In the years following 1975, the focus of IMCR expanded. Whereas it had been previously concerned only with mediating community disputes, it now broadened its efforts to assist with judicial reform. After a period of explosive growth in the number of both civil and criminal cases, the judiciary was overburdened, there was a backlog of cases and the systems in place were unequal to the demand for services.
In 1968 the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration LEAA) had been created to help State and local courts deal with criminal cases. The LEAA (abolished in 1982) was less interested in community involvement and more focused on funding programs that were cost effective while alleviating the root causes of disputes.
Despite the extensive media coverage of IMCR and its political connections and reputation the genesis for the creation of IMCR’s Neighborhood Justice Center came from Ann Weisbord and Sandi Freinberg Tamid. They had become frustrated trying to reform the NYC Department of Corrections. Learning about citizen dispute resolution practices from the American Services Committee, they quit their jobs, developed a proposal and searched for an agency to sponsor it. They found IMCR, which as a private non-profit agency had “a sound reputation for adapting labor mediation to deal with a variety of community conflicts.” Although they ultimately intended to create a “community-involved” program, they began by gaining the cooperation of the police.
In 1975 under Police Operations Order 44 Section 75, a pilot project was devised to educate police officers in dispute resolution. Police from two neighborhood precincts began to divert cases to the new IMCR Center in Harlem. With initial funding from LEAA and supplemental funding from the NYC Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office, IMCR had opened a Community Center program to mediate minor incidents of a criminal nature.
The mission of the Dispute Resolution Center was:
“To provide a simple, accessible mechanism for the resolution of interpersonal criminal complaints; provide working people with an ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution) process that did not interfere with their employment; attempt to reduce recidivism rates in these types of cases by providing a more lasting resolution of disputes: and to provide the police with an alternative to criminal court.”
The involvement of IMCR in resolving community criminal complaints represented a significant departure from its earlier concentration on community disputes. To function in collaboration with the NYC justice systems required IMCR to change direction. It adapted its functions and operating systems to accommodate these changes and to help it operate a community-based center.
From the period of 1975 to 1980, IMCR continued to offer a 60 hour comprehensive ADR training to citizens from diverse New York communities and to thereby create an important resource pool of volunteers.
After an initial trial period the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the primary funding body for the Harlem Center, decided that the intake of cases at the two precincts wasn’t sufficient to justify the cost. IMCR was lured into accepting help from the justice system and thereby expanded its domain and caseload by accepting the invitation of the court to establish a presence in the Criminal Court Building at 346 Broadway in Manhattan.
New York City Administrative Judge E. Leo Milones worked closely with IMCR’s Chief Executive Officer to introduce changes that would allow the Office of Court Administration to phase out the Summons Part of the Court by referring cases to the appropriate administrative agencies and criminal courts in each borough. The exception was citizen complaints. Since IMCR had been mediating some Summons Part cases since 1976, the new plan called for all cases involving citizen complaints to be transferred at the “option of the individual parties” from the docket of the Summons Part to IMCR’s Dispute Resolution Center for attempted mediation. This arrangement lasted from 1978 to 1979.
A subsequent plan was adopted in 1980 called the Office of Court Administration/Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution Plan whereby procedures where put in place so that IMCR would intake cases from all five boroughs. Parties who lived in Manhattan could have an opportunity to appear for mediation at IMCR’s north Manhattan Center in Harlem and parties from the Bronx could visit the satellite Center in the Bronx.
IMCR’s involvement in judicial reform was not limited to the Summons Part or the police mediation program under LEAA. Concurrently beginning in 1977 IMCR operated the Brooklyn Dispute Center through a contract with the Victim/Witness Assistance project, which was a Vera program. Shortly thereafter Vera helped the Victim Services Agency (VSA) incorporate by switching the contract over to the agency. While the VSA subcontracted IMCR for their training and mediation expertise, it continued to function under its original Vera grant until 1980.
IMCR had a substantial influence on the development of judicial reform in and around New York City. In 1982 the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Task Force Report which targeted the impact of mediation services and centers said: The most significant event in the Center’s history during this period was the takeover of the Summons Court operations in May of 1980 “which culminated with the solidification of relations with the NYC Police Department, the District Attorney’s office, the NYC Courts and various criminal justice agencies.”
The extraordinary success of IMCR contributed to legislative developments in Albany that institutionalized ADR in the New York State Unified Court system and ushered in the widespread use of the mediation centers throughout the state. The Community Dispute Resolution Centers Program soon followed with a pilot project under Chapter 847 of the New York State Laws of 1981, Article 21- A.
The impact of the development of community dispute resolution and judicial reform influenced events not only in New York City and State but nationally as well. The vitality of IMCR and its influence, which more recently has become international, was due in large measure to its continual development of unique and powerful training programs.