Legislature(1995 - 1996)
01/17/1996 01:15 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 379 - VICTIM/JUVENILE OFFENDER MEDIATION Number 1348 CHAIRMAN PORTER then gave a short synopsis of a proposed CS to HB 379. Chairman Porter stated that CSHB 379 is legislation which he firmly believes in. The Municipality of Anchorage, as a model for this legislature, on a city level is trying to deal with minor offenses of juveniles through early intervention. This should help ward off these juveniles from becoming increasingly involved in additional crimes. Number 1463 MIKE NIEMEYER, Executive Director, Victim/Offender Reconciliation, Orange County, California, said his program is sponsored through St. Vincent De Paul and that they also receive public money from a surcharge on civil court filing fees. Last year 1,200 cases were processed using the victim offender mediation approach. This program actually began in 1974 in Canada and in Elkhart Indiana in 1979. The values of this program has been around for a while and are well established. The Orange County Program is seven and 1/2 years old and is based on the old concept that it is important for the perpetrator to meet their victim. This provides for more victim input rather than the standard criminal justice process which tends to be a offender oriented system. The Orange County program has three areas of mission purposes: The victims should have a chance to confront their perpetrators, the legislation provides for the victim being compensated by their perpetrators, and it provides an opportunity for the victim to be involved with their perpetrator's future. This last element enhances the victim's sense of restitution. Mr. Niemeyer added that this reconciliation concept has been endorsed by the American Bar Association and a resolution was adopted in August of 1994 supporting the program. The Orange County program finds that when a victim is given an opportunity to meet with their offender, over 70 percent of the victims are willing to participate and will meet with the offending party. The agreements which come out of this program are very durable. Over 95 percent of their restitution agreements have been completely fulfilled. Number 1804 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS asked what percentage of the money to support this program comes from the public? Number 1822 MR. NIEMEYER answered that funded money is matched through volunteer contributions and the additional public money comes from community development and local money revenues. California has a (indisc.) program tax which provides for a eight dollar surcharge on their civil court filing fees. Some of this money goes to the Orange County program. Number 1889 SUSAN DIPIETRO, Staff Attorney, Juvenile Law, Alaska Judicial Council, testified to CSHB 379. She also noted that she is Vice President of the Board of Directors for CERC (Community (indisc.) Resolution Center) and is also a volunteer mediator for the Juvenile Victim Offender Mediation program. Much of what Ms. DiPietro does to evaluate programs is to see that they help to improve the administration of justice. From her three perspectives as staff attorney, board member and volunteer, she is very much in favor of this legislation. It would strengthen the work of the victim offender mediation program already in place. Ms. DiPietro mentioned in addition the benefits of this mediation concept to it's volunteers. The feeling that they can make a difference or have an impact is very important. This project has a ripple effect. It touches all levels of society. Number 2062 GARY SCHWARTZ, Juvenile Intake Probation Officer, Anchorage Corrections, testified to the statistics of how many cases are being processed through the corrections department per year, not all of which are worked through the victim offender mediation program. Mr. Schwartz's contact with this program in Anchorage within the last year and 1/2 has been extremely positive. Several of the cases he dealt with have had outstanding results. He used an example of cases he deals with fairly regularly. Two 12 year old youths threw rocks and broke someone's windshield and were charged with reckless endangerment. These youths did not fully understand the complications of their actions. It gave the victim a chance to voice their opinion and it gave the juveniles a learning experience, not to mention the restitution which will be instituted. Number 2200 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked Mr. Schwartz what kinds of serious offense cases go through this mediation process? Number 2214 MR. SCHWARTZ replied that petty theft burglary was probably the most serious crime. For example, a thirteen year old went through an unopened door and took an older citizen's money from a jar under her bed. The offender was forced to give the victim an explanation of his actions. There were very good results in this case. Number 2273 NIKISHKA STEWART, Project Coordinator, Community Dispute Resolution Center, attempted to tie together some of the information already presented. This mediation type of program maximizes the use of limited resources and is also a community level response to crime. It is a pro-active program. She also stressed the importance of restitution as a concept. Ms. Stewart noted the flexibility of the contracts instituted. No two contracts have been alike and this adds to the victim's satisfaction. This uniqueness enhances the victim's input. From February of 1994 to date the center has seen over 6,000 dollars of restitution paid back to victims and over 100 hours of work service by the perpetrators served. Out of 66 referred cases 48 reached a contract. Number 2474 KATHY TIBBLES, Social Services Program Officer, Division of Family and Youth Services, Department of Health and Social Services, testified that the division is in support of CSHB 397. TAPE 96-2, SIDE A Number 000 MS. TIBBLES said one concern the Division of Youth and Family Services had was in regard to language about the centers being established by municipalities or non-profits and organized exclusively for resolution. This might exclude people they might otherwise work with. The department was also confused with the statements about obtaining referrals from public and private bodies and the discussion about educating the community and encouraging the use of the services. It appeared that the centers and referrals were tied pretty closely to the jurisdictional statute 47.10 and Juveniles Alleged to have Committed Delinquent Acts. They weren't sure where the private referrals would come from, although this is not problematic for the department. Number 110 CHAIRMAN PORTER offered that it wasn't their intent to exclude someone. On those occasions if the court felt it were appropriate under the District Court jurisdiction to refer a misdemeanor offense they would have the power to do so, as well as the Commissioner. Number 188 MS. TIBBLES pointed out their remaining concern dealt with what was previously section (f) now (e) of CSHB 397, seemed to limit the information allowed released under the confidentiality clause. Under the circumstances where a referral might be made by the department through an informal disposition they might not receive any information back. They wouldn't know whether or not the offender satisfactorily completed the dispute resolution process in order