Charged with burglarizing two family members’ homes in Kentucky, Michael Gilliam was facing as many as 20 years in prison — and angry relatives pushing for stiff punishment. Before his case got to trial, says the Louisville Courier-Journal, a judge suggested something different — a mediation process. In less than an hour there was a plea agreement where Gilliam avoided prison, and agreed to pay restitution, get drug treatment, and be on probation for five years. The mediation gave Gilliam and his victims a chance to speak, to each other and a neutral judge, with Gilliam apologizing for his crimes.
Gilliam’s was one of 18 felony cases mediated and settled for three counties that day in a state pilot program that aims to reduce congestion in courts, and in prisons. Felony mediation is rare in Kentucky and across the U.S., in part because of prosecutor and judges’ concerns about fallout from the public. Supporters say mediation saves time and money and gives victims and defendants more input. Carol Paisley of Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts said none of the parties in mediation is allowed to discuss what was said. She said reactions from all sides have been positive; it is inexpensive, with the mileage for judges one of the few costs. “Actually, I think it’s saving money,” she said; the quicker cases are settled, the sooner some defendants are out of jail.