Criminal Justice

Advancing Justice: The Next Steps

November 6, 2015

Advancing Justice attendees departed New Orleans today after a generative summit that has identified opportunities for reform, highlighted gaps in research that deserve support, and helped form new alliances and strengthen existing coalitions for criminal justice and policing reform. A prominent message during plenary panels yesterday evening and this morning was how different media can shape popular opinion and action on criminal justice and policing reform.

Yesterday, during “Criminal Justice and the Press: A Conversation,” three journalists who focus on justice reform issues joined Stand Together Trust senior research fellow Vikrant Reddy to explain the role that the press can take to spur reform and the challenges they currently face. Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer at The Atlantic, pointed to the difficulty of building a pool of talented journalists who focus on criminal justice and policing reform at the state and local level.

For Friedersdorf,  the “watchdog” function of the press is not as strong as it should be. As he explained, talented writers who focus on criminal justice reform will gravitate towards national outlets as they gain more experience. Some of the most significant developments in criminal justice reform occur at the local level, but without enough talented journalists to cover them, these stories go untold.

Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, had shared a similar concern during an earlier afternoon breakout panel, but Scott Henson, curator of the blog Grits for Breakfast, offered a potential solution during “Criminal Justice and the Press.” Henson urged the advocates and scholars in attendance to help guide reporters who were less experienced with criminal justice reform.

This morning’s panel, “Creating a Culture of Change: Telling the Stories of Reform,” took a different approach to depictions of our criminal justice system. During the panel, three filmmakers discussed the role of culture and narrative in shaping views and influencing reform. According to Scott Budnick, who produced The Hangover series before starting the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, films can influence public opinion as well as public policy.

Budnick argued that documentaries were perhaps best positioned to do this because they can combine narrative storytelling with facts and data. Yet, he continued, without appropriate marketing budgets, even excellent documentaries often fail to reach a large audience.

For Daniel Chafen, co-founder of Naked Edge Films, cinema, television, and other modes of storytelling can all have a large impact on criminal justice reforms by reaching a wide array of audiences. He suggested that filmmakers should try to reach the audience they want to influence, not an audience that already agrees with them.

Using narratives to reach new audiences is but one of many suggestions for how to advance justice that came out of this week’s summit. In his closing remarks, Vikrant Reddy explained that many attendees had asked if Stand Together Trust plans to hold this summit in the future. His response was that hosting the summit again depends on what happens after we all leave and what successes we have over the next year to reform our criminal justice system and policing practices.

Making progress in our justice system requires many voices and a diversity of action, whether it is advocating for reform legislation, telling the stories of those most affected, or performing data-driven research. Add your voice and learn more by visiting the Charles Koch Foundation’s Request for Proposals page.