The PhD research of UT researcher Jiska Jonas-Van Dijk shows that mediation can positively impact suspects in criminal cases. She will defend her thesis at Maastricht University on Wednesday 7 February.
In more and more criminal cases, victims and defendants are using mediation. That mediation reduces the likelihood of a suspect reoffending (recidivism) was already known. It was unclear why mediation worked so well. For her PhD research, Jonas-Van Dijk investigated the underlying mechanisms of this effect. With this, she not only hopes to develop mediation further but also that it will lead to the structural application of mediation in criminal cases.
During mediation, the victim and defendant have a conversation in the presence of trained mediators. Those mediators deliberately remain aloof so that the suspect and victim resolve their dispute themselves. Because the two parties really engage in conversation, participating defendants take more responsibility. "After mediation, the suspect has more empathy for the victim and is more aware of his or her moral failings than when a suspect does not participate in mediation," Jonas-Van Dijk says.
Three main working mechanisms emerged in her research. The first mechanism is the learning effect of mediation. In the conversation, the suspect learns what the consequences of the offence were for the victim. "Suspects can therefore become more aware of the victims' suffering," says Jonas-Van Dijk. During mediation, the suspect can learn what they can do differently in the future. Thus, the suspect learns new problem-solving behaviour.
Mediation can also be humanising. In criminal law, defendants are more likely to experience being labelled a criminal. That feeling can increase the likelihood of recidivism. "Mediation is less stigmatising. Suspects are more likely to feel they are given a second chance. They can tell their side of the story without being dismissed as a person," says Jonas-Van Dijk.
The victim's attitude does seem to be important there. Which is also the third underlying mechanism. "For the psychological impact on the suspect, it seems important that the victim is open to any expressions of regret and apologies and listens sincerely and actively to the suspect," Jonas-van Dijk says.
Policymakers can use these findings to achieve the structural application of mediation in criminal cases. Mediators can use the three mechanisms mentioned above during their mediation. This would increase the likelihood of a positive psychological impact on defendants, potentially reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
Jiska Jonas-Van Dijk is now an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology of Conflict, Risk and Safety (PCRS; Faculty of BMS). She conducted her PhD research in the same department and at Maastricht University Faculty of Law. Her supervisors were Prof Dr Hans Nelen (Maastricht University), Dr Sven Zebel (University of Twente) and Prof Jacques Claessen (Maastricht University).