this, in itself, is regarded as punishment. Thus, we can assume that the change in the age of criminal responsibility will result in a reduction of the number of cases referred to the Conflict Resolution Boards.

To what degree are the young people appearing before the Conflict Resolution Boards representative of young law-breakers? Is it primarily those with more resources for example, a good family background who have their cases brought before the boards? It would be interesting to examine the social backgrounds of the individuals concerned, but unfortunately this information is not currently available, except in the form of subjective assessments made by the mediators. One of the most experienced mediators described the young law-breakers coming before the boards in the following way: |For the most part, it's assertive young boys who come here. They attend school and have parents who are involved.' She added that from time to time young people come before the board who are from less resourceful homes. These comments were supported by other mediators I spoke with.

The evaluation of the Dutch Halt programme was based upon a comparison of a control group and a group of 179 juveniles referred to the programme. The Halt programme clients did not differ significantly in background characteristics from the control group. Nine out of ten attended school and, generally speaking, enjoyed it. Almost all the programme clients (98 per cent) lived with one or both parents (one-quarter with a single parent). The extent of drug and alcohol abuse differed only slightly from that in the control group; in delinquent behaviour however, the difference was extreme.

What type of outcome is mediated?

Given that one of the goals of the Conflict Resolution Boards is prevention of offending, and that the expectation is that the young people will learn something from the experience, an attempt is made to mediate some type of work agreement between the young law-breaker and the injured party. This is especially important because many of the young people involved have no money available to make financial reparation. Table 4 shows the types of agreements arrived at after mediation. The arrangement most frequently made after mediation by the Conflict Resolution Boards is that the law-breaker provides economic compensation to the victim for the harm done. Roughly half of all the cases dealt with end in this way. This often involves paying the victim's excess in relation to insurance claims (uninsured losses). Such was the result of mediation in the case of Halvor (see abstract), where the damages came to $1,100. Roughly one-quarter of the cases of mediation result in a work agreement.
Table 4 Types of Contract Reached after Mediation (%)
                                          1988         1989
                                          N = 420(a)   N = 359(a)
Work contract                             27           31
Economic compensation                     45           45
Economic compensation and work contract    6           10
Mediation discussions                     22           13
(a) The figures vary because in certain cases the parties were not able to agree
 on a
contract. In addition, some information is lacking as to the type of contract ag

The Halt programme normally arranged two mediations between the offender and the injured party. The aim of the mediation was to reach an agreement on the type and the duration of the work to be undertaken in compensation. But unlike the Norwegian Resolution Boards, it was the Halt workers themselves who arranged the work for the juveniles. In principle Halt sought a clear relation between the offence and the work to be done. In 60 per cent of cases this was achieved; in the remaining 40 per cent there was no relation between the work and the offence. The duration of the work varied from two to thirty-two hours, the average being about seven hours. In addition to performing the work, the juveniles also had to pay compensation, the amount being determined through mediation between the offender and the injured party.

In many cases, the result was a mediation discussion. This was the outcome in situations where the stolen item had been returned, or where the episode did not result in material damages. In these cases, the victim was satisfied with talking to the culprit, without the culprit being required to enter into any agreement involving compensation, or being required to behave in any particular way in the future. In most cases, the law-breaker appeared to comply with the agreement mediated. Data on this are lacking, however, making it difficult to provide clear results.

How does the mediation process function?

The mediator's job involves calling in the parties involved, leading the meeting, and assisting the parties in coming to an agreement. The meeting begins with the mediator presenting a summary of the episode. Each of the parties then presents his or her side of the story. The mediator encourages both to talk about what they thought and felt in the situation. This is an important part of the mediation process. The injured party has the opportunity to hear something of the background and circumstances surrounding the episode. The law-breaker has the opportunity to experience how the injured party has reacted to the episode and has been affected by it.

The question of compensation is then brought up. The intention is that the parties themselves come to an agreement. The mediator encourages both parties to speak. In some cases, it is necessary for the mediator to intervene with suggestions for a compromise, to point out when a situation appears unfair, or to present alternative ways of arranging an agreement. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, it is the mediator's job to help them be precise in their expectations. The agreement is a written one; according to the law, both parties are allowed a week to decide whether they are willing to accept the conditions of the agreement. It is also possible to appeal against an agreement that has been accepted.