to close their case. If the department felt the nature of the offense required petitioning the court, it appears they would not have access to that information or would not be able to take further action if the offender did in fact derail the process. Number 270 CHAIRMAN PORTER said that this language would be resolved before moving the bill out of the Judiciary Committee. Number 300 ART SNOWDEN, Administrative Director, Alaska Court System, came to the committee in full support of the concept of this legislation. Mr. Snowden pointed out that this legislation dealt with a prosecutorial referral program, a process by which a problem is taken care of before it comes to court (in the Department of Health and Social Services normally.) This legislation relieves a huge problem that the courts presently deal with. He noted that from 1992 to 1995 in Anchorage, children case filings have increased by 36 percent; Fairbanks, 34 percent; Juneau, 22 percent; Kenai, 36 percent; Palmer, 28 percent. Children cases are increasing at an unprecedented rate, over 30 percent on average, while funding has not increased. Any program which ensures restitution is a positive version, while at the same time Mr. Snowden confirmed that the juvenile offenders understand the severity and gravity of their acts is something Snowden applauds. The committee has the full support of the court system on this legislation. Number 448 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked why this legislation is necessary to accomplish the problem of juvenile offenses. He interprets this legislation as offering mediation services for a property claim. This is not the type of crime where the state would automatically take charge of the prosecution. What is to prevent any party to agree to mediation? Number 516 MR. SNOWDEN offered that Representative Vezey was correct. At this time any prosecuting agency can defer prosecution, however, this legislation codifies these mediation centers and the concepts of their inception to hear juvenile offenses. He believes this will gain them publicity in light of present prosecution. The courts have locked arms over the youth court prospects in Anchorage, as citing an example. While this is a deferral program, publicity has brought a lot of credibility to the process. Mr. Snowden's personal view of the juvenile court system is that it doesn't work. If the juvenile is not made accountable for their actions, there will be widespread problems in the existing prosecutorial system. This legislation will institutionalize this mediation program and sets forth standards to be followed. To involve all levels of society in this juvenile crime problem, including private mediators, the executive branch, and the courts is a positive step. Some of these juvenile crimes may be deemed too insignificant with the crush of business in the standard court system as it stands now. Number 672 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY reiterated his first point about mediation and asked if this legislation is about publicity. Number 684 MR. SNOWDEN answered that yes it was a publicity issue so that kids will know about it, victims will know about it, Health and Social Services might use it more, etcetera. Again he reiterated that publicity was a plus and he saw no cost associated with this legislation. He noted the rising juvenile crime statistics again. Number 722 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY referred to the section of the legislation which addressed disclosure. He cautioned against codifying the process of mediation which might make this process less flexible to encompass other crimes. He also noted the concept of mediation disclosure and understood that participants in mediation are required to agree to the process. Number 810 Mr. Snowden pointed out that you can require someone to participate in mediation, but you can't force them to agree with the results. Even though it does not presently exist, subject specific legislation could be passed that states, before a law suit is filed, the participants must first attend mediation. People cannot be forced into binding mediation. It has to be voluntary. Number 853 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY stated that there are distinct differences between mediation and arbitration. He noted that arbitration is binding on the parties once a decision is made. Number 883 CHAIRMAN PORTER clarified for the purposes of this legislation that the mediation outlined was voluntary. Either party can drop out of the procedures at any time and both parties are required to agree to the resulting contract of the settlement reached. If either party does not agree to the mediation results, the case is then referred to the regular court system. Number 952 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY again pointed out that his main concern was that codifying this mediation process in legislation now could mean limiting the options available to a claimant. Number 976 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS asked to speak to the question of codifying this mediation process. She added that the reason is to allow municipalities and non-profits the opportunity to establish the mediation centers whenever they have the need to do so. Number 1004 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said once again that he was concerned the were legislation was closing doors, which don't need to be closed. Number 1023 MR. SNOWDEN understood that this legislation strengthens a tool, which already exists. To write into law, a system that already exists, does not preclude a person from pursing other forms of resolution to a crime. Number 1106 CHAIRMAN PORTER spoke to Representative Vezey's concerns regarding codification. Chairman Porter felt that if the present system can be enhanced and expanded in use with formal recognition through legislation, he supports that. If this legislation can be utilized by more judges and persons in the Division of Youth and Family Services because of this formal recognition, he is also supportive. It is appropriate to set down minimal guidelines and standards in the bill, which are provided for. One of the only reasons he has heard for not utilizing this type of service is concern on the part of parents and their respective council that there are no guarantees of confidentiality. Number 1222 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked if there would be more interest in this issue if the juvenile code was rewritten to allow for a bigger hammer to fall on those who choose not to use the mediation process. Number 1235 CHAIRMAN PORTER answered most definitely. He especially foresees the juvenile hearings becoming more public on the felony levels. This kind of a juvenile mediation program is conducive to preventing further crimes by juveniles. This legislation is not an indictment of the system in place, but an indictment of the ability to fund the standard system. To wrap up the discussion related to CSHB 379, Chairman Porter exclaimed that this legislation has five zero fiscal notes. Number 1325 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE moved that CSHB 379(JUD) be adopted. Number 1362 CHAIRMAN PORTER pointed out that changes suggested by Ms. Tibbles to the CS version will need to be completed before the committee is able to move the bill out of their purview.