Brief History of Community Mediation

A Brief History of Community Mediation

The beginnings of community mediation in the United States can be traced to the Community Relation Service (CRS).  The CRS was established through the 1964 Civil Rights Act to provide a constructive model of dealing with conflict without violence.  CRS continues its work in community development to this day.

A second early venue that would give rise to the field was the Philadelphia Municipal Court Arbitration Tribunal.  Philadelphia’s program started in 1969 as a collaboration between prosecutors and the courts, and offered arbitration hearings for disputants to resolve their issues.  The Philadelphia project was created with support from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which would go on to fund an innovative Columbus program as well.

In 1970, mediation was introduced in the Columbus Night Prosecutor program with the aid of local law professors to provide an avenue to work out minor disputes.  Around the same time, San Francisco’s Community Boards Program (SFCB) was established to provide panels of neighbors to resolve disputes within their local communities, and developed a language and model of mediation wherein hearing panelists conduct a conciliation.

From these beginnings, community mediation has spread throughout the country and moved from the margin to the mainstream.  There are innumerable community and school resources for mediation, dozens of states have created court-annexed programs, and there are a number of national and international organizations focused on mediation.  The National Association for Community Mediation has located 650 community mediation resources that handle over 50,000 cases each year nationwide.

Community mediation has taken hold in Minnesota as well, with eleven centers comprising the Minnesota Association of Community Mediation Programs.  The Dispute Resolution Center in St. Paul has served thousands of residents and businesses in the East Metro Area since it opened in 1982.

History from Merry and Milner, The Possibility of Popular Justice, 1994, and the Community Resolution Manual: Insights and Guidance from Two Decades of Practice, 1991.