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Reframing criminal justice

The language we use to talk about crime can impact people's support for progressive change

People’s reactions to communications about criminal justice are guided by a set of strong beliefs about why people commit crime and how to reduce crime. These beliefs affect everyone, are deep seated, strong, and sometimes contradictory. For example, people believe crime is an individual rational choice, but also that crime has societal causes. People think that the criminal justice system is there to punish people who commit crime, but also that it should rehabilitate people so they can go on to contribute positively to society.

We are unlikely to fundamentally change people’s beliefs, but we can change their appetite for progressive reforms by triggering some beliefs and avoiding engaging with others. Our reframing work is based on in-depth research with the public into what language, values and arguments can help us build acceptance for criminal justice reform. Our reports, coaching and training support charities and others to apply this learning to their own communications.

Our handy guide synthesises all you need to know about reframing criminal justice. It charts the landscape of mainstream public beliefs about crime and justice and outlines how you can navigate those beliefs in your own communications.

Key to reframing is getting the right value – the hook which gives people a reason to go on listening. Three values get people interested in criminal justice and engaged in reform. These values can be used (in your own language) to increase buy-in for your communication:

  1. National progress – that criminal justice reform is necessary to move our country forward, because less crime and more productive members of society will contribute to our social and economic progress.
  2. Problem solving – there are feasible, pragmatic solutions we can use to improve our criminal justice system and doing what the evidence shows us will work to reduce crime is smart and practical.
  3. Human potential – that we need a criminal justice system that works to ensure everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential, so they can contribute to our society.

Read more about these values, and the “do”s and “don’t”s of effective communication about crime and justice, in our guide.

Better Justice Partnership

We’re working in partnership to champion evidence-based policymaking to reduce crime and make communities safer.

The Better Justice Partnership aims to increase government support for early intervention and rehabilitation by building an alliance to advocate for evidence-based policymaking.

We aim to improve public safety by tackling high reoffending rates and the disproportionate criminalisation of people facing multiple disadvantage and racial inequality.