For over a decade GBAO has conducted innovative research to help advocates of criminal justice reform understand public opinion, craft effective messages, and win campaigns.

For decades, Democrats and Republicans communicated messages about being “tough on crime” and rarely about being smart on crime. District Attorney races were often about which candidate had locked up, or promised to lock up, the most criminals. This rhetoric led to policies like mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws, the results of which have been catastrophic. Mass incarceration filled our prisons with disproportionately Black and Brown men and boys, including non-violent offenders. Children have grown up without parents, while teenagers have grown up in the criminal justice system.

In 2007, we started working with the Campaign for Youth Justice and then with the Youth First Initiative to gauge public attitudes towards reforming the youth criminal justice system. Since then, we have also worked with the Partnership for Safety and Justice and the ACLU on various criminal justice reform initiatives. And over the last four years, we have worked with Safety & Justice PAC on District Attorneys races across the country to support reform-minded candidates.

A few highlights of this work include:

  • Helping Safety & Justice PAC elect DA candidates committed to criminal justice reform and racial justice in communities ranging from St. Louis to Dallas, from Delaware County, Virginia to Contra Costa County, California.
  • Helping the ACLU pass a slate of bipartisan youth justice reform laws in Oregon.
  • Helping elect and re-elect Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney.
  • Conducting research for Youth First Initiative nationally and in 14 states to advance youth justice reform proposals and develop messaging to advocate for closing youth prisons.
  • Working with the Center for American Progress and the Clean Slate Initiative conducting research to develop narratives around sealing criminal records, so a criminal record doesn’t mean a life sentence to poverty and those who do their time and stay out of trouble get a second chance.