BEHIND THE PAPER WITH ERIC GRANOF
If you have ever taken a marketing and communications class in school, one of the first lessons you learn is that perception is stronger than reality. If you can get consumers to perceive that your product or brand is more reliable, or more effective, or safer than the competition, the reality of that truth becomes less important. Now don’t get me wrong, facts always matter in marketing, but if you can connect with people in an emotional way beyond the facts, then you can convince them of almost anything.
Now one paragraph into this blog, you are probably asking yourself, “Eric, this is all fine and good, but what the heck does it have to do with Bail Reform?” My response to you is, “Everything!”
The proponents of public sector pretrial release and the social justice advocates behind the bail reform movement have been running one of the best marketing campaigns I have ever seen. While they are not selling a product or service, they are successfully selling an ideology. While their customer is not the average Joe on the street, their customer is likeminded politicians and judges who share the same belief system. Even if we all completely disagree with what they are doing, you have to give them credit for running a convincing campaign. As I mentioned previously, the strength of any marketing program isn’t the strength of the reality behind it, but rather the perception you are able to create. These so called social justice warriors have not been selling reality, but rather they have been selling a perception of reality that is based solely on their ideology with very little facts.
That being said, perception has its lifespan just like everything else. You can create the perception and enjoy the benefits of that positioning for a period of time, but ultimately, if the facts and reality don’t catch up to the perception and support it, you will lose credibility all together. For example, Volvo’s will only be perceived as the safest cars on the road, as long as people do not die driving them. Sony products will only be seen as the most reliable as long as their products keep working. Public sector pretrial release programs and electronic algorithms can only be sold as effective tools as long as they perform at that level. See where I am going with this?
The public sector pretrial community has created a perception that they are solving a dire problem in the criminal justice system. That problem is based on one key marketing talking point (notice how I didn’t use the word fact?). That talking point is that 62% of people sitting in jail at this very moment are there for the sole reason that they cannot afford to pay for a bail bond. This one concept is the pillar behind their entire movement. They have created a narrative and sold it to influencers inside the criminal justice system as truth. They use fancy marketing brochures and websites. They created viral online videos and PowerPoint presentations that all perpetuate this “myth of 62%.” They use language that is more visual and disturbing to people like “people languishing away in “cages” as opposed to jail cells because while one draws up images of bad guys being locked up deservedly in jail, the other one draws up images of people being undeservedly locked up and treated like animals…which do you think is more effective? And how do we know at the end of the day that their marketing is working? Just listen to those that they have sold it to and you will hear them regurgitate the same language and the same talking points, including the most important one of all, the mythical 62% number.
Just for the record, the reality is that 62% of people in jail are NOT there because they can’t afford a bail bond. There are several legitimate studies that refute this number and actually prove that the number of people who are in jail solely for the reason they can’t afford bail is as low as 1-2% of the population. In fact, most jail populations only have a bailable population of around 10%. The remaining 90% of defendants aren’t even eligible for bail. But this fact doesn’t align with the bail reform marketing campaign. This fact doesn’t support their powerful emotional claim of 62%. My guess is that the truth didn’t test as well in the focus group, so they decided to ignore it.
As I discussed previously, the one way to combat perception or shall I say misperception in this case is to let it run its course and ultimately be overtaken by the facts. This is what is happening in New Jersey. The voters in New Jersey were sold a marketing campaign entitled “Bail Reform.” The narrative simply put was that “Innocent people were languishing away in cages because they were poor while guilty and dangerous people were being let out because they had money. Who in the world wouldn’t vote for something to solve this problem? And Bail Reform was passed. Now comes the reality. As of January 1st, the so-called magical bail algorithm was unveiled and the computers took over. Now with a simple questionnaire, public sector pretrial advocates can tell you all about a defendant, including whether or not they are going to show up for court, whether or not they will commit another crime if released from custody and they might even tell you what the defendants like for breakfast…that is, of course, if the algorithm has been validated appropriately. Based on this magical algorithm, judges are now told what to think and what to do. The result, child molesters are being identified as “low risk” and released for FREE on a promise to appear in court. Drug dealers are being identified as “low risk” and released for FREE on a promise to appear in court. Defendants who have assaulted police officers are released for FREE on a promise to appear in court. Instead of punishing people who commit crimes, New Jersey is now rewarding them by releasing them with zero accountability. Have you ever heard the saying, if you reward bad behavior, you can only expect one thing…more bad behavior. I think New Jersey communities won’t just be hearing that statement but experiencing it for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the public soon sees the reality of this misguided and dangerous marketing campaign they bought in before crime reaches new astronomical records and the rule of law goes away.
Another way to combat the myth of bail reform and the factless marketing campaign is to not just sit around and wait for the truth to catch up, but rather to speed the process along and perpetuate the truth. Once again, New Jersey is the best example to share on this. Several concerned parties, from law enforcement to bail agents to community members, have all taken to social media to spread the stories of the bail reform marketing campaign’s deceitful lies and empty promises. Story after story of dangerous criminals being released into the public is being shared with a broad spectrum of people across the state and the country. Each story shared puts a crack in the foundation of the bail reform lie. Each story shared puts a glimmer of truth into the narrative and opens people’s eyes to the mistake that was made. Hats off to New Jersey for having the courage to step up and pull back the curtain and unveil the myths and lies that the bail reform movement is built on. I invite everyone to visit this group online and share their stories https://www.facebook.com/NJBailReform.
From New Jersey to Texas to California, the Bail Reform Marketing Campaign is in full swing. But reality and facts are following close behind and when they start revealing themselves in the form of crime increases, failures to appear for court, and more people in jail than there were previously, then maybe then people will wake up and realize the mistakes of their actions. Until that time, I encourage every concerned citizen, every law enforcement supporter, every bail agent and every victim advocate to share the truth about the failures of bail reform. Combat the myths with the truth. Demand that your lawmakers first understand the problems facing the criminal justice system, before buying the so-called FREE shiny new product being sold to them that will save them money and solve all their problems.
Does our criminal justice system need reform? Absolutely! Do we need to find ways to reduce crime? Absolutely! Do we need to find ways to treat people more fairly? Absolutely! Do we need to find a way to make sure the rights of victims are protected? Absolutely! Is getting rid of the bail industry the solution to achieve those things? Absolutely Not!
It is time to start having a grown-up discussion that involves facts and truths and less emotion and ideology. It is time to stop marketing lies and empty promises and focus on solving problems. Then, and only then, can you truly improve and reform the criminal justice system.
Eric Granof is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for AIA Surety.