Mediation by Judges, by the Police

EDITORIAL, 18 Apr 2016

#424 | Johan Galtung

Alfaz, Spain

Police?  The judges have more social status but the police know better the local situation and possible lawbreakers.logo mediation desk

What is happening right now, for our eyes, for instance in Vila Real, north of Valencia, 13-15 April 2016–“II Ibero-American Conference on Police Mediation” is police revolting against the judges.

“We use force to arrest the suspects, deliver them with evidence to the courts, many are found guilty, sentenced to prison, after some time released, presumably born anew–and after some more time we have to rearrest them; old or new crimes, same people.

“The theory of individual and general prevention does not work.  We must remove the roots, in them and in the local context causing the crimes.   We want to add mediation, prevention, to force and arrest”.

What happens in prisons?  This author spent half a year in prison in Oslo; connected to conscientious objection to military service for NATO, I wanted peace service as alternative service.

The central thesis of my Ph.D. thesis about the prison community is that it serves prisoners in reducing, eliminating any sense of guilt.  Fifteen ways of escaping from the reality of crime-guilt-punishment were identified into a reality they could accept.  By far the most important was their use of social class: “those up there” commit far worse crimes than they accuse us of doing, but they get off scot free, or at least without doing time in prison. By and large that is correct.

However, that does not make them innocent, but “those up there” guilty of corruption, of selling permits to the highest bidder, enriching themselves immensely at the cost of “those down there”, claiming market legitimacy.  “We need more theft, more violence till they understand that this rotten society does not work.” Class struggle.

Worse than a crime school–for most lower class crimes schooling is not needed–the prison serves to eliminate the idea of crime by reducing the sense of guilt, even shame at being detected, imprisoned.

As conscientious objector I did not see myself as criminal; to my surprise neither did many of the other inmates.  Many saw themselves as rebels, with a cause, while they had serious doubts about me.

Police officers reap the bad prison harvest and increasingly say Mediation! As part of a general historical process from the criminal and civil courts–with dichotomous judgments “guilty or innocent”, “liable or not”—focused on solving problems and conflicts in their relations.  With such intermediate phases as arbitration and judicial mediation with the judge as mediator. Not a farewell to courts, but softening by adding mediation, going to the roots, nipping in the bud. Goals: Reduce Crime and Build Positive Peace; cooperation and harmony.

What was before the courts?  Physical duels with swords, or pistols, legitimized by the idea of God being on the side of the winner.  However, it became clear that swordsmanship also played a role, and made it possible for lower aristocracy challenging and dueling themselves up to the top.  The top switched to verbal duels and to “wordsmanship”, preserving social class order with verbal competence. Yes, there are lawyers defending those short on words, but very often of lower quality.  Moreover, the final word was spoken by masters, judges.

This is mirrored in law-breaking semantics: different levels of “crime” mainly for the lower classes; “scandal”, “tragedy” for those higher up. They are then handed over to the specialists in scandals and tragedies; the journalists and the media.  They are exposed, but are rarely doing time in prison; maybe house arrests or softer prisons.  Class is strong, and those higher up protect their own.

The special police for economic crimes are not present at board meetings where super-crimes are concocted.  Yet, the local police “on the beat” are often there when lower class crimes are in the making.

How can they mediate?  By talking with them, identifying what they want, telling very clearly that crime is illegitimate, and then suggesting other ways of meeting legitimate needs with a new reality.

Case 1: Economic crimes, or with economic roots.  A dirt poor family not knowing where the meal next day may come from.  The son brings in some money through petty thefts, the daughter by selling her body.  Sooner or later they are captured, brought to court, or to “foster homes” to become law-abiding–and the family sinks into more poverty.

New reality: lifting the economic bottom up, meeting the basic needs for food and water, clothes and a roof, health services and education–for dignity, and for participation in the economy as consumers and producers.  The police can help organize basic need cooperatives for the poorest in the poorest local communities–with potential and real law-breakers like the boy and the girl mentioned– with sales points directly to neighbors with some money.  In a couple of years dignity is restored, the credit is paid back, the whole economy has improved.

Case 2: Crimes for a risky, less boring life.  They want to beat the police, playing games at the limit or beyond of legality: fame for a day. Others want to use their bodies in a society designed for the minds of the educated (who can study how to profit from lower class countries and peoples in the Departments of Economics e.g. as “comparative advantages” and “laws of the market”).  Alternatives are badly needed.

New reality:  Sports, team sports like football for cooperation, using the body, taking risks at the limits of the lines, winning and losing, with a second chance next Sunday.  Instant fame.  Great.

Another way is Politics, Democracy, organizations, meetings, resolutions, demonstrations, all nonviolent, not using wars, winning and losing, with a second chance in four years or so.  Great.

Dear Police Officers, please go ahead– with this, and more. And tell Military Officers about mediation to remove wars and build peace.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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