In addition to facilitating a cathartic exchange between the parties, mediation may have another important function. Victims have the opportunity to experience that the offender is an ordinary human being rather than an alien monster, immune to everyday problems and concerns. Several reports from the English schemes have emphasized that victims were reassured by mediation, having been convinced of the genuineness of the offender's remorse (Davis et al. 1987: 31). The Norwegian co-ordinators have also mentioned this as a positive consequence. Neither I nor Davis and his colleagues have obtained such evidence directly (for example through interviewing victims).

Another perspective is that mediation in some cases represents an additional pressure on the victims. The Resolution Boards in Norway have no official opportunities to secure a job for offenders who are not able to pay for the losses they have inflicted. Unless the co-ordinator can arrange something, these cases are returned to the police. It is easy to appreciate that some victims will feel uncomfortable carrying this great responsibility.

In the case presented in the abstract, the mediation meeting ended in a conciliatory manner. After Halvor and the injured party had each spoken about what had happened that night and had reached an agreement in the type of compensation and how it was to be arranged, Halvor apologized. He stated that he regretted what had happened and appreciated the injured party's willingness to participate in the mediation process, thus allowing Halvor the possibility of maintaining a clean criminal record. The injured party obviously appreciated these comments and said that it was in Halvor's favour that he himself had made contact and had offered to provide monetary compensation.

In how many cases are the charges dropped?

Charges are not dropped in all instances where the young people involved had their cases sent to the Conflict Resolution Board. Sometimes this occurs because the case has not been reviewed, either because it has become too old or because the individual has been involved in other criminal activity in the meantime. In one county, the same individual was responsible for ten of the fifteen cases included in the statistics for 1989. None of the ten cases was handled in the Conflict Resolution Board.

Sometimes, the injured party or the law-breaker refuses the option of the Conflict Resolution Board, or it happens that one of them does not appear at the mediation meeting. On other occasions, mediation is carried out but the parties are not able to reach an agreement. In still other cases, the young person involved does not keep his or her side of the agreement. Prior to the new law, it was required that the culprit remain law-abiding for a period of six months from the date of the first criminal act in order to have the charges dropped. Not everyone managed to meet this requirement.

After eliminating the cases where the law-breaker, for various reasons, did not follow through with the mediation process, we find that in 1989, roughly two-thirds of those who had their cases dealt with through the Conflict Resolution Boards (about 290 persons) had their charges dropped. The comparable figure in 1988 was approximately three-quarters (about 360 persons). These figures are uncertain since many failed to complete the questions regarding this point. This may indicate that the correct figures are actually lower. No figures are yet available for 1990.

How many commit new crimes?

The recidivism rate refers to the number of individuals who are registered as having committed another crime during the six-month trial period. The trial period is, in actuality, often shorter than six months since it can take quite some time from the initial breach of law until mediation takes place (see above). Conflict resolution carries with it the expectation that confronting the offender with the injured party and requiring compensation to be made will in itself have a preventive effect, making further criminal behaviour less likely. This confrontation takes place in the mediation meeting. Thus, the recidivism rate must be calculated on the base of the number of law-breakers who go through with the mediation meeting.

Many of those completing the survey did not respond to the question regarding recidivism. Thus, the figures available are too incomplete to allow a clear conclusion to be drawn. We can say, however, that the recidivism rate is highly variable. In fact, the figures that are available indicate that it varies from 0 per cent to 100 per cent. In one Conflict Resolution Board where two cases involving a total of three youths were handled in 1988, all three committed new crimes before the trial period was over. We must, of course, keep in mind that the use of percentages is not very appropriate when there are so few cases involved; the recidivism rate under these conditions will be high even if only one young person commits another crime. We can obtain a more realistic picture of the recidivism rate by examining the figures provided by those Conflict Resolution Boards that handled the largest number of cases. In one case, a board reported recidivism for five of the seventy youths involved, in another case the figure was one out of forty-six, and in a third case it was reported that ten out of eighty-seven individuals had committed a breach of the law after having once been through the mediation process.

