Change can start with a conversation. A conversation with a colleague, a client, or an elected official.
This publication is intended to empower readers to become part of the conversation around pretrial justice in the United States. It is an update to our previous work supporting communications across a variety of mediums at the national, state and local level. In this edition, we have refined our language and messaging following 2018 public opinion and messaging research conducted by Lake Research Partners, independently analyzed by Charles Koch Institute, and reviewed by FrameWorks Institute. We have also evolved our communication to keep pace with the fast-moving changes in the overall discussion of mass incarceration and its impact on the health and well-being of our country. We are still evolving.
Conversations may take place through social media, at a conference table, or in the pages of a newspaper, but they are all essential to raising awareness and understanding around the injustices that occur in our communities every day. Our polling shows that there are still tremendous opportunities for educating people on how our current pretrial justice systems work, and that the more people know, the more supportive they are of practices that limit unnecessary detention and promote long-term community health and stability. In order to support change, in other words, people need to know what options for change exist.
PJI’s view on pretrial justice reform is anchored by principles, good laws, and tested best practices. As such, we strive to conduct work guided by research-based methodologies in the provision of adult learning, implementation science, and communications and messaging research. Over the years, beloved “reasons” to support bail reform, or comparisons that we found compelling (it’s just the US and the Philippines who have bonding-for-profit!) did not withstand research testing. We keep adapting and we want to help you adapt as well.
The nature of media coverage of pretrial issues has changed over the years. It is no longer relegated to an afterthought in the conversation about criminal justice and mass incarceration but recognized as a critical step in changing the system. Media outlets recognize the importance of speaking to people who are directly impacted by pretrial policies; mainstream journalists are exploring racial inequities and questioning pretrial assessments; and, concerns about over conditioning and over supervision are helping discussions go deeper than ever before. Are you ready?
At this stage of pretrial reform, the “third generation,” we want to be sure that our conversations are centered around what the law requires and research supports in a persuasive, meaningful way. The increased attention around replacing financial conditions of release has also continued to incite pushback from the bail bond industry, which has an equally intense desire to control the narrative around pretrial justice. Their tactics include fear, distorting the intent to decarcerate, a false connection to the legal history of bail, and a disingenuous commitment to racial justice by joining those who are raising legitimate questions about bias. We hope this material helps support you in evolving your own communications strategies, creating new partnerships, showing public support for fair and effective justice policies, and addressing deeply-rooted issues in our communities.
Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
CEO, Pretrial Justice Institute
What makes a successful message? In terms of pretrial justice reform, your message should tap into your audience’s existing values, to show that our current system of pretrial justice is impractical and fails to support equality or liberty. Your message should also empower your audience to talk about the problem themselves in an effective way; that is the power of a good justice metaphor. You should also avoid certain words and formats that undermine your message.
At PJI, one of our core beliefs is that ‘anything is possible out of your relationships with people.’ This cannot be an insincere strategy. It must come from an authentic place of seeking to speak to the best in people, with a commitment to finding the things you both care deeply about. This section will discuss how system actors and community advocates can engage directly with elected officials about pretrial justice. A visit to an elected official should not be a one-time event, but instead viewed as the beginning of a relationship. As someone who is knowledgeable about and committed to pretrial justice, you are offering your representative an opportunity to understand more about the important role of this stage of criminal justice. You are also demonstrating that this issue is important to your community.
Think of your interaction in three phases: preparation, the meeting itself, and follow-up.
This section is intended for individuals and groups working to improve pretrial justice in the United States who interact, or would like to interact, with the media. Working with the media—print, digital, broadcast, or radio—is an important way to get your message across to pretrial justice system actors and the general public.