How To Talk About Criminal Justice


MessageMemo from the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and FrameWorks Institute

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School in partnership with FrameWorks Institute are proud to release a new multi-media MessageMemo: Talking Criminal Justice and Public Safety. Now available on the websites of both organizations, this memo succinctly summarizes three years of rigorous, multi-method research, funded by the Ford and Rosenberg Foundations, about effective communication strategies for increasing public support of progressive criminal justice reforms. Highlights include:

  • Analysis of individual interviews, focus groups, and large field surveys (8,000 respondents) about the public’s understanding of public safety and the criminal justice system;
  • Recommendations for how reform organizations can modify their materials in order to avoid common traps in public thinking that “eat up” the intended message;
  • Recommendations about how to combine specific values with specific facts to maximize public support for proposed reforms;
  • Discussion about how racial disparities in the criminal justice system can be effectively presented;
  • Suggestions for how rigorously tested metaphors can move people to think about the urgency of systemic reforms;
  • Analysis of communication patterns currently used in materials by the field’s most influential organizations and suggestions for how these can be more effectively communicated.

Listen in as participants in focus groups and one-on-one interviews explain how the system works and watch as the introduction of potent metaphors redirects their thinking. Dig deeper into the six studies that have emerged from this comprehensive research effort. Working with leaders in the field, the Houston Institute and FrameWorks are now providing training to help groups reframe their work.