Improving Courtroom Communication: A Procedural Justice Experiment in Milwaukee

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Improving Courtroom Communication: A Procedural Justice Experiment in Milwaukee

Improving Courtroom Communication: A Procedural Justice Experiment in Milwaukee

By Erin Farley, Elise Jensen and Michael Rempel

This is an evaluation of a pilot project at the Milwaukee County Criminal Court, intended to enhance defendant perceptions of procedural justice by improving the oral, written, and nonverbal communication used by judges. Among the findings, courtroom observations measured an increase in the use of 14 practices that helped improve communication. Judges became more likely to: begin the court session by explaining why cases would be called in a certain order; make eye contact with defendants; use plain English to explain procedures and decisions; ask if defendants or their attorneys had anything to say before the decision; and demonstrate an interest in the defendants understanding of plea agreements. The most influential dimensions of procedural justice were found to be voice (perceived ability to convey one's side of the story), respect (perceived respectful treatment), and helpfulness (perceived interest in meeting defendants needs).

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