Recidivism is an uncertain indicator of the effectiveness of conflict resolution in preventing law-breaking. First, the figures available cover a relatively short time period which does not allow us to determine whether there is any long-term preventive effect. Second, recidivism necessarily involves registered criminal activities, so it is not known whether the individual has committed a crime which has not been registered. (This is the case for Norwegian criminal statistics in general). Another important point is that we do not know if it is the conflict resolution itself which has a preventive influence. It is quite likely that relatively few individuals would commit other crimes regardless of what type of sanction was applied: statistics on criminal behaviour indicate that most young people who commit one crime do not go on to commit other crimes.

The evaluation of the Halt programme includes some very interesting data in this area. A year after entrance into the programme, both the Halt clients and the control group completed a new self-report questionnaire. As far as possible the characteristics of the clients were compared with a national sample of young people of the same age. A little more than two-thirds of the Halt clients participated in this post-test, and about the same proportion of the control group. The pre-test and the post-test results for the Halt group differed dramatically. After the Halt settlement less petty crime was reported than before (a statistically significant result on almost all types of offence). For the control group no significant differences were found between the two tests. Forty-two per cent of the clients offended less often after the Halt settlement, and 21 per cent ceased offending altogether. The control group, after having their cases settled by the police, committed only 25 per cent less vandalism. According to the authors, the effectiveness of the programme was not a function of the frequency of vandalism before the Halt intervention. None of the background characteristics of the vandals showed a connection with the effectiveness of the Halt programme. It is important, however, to note that the vandals were not a very problematic group. It is still questionable whether the programme would be so successful for such juveniles.


Too few cases?

The greatest problem faced by the Conflict Resolution Boards is that they receive too few cases to mediate. This has been a problem from the beginning, and it is not likely that there will be much change in the near future. There are some exceptions, but even in these instances the number of cases handled by the board is small in relation to the population covered. There appear to be two main reasons for the low number of cases handled. First, fewer cases have been referred to the boards by the police than was originally expected when the programme was initiated. Second, direct referral from the public has never become a reality. The police indicate that a major reason for not referring more cases is that there are relatively few which actually meet the criteria for conflict resolution (see above). Many cases which would be appropriate for the Conflict Resolution Boards fall into the |wrong' stack: that is, the stack which includes the less important cases which the police do not have the time or resources to prioritize.

The problems mentioned here seem to be identical to those affecting the English programmes. According to Davis et al. (1987: 17), the primary problem identified by several schemes was how to gain a sufficient number of referrals. The evaluation of the Halt programme, however, does not mention this.

Have the programme's goals been met?

The use of the Conflict Resolution Board can be said to be an alternative to criminal processing of a case. This is because it is an effort to use a different means to deal with criminal behaviour from that of the traditional legal system. It becomes clear that the Conflict Resolution Boards are a real alternative when we see that the young law-breakers who have their cases mediated avoid having their crimes registered by the police. We cannot, however, avoid dealing with the quantitative aspects of this study when evaluating whether the goals for the programme are being met. If we focus on the number of cases being handled through the Conflict Resolution Boards during the course of a year, we are forced to conclude that the programme has not, in practice, functioned as a real alternative to the use of legal punishment.

Another goal of the use of Conflict Resolution Boards was to reduce both the workload of the police and the time required to process cases. Since the Conflict Resolution Boards have handled so few cases, it is difficult to see how the programme could have provided any real assistance to the police. On the contrary, the police have indicated that it often takes even more time to process a case for referral to the Conflict Resolution Board than to handle the case themselves as a criminal case. This is given as another reason why the police do not refer more cases, and suggests that the routines for processing and referring a case to the Conflict Resolution Boards must be modified if the goals of reducing workload and processing time for the police are to be met.

The use of the Conflict Resolution Boards has not brought about a reduction in the time between the commission of the crime and a formal response to it (Stangeland 1980). The indications are that this is not the fault of the Conflict Resolution Boards but rather that of the police. Nevertheless, major changes will need to come about if this goal is to be reached.

To measure or obtain indicators of the crime-preventive effect of such a programme is extremely difficult. The documentation available for the present study is so limited that it is not possible to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the Conflict Resolution Boards in comparison with other interventions, or with no intervention. The only conclusion we can draw is that young people who have their cases mediated through the Conflict Resolution Boards will not necessarily continue to commit crimes. This, of course, is not surprising. On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest that the use of conflict resolution is any less preventive of further law-breaking than, for example, legal punishment.

