Objective: Build enough informed and motivated public support for well-conceived criminal justice reforms – practical, socially responsible, and cost-effective – that implementation becomes a political imperative.
Problems to Be Solved
Our current public safety through punishment paradigm of criminal justice delivers neither public safety nor justice:
- Our current approach to criminal justice creates more public safety problems than it solves – at huge social and economic cost – in effect breeding crime and multiplying harm rather than effectively fighting crime.
- Our current criminal justice system fails to deliver the justice most victims of criminal acts need and want: repair and healing of harm.
- Our current approach to criminal justice is driven largely by a widespread public and decision-maker misperception that the justice most victims of crime seek and need for healing is punishment of their victimizers (retribution) – a deeply flawed misperception belied by crime surveys of victims. (See, e.g., Lenore Anderson, In Their Names: The Untold Story of Victims’ Rights, Mass Incarceration, and the Future of Public Safety (The New Press, 2022))
- Lack of adequate public and public policy decision-maker understanding of the role of trauma as a primary driving cause of violent crime, especially in high crime communities – a problem that cannot be solved by multiplying trauma.
- Need to shift from a punishment paradigm of justice to a problem-solving paradigm of justice.
- Insufficient alignment of incentives with desired outcomes (economic and political).
Path to Solutions
A successful and sustainable process of innovation in public policy, especially public safety policy, must deliver three things: (1) superior solutions; (2) lower risks and costs; and (3) public buy-in.
Superior solutions with lower risks and costs already exist and are known to and advocated by many subject matter experts, including those with expertise rooted in lived experience, but public buy-in is lacking due to lack of public awareness.
The path to solutions, therefore, is public education through giving effective public voice to (1) victims (including those perpetrators of harm whose criminal acts are rooted in their own victimization), and (2) those with subject matter expertise who can point to more practical, cost-effective solutions.
Filling that public education need is the mission of Justice Voices.
Justice Voices as an Action Engine: Three Elements
Stories have unmatched power to touch hearts and open minds. They also attract a podcast audience. Stories of people with lived experience with crime and the criminal justice system have the power to break down preconceived ideas and raise awareness of the need for reforms.
To date, such harnessing of the power of stories has been the primary objective of and need addressed by the Justice Voices podcast. Standing alone, however, such stories often raise more questions than provide answers. Moreover, a podcast alone is a public communication and therefore public action bottleneck.
To become an effective action engine, Justice Voices must become not only a podcast, but a project consisting of three interrelated elements:
- Combine voices with vision in Justice Voices podcast episodes – continue to focus in most episodes on the stories of those with lived experience with crime and the criminal justice system, including victims, but also mix in some episodes featuring guests who can effectively and persuasively communicate superior solutions (see the “Justice Visions” element below);
- Create a “Victim Voices” space for development of an organic online community of victims who spontaneously give public voice to their experience and justice needs as victims, and who go on to develop their own communities and means of expressing their voices publicly without being bottle-necked by any program or project (see Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You (Doubleday, 2018)); and
- Develop a “Justice Visions” project to (a) bring together subject matter experts to identify and, if needed, develop areas of consensus regarding more practical, cost-effective solutions to achieve desired public safety and justice outcomes, and (b) give effective public voice through the podcast (and perhaps other means yet to be developed) to those who can effectively describe and persuasively communicate those solutions to the public.
As a first step, a “Victim Voices” Facebook page has already been created with the hashtag #victimvoices. In a pinned video at the top of the page, David Risley invites victims to record and post their own stories and perspectives on justice, whether in video, audio-only, or written form.
That space will need to be widely publicized and utilized before its healing and persuasive potential can be realized.
More important may be the hashtag #victimvoices, which can link together and make readily findable many other forums and media spaces in which victims share their stories and voices.
Design Thinking to Achieve Three-Dimensional Justice
“Justice Visions” will be an exercise in group design thinking to create and communicate a evidence-based redesign of our criminal justice system to achieve better justice and public safety outcomes, redirect resources to more cost-effective solutions, and reform delivery of justice for all.
The Justice Visions project will be human-centered, rather than system centered.
To generate a clear vision of genuinely superior criminal justice solutions, the project will use a form of design thinking, starting with identifying the justice needs of the three primary groups of justice stakeholders: (1) victims; (2) the public; and (3) those who commit criminal acts.
- Justice is not justice unless it first and foremost meets the needs of victims. Justice for victims means repairing and healing harm.
- The public interest is two-fold: (1) public safety, and (2) public order maintained through the rule of law, rather than the alternative of self-help vigilantism.
- Perpetrators of criminal acts should be held accountable for their actions, especially to the victims harmed by their acts. It would be unjust, however, for the consequences imposed upon them to exceed the legitimate justice interests of their victims or the public. Moreover, many perpetrators of harm are also victims of harm themselves (“hurt people hurt people”). It would be unjust to either compound that harm or fail to recognize their need for healing as victims.
This concept of three-dimensional justice will be the core vision of Justice Visions.
