Talking Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal justice reform advocates are cautiously optimistic that their day in court may have arrived at long last. While many other progressive issues appear to be at a standstill (witness immigration reform, climate change, etc.), criminal justice issues appear to have the wind at their back. From the Department of Justice to the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Congress, leaders are re-examining how the U.S. got stuck in one gear–the prison gear–and the ramifications for moving our society forward.

Yet, history suggests this optimism be tempered with lessons from past social movements. Taking advantage of the moment of opportunity requires reformers not only to seize the day with policies and programs, but also to put forward a new narrative about the criminal justice system–how it works, to what end and what can be done to improve it. That new narrative cannot be invented out of whole cloth; it requires a systematic understanding of the stories we have been telling ourselves about public safety over time–in media, in public and private discourse, at kitchen tables and water coolers. In short, reframing the narrative is crucial to the sustainability of the reform momentum, but it is not easily constructed. To replace the status quo, a reliable reframing strategy must reshape and redirect public thinking toward meaningful policies.

(Read more in this guest blog by FrameWorks President Susan Nall Bales for the Rosenberg Foundation)

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One thought on “Talking Criminal Justice Reform

  1. With one of every 107 Americans incarcerated, and one in 34 under judicial supervision, it’e true, there is a problem. The documentary film “Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection” explores answers to this question: “If treatment programs work to reduce recidivism at a lower cost per person than jail or prison, why aren’t there more of them?” Yes, there is a need for reform to policy and programs. But there is also an opportunity to recognize, appreciate, and applaud the people who are willing to work hard to get back on their feet, and those who are reaching out to give them a hand. Reshaping and redirecting public thinking happens when we recognize the individual and help him or her reach for their potential. In “Outcasts” you can hear their story.


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