It is also difficult to determine to what degree the use of Conflict Resolution Boards has functioned to strengthen local communities. Again, the use of figures will give us little indication as to the benefits, if any. There are, however, two aspects of the programme which suggest that it could function to strengthen the local community. The first is that the mediator is a member of the local community and functions as a means to strengthen social control in the area. This, however, could change as counties co-operate to form cross-county Conflict Resolution Boards. The second is that the injured party and the law-breaker often belong to the same local community, and are brought together to settle up directly, just as Halvor and the store owner were able to do. This was probably the greatest advantage to dealing with this particular case through the Conflict Resolution Board. It is less certain whether recourse to the board had any preventive effect in this case. Judging from Halvor's reactions during and following the mediation, it is reasonable to assume that he would not have repeated such an offence in any event.

Another issue to consider is the difficulty of carrying out a conflict resolution programme which has as joint goals both interacting with the criminal justice system and also making efforts to strengthen the local community. These two goals can work in opposition to one another, for while the legal system would be likely to have more confidence in the programme if the focus were only on criminal cases, it is also likely that those involved in cases not involving any crime would hesitate to approach a board whose job it was to deal solely with criminal cases.


In summarizing the results of this study and observing how the Conflict Resolution Boards function in reality, we must conclude that the assertion that conflict resolution is the greatest development in Norwegian criminal law in the last thirty years cannot be supported.

Generally speaking, the goals for the programme do not appear to have been met. This is, to a large degree, a result of the small number of cases that have been referred to the boards and does not necessarily mean that the boards themselves do not have the potential to meet those goals, under different circumstances.

It cannot be demonstrated that the Conflict Resolution Boards prevented law-breaking; but this does not necessarily mean that the programme should not be supported. In many cases community authorities and politicians have to be content with the belief that a programme or other effort has a preventive effect without actually being able to show (with or without figures) precise results. Studies show that most crimes are committed by a few criminals. If the use of Conflict Resolution Boards can function to stop even some of those who otherwise would continue on to a course of crime, then the programme could prove to be a good investment in the future.

Under what conditions would it be possible to develop a conflict resolution scheme which would meet the original goals set for this programme? One requirement would be the development of a compulsory co-operative venture between the police and the prosecuting authorities, in which both parties would see benefits to themselves. Another requirement would be to develop and improve further the guidelines for conflict resolution efforts. A feature of the Conflict Resolution Boards today is that they are not well known and that they have a peripheral position in the counties. They are poorly integrated into the municipal agencies to which they are attached (usually the Department of Social Services). They function haphazardly and are too dependent on the individual style of the person in charge. Access to cases is, in many instances, solely a result of the leader's initiative and personal effectiveness. If the person in charge quits, it is not unusual to see the work of the board coming to a halt. The counties must provide more resources to support the programme. There are indications that they have been quite unrealistic in their assessment of what is needed in this respect.

Finally, the Ministry of Social Affairs must provide more in the way of both supervision and inspiration to the counties that wish to set up, or have already set up, a Conflict Resolution Board. In my opinion, one of the major explanations for the limited success of the Conflict Resolution Boards is that there has been so little such support from the Ministry.

Are these practical reforms sufficient to improve the functioning of the Conflict Resolution Boards? or is it necessary to contemplate more radical, structural changes? If the programme is to be continued and is to become a significant alternative mode of judicial retribution, it is, in my opinion, necessary for it to become more systematized. Resolution Boards have stressed flexibility, a lack of bureacracy, and informality; yet if the programme is to carry any weight, it needs to take stronger institutional shape. A resolution board which acts as both a community programme and an alternative to the criminal court of law is problematic. The latter option should be chosen. Were this to be the case, the programme would then benefit by being placed under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice. This would imply that those who |sit on' cases would themselves be responsible for making the programme function. In this way the phenomenon of cases not being passed on to the boards because of the extra work involved would be countered. In my opinion it is not too difficult to imagine a Resolution Board run by the public prosecuting attorney. Bringing together the victim and the offender is nothing new for this department, and indeed the police do sometimes take initiatives in this way on their own (Nergard and Halvorsen 1990).

