How can we lead people toward supporting criminal justice system reform? In our third installment on public safety, we reveal the findings of our latest FrameWorks research report, Strengthen Communities, Educate Children and Prevent Crime: A Communications Analysis of Peer Discourse Sessions on Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform. This report presents the results from a series of six peer discourse sessions conducted with groups of civically engaged Americans across the country.
What are peer discourse sessions? Peer discourse sessions provide an opportunity to see how cultural models function in settings that approximate the social contexts in which discussions about public safety and the criminal justice system naturally occur. Using this method, the Institute is able to:
- Capture and identify the public discourse about public safety and the justice system;
- Show which of the cultural models available in public thinking become dominant in a broader social context; and,
- Examine whether intentionally priming conversations can create a substantively different and/or more progressive public conversation about public safety and reform.
In this study, we found that the dominant cultural models that structure public thinking about public safety are extremely powerful, highly available, and readily employed. However, we were able to shift some thinking on this issue by introducing two values into conversations during our sessions: safety and prevention.
Safety emerged as a very useful value to engage participants in a constructive conversation about criminal justice reform. Participants deemed “safety” a core requirement and value for all communities. This value helped participants recognize variations and inequities in public safety across places, which translated into productive talk about the need to reform the system and improve its efficiency and fairness.
The value of Prevention also had a positive effect in helping people reason about the necessity of reforming and addressing the priorities of the criminal justice system. To the extent that Americans believe the current system does not prevent crime and that chances can be made to reduce crime, they are open to supporting criminal justice reform.
When presented with specific reform ideas such as reduced sentencing for nonviolent crime, enhanced community policing, and a dedicated and developmentally sensitive juvenile justice system, participants rallied around Prevention as a way to link these policies together to improve the system and reducing crime. This suggests that Prevention can serve as an important framing value for getting people to support reforms of both the adult and juvenile systems.
Frameworks is continuing work in this direction and we look forward to sharing more of our findings on how to best frame criminal justice reform in the near future. You can find more of our related research on our new public safety issue page.