Janice McCormick helped police track down the three kids who burglarized her home. But she wanted to do more than put them in the criminal justice system - she wanted them to take responsibility.
The break-in occurred while McCormick was on a three-week vacation. The numbers dialed on her stolen cellular phone helped pinpoint the suspects. As first-time offenders, they faced only community service for the break-in and theft of the phone, a CD player, wine, cash and other items.
“Community service is not holding them personally responsible,” said McCormick, 32, who learned the importance of that while teaching children with behavioral problems.
She was referred to the nonprofit Mediation Services for Victims and Offenders in King County, which arranges face-to-face meetings between victims and offenders to discuss the impact of crimes and to work out restitution.
Not all cases are candidates - both sides must be willing to take part. And the agency deals mostly with minors involved in property crimes, though it does review requests for mediation involving violent crimes.
“I hoped that by having to deal with me as a victim, that they would understand they did more than take my property,” McCormick told the Eastside Journal. “It gives them the ability to earn back some of the respect and trust that has been lost.”
While she didn’t feel threatened by the burglary, she wanted to try to make the kids understand the sense of violation the break-in caused her.
“I was worried at the beginning that the mediators would not allow me to be mad with my offenders, that it would be making ‘nice nice’ and paying off what they owed me,” McCormick said.
The process got through to at least one of the teens, a 17-year-old who says he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. The teen entered a treatment program, and participating in mediation was part of his bid for recovery.
“I didn’t think about the person who owned what I was taking,” said the teen, whose family asked that his name not be published.
“Mediation helped me see there’s actually a person on the other end of it who was actually affected.”
McCormick has not yet met with the other two offenders.
Mediation is not a substitute for court proceedings. Offenders still have to go to court and face the possibility of detention. But judges can allow settlements reached through mediation to serve as legal restitution.
And mediation makes the experience personal.
“Before mediation … all you had to do was physically show up for court or show up for detention,” the teen said.
“When we met, it’s personal.”
Meeting the teens and arranging for them to work off their debt was what McCormick needed to put the break-in behind her. The Redmond teen has agreed to pay $30 a month and work for $5 an hour in her yard until the $350 he took is paid off.
Mediation is usually suggested by judges, attorneys or probation officers, said the program’s executive director, Kate Hunter. Sometimes victims seek it out - and sometimes offenders do.
“It’s amazing to me how often they want to apologize,” Hunter said.