There are hundreds of think tanks, academics, and other subject matter experts regarding crime and criminal justice, as any online search using the terms “criminal justice reform” reveals. However, the thinking of those experts fails to reach most members of the public, largely because of a lack of means to give them a coherent collective voice in a form consumable by the general public, or even by most public policy decision-makers.
Through the Justice Voices podcast and live events, the Justice Visions project will give effective voice to criminal justice thought leaders and practical problem-solvers.
The Justice Visions project will utilize a form of design thinking as practiced in business and other contexts, consisting of five elements: understand; explore; test; crystalize; publicize.
- Understand: Effective problem-solving starts with understanding the problem to be solved. The Justice Visions project will begin by interviewing representative samples of people from all three justice stakeholder groups (often as podcast episode guests) to gain a clear understanding of what justice would look and feel like to them. Those outcomes will then become both the targets and standards of success of the project.
- Explore: Current and potentially innovative means of achieving those justice outcomes – and the experience of justice – for each of the three stakeholder groups will be explored through a groupthink process involving subject matter experts, those with lived experience, and also by inviting comments from the Justice Voices audience, recognizing that many in the podcast audience are subject matter experts themselves or have valuable insights to share from lived experience. (Audience engagement will also lead to an increase in audience size and buy-in.)
Some participants in the groupthink process will be recruited through invitations to share thoughts on key questions as podcast guests. Live events such as roundtable discussions involving selected project participants will be broadcast in video and audio form on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, then archived for later access on the Justice Voices website. (Live events are audience magnets.)
- Test: Promising practices already being employed in some locations will be analyzed regarding outcomes, risks, and costs (fiscal and social). Promising ideas without existing prototypes will be tested through feasibility and cost-benefit analyses based on experience with comparable practices or projects. Testing criteria will be the desired justice outcomes identified in the understanding phase.
- Crystalize: Those involved in the groupthink process will then identify areas of consensus regarding solutions, seek to increase areas of working consensus through discussion and refinement, and crystalize that thinking into a series of bite-size, readily understandable reports designed for the general public.
- Publicize: A communication strategy will be developed (ideally all along the way during other phases) to maximize impact with the general public and target audiences and influencers.
(Note: The University of Chicago Crime Lab has already expressed interest in participation and support of the project.)
- Like-minded. Avoid the trap of preaching only to the choir (echo chamber), but inform and motivate the already converted so they speak up with credible voices.
- Faith communities (motivated more by religious principles than politics)
- Progressives (bring realism to their idealism)
- Populists (emphasize public safety and cost-benefit analysis)
- Centrists/moderates (emphasize social responsibility as well as public safety and cost-benefit analyses)
- Libertarians (emphasize freedom and justice for all)
Influencers (with emphasis on Illinois as a prototype):
- Media (news media, talk shows, podcasters, social media influencers, etc.)
- Religious leaders
- Community leaders, especially in high crime neighborhoods
- Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC)
- Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority
- Illinois Association of Problem-Solving Courts
- Illinois State’s Attorneys Association
- Illinois Public Defender Association
- Illinois Judicial Conference and Illinois Judges Association
- Illinois State Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Association
- Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police
- Illinois Sheriffs Association
- Influential NGOs (Illinois Justice Project, Heartland Alliance, and others)
- Academics (Loyola, Adler, Chicago, Northwestern, and other universities)
- Illinois General Assembly and key committee leaders (and staff)
Database of Experts
To further increase the resource value of the Justice Voices website, and thus its audience-reaching ranking in Internet search engine results, a searchable and filterable database of subject matter experts will be added on the Justice Voices website to act as an online hub to identify and connect subject matter experts and organizations.
That database will facilitate conversation and collaboration between criminal justice thought leaders and drive news and other media to those experts for guest appearances on talk shows and influencer podcasts.
Once clear answers to questions about superior alternatives are in listeners’ and viewers’ minds, every story and expert voice they hear on the podcast from then on will reinforce that thinking and motivate them to take action to correct injustices and elevate our justice system.
By giving effective voice to both those with lived experience and subject matter expertise through the combination of Justice Voices podcast, Justice Visions project, a more robust website blog, and an Internet search engine-attracting database of experts, synergies between elements will give them more public opinion-shaping punch.
Implementation of this strategy will require funding to hire staff and pay other costs of scaling up and supporting all three elements of Justice Voices: Justice Voices podcast, Victim Voices project, and Justice Visions project.
Justice Voices, Inc., is an approved 501(c)(3) charitable organization, registered as a not-for-profit organization in the State of Illinois.
Founder and podcast host David Risley is well suited to move from serving in a volunteer capacity as president of the Justice Voices board of directors to being employed by the board as executive director and podcast producer, and will continue to host at least most podcast episodes.
Other staff will need to be hired as project managers for the Victim Voices and Justice Visions projects and to manage such administrative tasks as bookkeeping and payroll and grant management.
Absent finding a supportive host willing to provide a cost-free location, ideally in the Chicago or Springfield areas, with suitable office space for staff, access to a conference room, and a room suitable for use as a podcast production studio for recording in-person conversations with guests, further funding will be needed to rent such space.
Total funding need will be depend on office space costs, but personnel costs are estimated to be at least $200,000 per year or more, depending on scale.