The question to be addressed then becomes whether institutionalizing the programme and placing it under the same system to which it was intended to be an alternative could be done without sacrificing its distinctiveness. The programme would tend to find it more difficult in this context to preserve its image as an alternative to a court of law; but its salient features would be retained, namely that the parties involved be confronted with one another face-to-face and personally take responsibility for working out ways to |make even and make up'. That, after all, is the quintessence of the programme. It is also essential that the programme retain the aspect of voluntary participation by both offender and injured party.

In their present form the Conflict Resolution Boards appear to have little chance of survival; and few have gleaned any reward from the positive intentions upon which the programme was founded. To establish Resolution Boards by law would therefore be a step in the right direction, even though at first glance it might seem strange to enshrine into law a programme which, up until now, has functioned so poorly. However, to do so would imply one of two things: either that the Norwegian authorities had decided to upgrade their support for the Conflict Resolution Boards and wished to provide the necessary resources and support required so that their goals could be reached, or that these authorities wished to give the impression that something was being done to fight crime.

A conclusion will soon be reached. The conflict resolution programme as it currently exists is on the verge of extinction. The question remains whether there is any possibility of reviving a programme which has been in existence for ten years. It would be very regrettable if the innovative ideas behind the Conflict Resolution Board were not given a real opportunity of realization. The issue is not one just of poor resource management but also one of poor management of political opportunities. It is likely to be decades before there is again a political consensus to implement a similar programme in Norway.

(1) The English data are based upon a preliminary study of victim-offender, mediation, and reparation schemes in England and Wales (Davis et al. 1987). The study covers 33 of a total of 41 projects, including pre-prosecution and post-prosecution schemes.

The Halt programme started in Rotterdam in 1981, and now consists of more than 40 different projects. It is best characterized as a combination of diversion, mediation, and reparation. The data used are based upon an evaluation study carried out by the Dutch Ministry of Justice's Research and Documentation Centre. (2) This paragraph states: |A criminal or a non-criminal investigation can be undertaken in the event a child under the age of 14 years has undertaken to perpetrate a crime'.


Bay, T., and Stangeland, P. (1983), Konfliktrad. Et forslag lit alternativ konfliktlosning i' barnevernsnemdas regi (Conflict resolution board: a proposal for alternatives to conflict resolution under the Child Welfare Commission). Notat no. 9, Sosialdepartementet (Memorandum no. 9, Ministry of Social Affairs), Oslo. Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway (1988, 1989), Criminology Report Oslo. Christie, N. (1977), |Konflikter som eiendom' (|Conflict as property'), Tidsskrift for rettsvitenskap (Journal of Law). Davis, G., Boucherat, J., and Watson, D. (1987), A Preliminary Study of Victim-Offender Mediation and Reparation Schemes in England and Wales, Home Office Research and Planning Unit, Paper no. 42. London: Home Office. Kruissink, M. (1990), |The Halt Program: Diversion of Juvenile Vandals', in Dutch Penal Law and Policy: Notes on Criminological Research from the Research and Documentation Centre. The Hague: Ministry of Justice. Lingas, L. G. (1987), Skurkestreker og lerepenge (Vile tricks and lessons). Oslo: Tano. Nergard, T., and Halvorsen, S. (1990), Slik har det gitt med konfliktradene (Outcome of the Conflict Resolution Boards), Forskningsrapport (Research report) no. 31. Oslo: Diakonh-jemmets Hogskolesenter. Ot. prp. (Proposition) no. 56, 1989-90: Om lov om megling i konfliktrad og om endring i straffeloven m.m. (The law regarding mediation in Conflict Resolution Boards and changes in the criminal law). Oslo: Justice Department. Stangeland, P. (1980), Allernativ konfliktlosning. Forslag til oppretting av et |konfliktrad' i Lier kommune (Alternative conflict resolution: a recommendation for the development of a |Conflict Resolution Board' in Lier county), Notat no. 2, Sosialdepartementet (Memorandum no. 2, Ministry of Social Affairs), Oslo.
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Author:Nergard, Trude Brita
Publication:British Journal of Criminology
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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