“We must never forget that to commit crime is to make a choice. There is, however, a sliding scale of increasing inevitability that we cannot ignore. The drivers are clear – it’s a lack of prospects, chaotic lifestyles, ill-health and addiction. All these underlying causes of crime can so often be addressed much more effectively by looking beyond custody, to the right interventions that really will support offenders to change their ways. If we can do that and bring down crime, why would we do anything else?”
When Minister for Justice, Robert Buckland, launched the recent sentencing white paper he expressed two of the seemingly conflicting core beliefs people hold about those who commit crime – that they make a rational pre-meditated choice to offend, and that there are factors beyond their control, which drive them to make those choices. Last week Transform Justice brought together a panel of speakers with scars on their back from their efforts to reframe the narrative on why people commit crime and what can be done about it. The event, which marked the launch of our new guide to communicating about criminal justice, was both a celebration of sector unity and a clarion call to communicate better. On the panel were organisations which had been coached in reframing messages about crime and punishment.
Andrew Neilson of the Howard League, explained why he was open to a new approach “there is only so long you can bang your head against a brick wall, without thinking you have to try something different”. This involves avoiding fatalism and always establishing why a particular CJS issue matters, what the problem is and how the problem can be resolved. Stephen Bell, Chief Executive of Changing Lives, feels that the sector needs to tell more positive stories and stop being “mood hoovers”. Changing Lives’ strap line is “the power of positive change”.
The reframing research suggests values are key to engaging people with criminal justice issues. Facts on their own can be a turn off. The FrameWorks Institute tested potential values to see which inspired interest and support for progressive reform. Of those which tested best, it was the value of human potential which appealed most to Stephen and to Sherry Peck, Chief Executive of Safer London – a criminal justice system which ensures everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential so they can contribute to society.
Sherry had used reframing to support a culture change within her organisation. As leader of an organisation working with young people, she criticised the media narrative of feral youth rampaging through the mean streets of London. And felt that her organisation had colluded in that. Nowadays Safer London doesn’t talk about knife crime or serious youth violence, but about young people who are affected by violence.