Statewide Mediation Access Project (SMAP)
Resolution Systems Institute's Statewide Mediation Access Project (SMAP) creates innovative programs to resolve the pressing, unmet legal needs of poor and low-income individuals. Through SMAP, RSI develops family, housing, and consumer mediation systems in partnership with Illinois courts. SMAP promotes multi-pronged collaboration between mediation providers, legal services, courts and others on a circuit-by-circuit basis. As courts and communities implement these mediation programs, RSI provides custom program design, training and program evaluation to courts and communities looking to use mediation to enhance access for poor and low-income disputants throughout Illinois.
Statistics show many challenges for poor and low-income disputants in navigating the legal system. The 2005 study, The Legal Aid Safety Net: A Report on the Legal Needs of Low-Income Illinoisans, determined that each low-income household had an average of 1.7 legal problems in 2003, but that low-income households received legal assistance for only one out of every six legal problems.
Building on the Legal Needs Study and RSI's own long history of court ADR system design and assessment, RSI conducted a study in 2007 for the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) called Accessing Justice through Mediation: Pathways for Poor and Low-Income Disputants. The study examined the current state of mediation in Illinois and ways in which mediation might address the needs of poor and low-income disputants.
Significantly, it found that the three types of legal cases for which poor and low-income residents have the greatest need of assistance - family, housing, and consumer disputes - are amenable to mediation. This study formed the basis for the Statewide Mediation Access Project.
In 2008, the first year of implementation, SMAP communicated with every judicial circuit in Illinois concerning the jurisdiction's interest in mediation as an avenue to justice for poor and low-income disputants. SMAP was greeted with great interest by courts, legal service organizations and other stakeholders. Based on the responses, SMAP developed a strategy for working with each circuit in the state.
A prime example of program success was the development, in less than 10 months, of a small claims mediation program in the 11th Judicial Circuit, which is based in Bloomington. Conducted by community volunteers of diverse backgrounds, the mediations assist disputants who are pro se (not represented by lawyers). SMAP provided expert assistance to local stakeholders during program development, supported mediator training by providing funding and administration of the training, and assisted ongoing program quality by providing a database for monitoring and evaluation.
Along with developing small claims programs, SMAP consults with groups implementing mediation programs focused on foreclosure, family, and custody and visitation disputes involving low-level domestic violence. SMAP continues to assist courts and community groups throughout Illinois that seek to use mediation to promote justice for disputants who are poor or have low incomes.
Please consider making a donation to sustain the project. Your donations can make a significant impact on access to justice in Illinois:
- $25 will supply training materials to a dozen new mediators.
- $100 will help a circuit develop a needed foreclosure mediation program.
- $250 will send our SMAP staffer to meet with the Chief Judge in a judicial circuit interested in mediation.
- $1,000 will help create a mediation monitoring system to troubleshoot new programs.
- $10,000 will allow SMAP to conduct volunteer mediator training in a new circuit.
Susan M. Yates, Executive Director