Talking about Community Justice
Yesterday (16 February 2022), Community Justice Scotland published a new framing toolkit to support people and organisations shape how they speak, write and communicate about community justice in ways that have the potential to increase public awareness and confidence in it as a sentencing option. This is accompanied by a new national image library with real-life photographs of community justice. The new resources are designed to help everyone working in the sector talk about community justice in a consistent, easy to understand way that gets across its benefits and value to all. There are five sections to the toolkit:
- The importance of framing community justice
- Who are we talking to?
- General guidance on how we communicate
- The narrative structure
- The community justice narrative – how can we frame community justice?
The importance of framing
Research in Scotland found that the public have minimal awareness of the term community justice; where people have heard of it, they think of such activities as litter picking as part of unpaid work schemes. The aim of the toolkit is to hep the field convey a cohesive, positive and credible community justice narrative in an accessible and convincing way.
This toolkit is a guide for experts and practitioners working within the Scottish justice sector, and other relevant sectors, who communicate with:
- people navigating the justice system
- service providers
- local and national Government
- the media, and, ultimately
- members of the public
The toolkit contains five key principles for communication which are feature in the graphic from the toolkit which I have reproduced below.
The five principles
These five principles are key to the toolkit and are worthy of a careful read. In summary, it is important to:
- Avoid sweeping statements and share evidence-based tangible messages. So, don’t say: “Many people who break the law suffered early childhood trauma” but do say: “6/10 people who…”
- Get the balance right, talk about the community and victim first. So, again, Don’t say: “Community justice is an empathetic way of dealing with people who commit crime.” Instead: “The evidence shows community justice can help people stop breaking the law again leading to fewer victims and safer communities.”
- Use everyday language and avoid buzzwords and acronyms. Most people are put off by jargon from other sectors.
- Beware metaphors and similes. The toolkit acknowledges that metaphors can be evocative but research finds that public health analogies, such as criminal behaviour infecting a community, does not work with most people.
- Build on what people believe. The research finds that we are influence by what we know and believe generally. For example, people are likely to believe that working in collaboration to solve complex problems is better than trying to do everything yourself. Community justice narratives will resonate more deeply if the information we harness ties in naturally with what people readily accept.
Describing community justice
The toolkit includes a helpful definition of community justice:
Community justice is where people who have broken the law are held to account and supported to reconnect and contribute to their communities.
It goes on to explain the benefits of this definition:
- People want to feel that, whatever the crime, people are held to account for their actions.
- “People who have broken the law” avoids stigmatising language while maintaining clarity.
- The word “contribute” frames this benefit to communities in positive, constructive terms.
The benefits of this toolkit is that it is written in very concrete language with plenty of suggestions for phrasing common arguments. The accompanying national image library with real-life photographs of community justice is a really helpful resource.