The message recommendations contained in this tool kit use plain language to explain youth probation, diversion from courts to community-based responses and restorative justice to general audiences. To develop the recommendations, the Annie E. Casey Foundation partnered with communications experts at Fenton and The Harris Poll. The experts conducted research in 2021 to understand public perception of the juvenile justice system and followed up with additional survey questions in 2022 to gauge the public’s thoughts on crime trends and opinions on youth gun possession. The research-informed language is meant to educate, persuade and inspire other practitioners, decision makers and the public to keep more young people away from the formal justice system and pursue strategies aimed at young people’s personal growth, positive behavior change and long-term success.
The tool kit is designed for everyone to use, not just public information officers or communications professionals.
A good place to start is with the research findings that explore the public’s familiarity with and perceptions of the juvenile justice system. Then review core messaging and narratives in the form of sample bullet points and paragraphs that are informed by the research and designed to connect with general audiences. Continue by exploring language to use and lose when trying to educate and persuade audiences about effective responses to supporting youth who encounter the justice system, including diversion, restorative justice and probation.
Speakers will want to use their own discretion and knowledge of local audiences to customize what they say and how they say it. Typically, communication is more persuasive and memorable when it contains local and/or national data points (including those found in the Facts and Figures section), anecdotes and personal stories.
Keep in mind that the sample statements are not scripts, and they are not intended to be used all at once in a list as they are displayed.
The words we use, the examples we share and the stories we tell can move public opinion and influence and enlist key stakeholders to act, including helping or hindering the advocacy of better policies and practices. Using common, easy-to-understand language helps make the public more familiar with and receptive to what young people need to reach their potential.
To help the Annie E. Casey Foundation understand the public’s attitudes about the juvenile justice system, Fenton and The Harris Poll partnered on a qualitative and quantitative study into public opinion, framing and messaging. This process was designed to:
Conducted from February to May 2021, the research included:
The objective of this research was to explore the familiarity, perceptions and language used when referring to the juvenile justice system and desired outcomes for young people who break the law. Specifically, the research was designed to: