Public officials pass legislation, adopt regulations, and interpret and carry out the law. If you work for public policy change, you need to learn how to convince those individuals that they should do what you are requesting. This is what is involved in lobbying. There are things you can do to make yourself a more or less effective lobbyist. This section offers suggestions and information to help you be more effective.
First, however, are seven suggestions that will help you make your case with public officials.
1. Know your message.
There is a reason that you will be meeting with the official. Perhaps you are concerned about inhumane conditions in the prison or about the lack of public confidence in the justice system. Make sure you have thought about what you want to say. Usually the message is that you want the official to do something and why, or to stop doing something and why.
2. Know about the official.
The official has political and personal interests, too. Do you know what those are? Is there a way that you make your request so that it helps him meet his goals, too? Will it be easy or difficult to give you what you want? Who would fight him if he did? Who would support him? It is useful to become acquainted with public officials before the time comes to make a request. You might want to schedule meetings with key officials just to let them know about the work of Prison Fellowship. A visit from an RST member, a regional envoy, or a representative from the PFI Secretariat can be a great “excuse” to schedule a meeting.
3. Be prepared.
Have accurate information and material available on the issue you are concerned about. The official may not be aware of the issue; public officials have to deal with many different concerns and may not have the information you can give them. Also, remember that there are always at least two sides to a story, and that the official will quickly hear from people who oppose your idea. The more you understand the arguments of the other side, the more effective you will be in making the case for your side.
4. Be respectful.
Be friendly with public officials, even if they have not helped you in the past. It is still useful to create a favourable impression. Be firm about what you believe needs to happen, but be polite and respectful as well. Smile and greet them when you see them.
5. Be political.
To a greater or lesser degree, elected officials have to be aware of what voters are concerned about. When you can, show how what you are requesting is related to the interests of the voters or the media (who influence the voters). The public official may not want to take the “political heat” that will come if they support you. This is a reasonable concern. See if there is a way that you can help them overcome that concern; for example, try to get a favourable newspaper article so that you can demonstrate that there is public interest in the changes you seek.
6. Be persistent.
Jesus told the story of the woman who lobbied an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). In the end, he agreed to her request not because he cared about justice but because he wanted to get rid of her!
7. Be ready to help make the change happen.
If you are successful in getting the public official’s commitment, he may ask you to help him implement the needed changes. He may want you to serve on a commission, or to meet with someone, or to review new regulations. You don’t have to be an expert, and you should not pretend to have expertise you do not have. But you do have gifts and experiences so do not be surprised if the public officials would like your help.
For more ideas, particularly concerning how to approach particular public officials, find someone who has done this before and ask their advice.
The following articles offer more information on lobbying, make further recommendations, or serve as case studies:
- Restorative Justice in Costa Rica
- On 26 and 27 July, Prison Fellowship International’s Dan Van Ness participated in two events organised by the Costa Rican Supreme Court of Justice to promote the country’s efforts to implement restorative justice programming. His participation resulted from an invitation made to PF Costa Rica to be part of the initiative.
- Left and Right Unite to Bring Justice to Drug Laws
- From the article by Pat Nolan on the ACS Blog: In an important victory for justice, President Obama today [3 August 2010] signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, putting an end to the 100-to-1 disparity between punishments for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
- Although the authority to use mediation in certain crimes first appeared in Panamanian regulations in 1995, this option has been underutilised by justice system personnel. Subsequent legislation and policies developed by the Ministerio Público have sought to strengthen mediation, including by creating alternative dispute resolution centres in different parts of the country.
- Raising Community Awareness in Swaziland
- In April, PF Swaziland participated in an awareness raising event aimed to help community leaders in the country’s Lubombo region understand the proposed community service programme. Organised by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, the meeting included several stakeholders: Correctional services, local chiefs, the Swaziland Association for Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of Offenders (SACRO), National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), and PF Swaziland.
- PF Malaysia Conducts Two-Day Restorative Justice Symposium for Public Officials and Others
- PF Malaysia conducted a two-day symposium on restorative justice on June 1 and 2.
- Focus on Reform and Prisoner Rehabilitation in Mozambique
- In October, the National Prison Service of Mozambique held a two-day, multi-stakeholder workshop exploring the issues of prison reform, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration. The goals were to raise awareness and advocate for a new approach that would include both government and civil society organizations working in partnership. In the spirit of such partnership, PF Mozambique took on an organizing role with the workshop and drew upon contacts and resources of other PF national ministries.
- Explaining Restorative Justice in Colombia
- Dan Van Ness, PFI’s Executive Director of the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, recently travelled to Colombia to help PF Colombia in its ongoing efforts to promote restorative justice among criminal justice professionals.
- Advocating for Restorative Justice in Nigeria
- Participants in a recent one-day seminar organized by PF Nigeria discussed the chronic prison overcrowding in that country and explored solutions through alternatives to incarceration based on restorative justice.
- Restorative Justice Training for Corrections Personnel
- Recently, PF Lesotho sponsored a two-week training event on restorative justice for members of the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS). Thirty-five participants including prison chaplains and correctional rehabilitation officers participated in the event held at the Lesotho Training Centre.
- Crime-Care Conference
- In cooperation with Lotsha, a Christian networking organisation, PF South Africa recently hosted a one-day conference for churches with the theme, “Our Offenders, Our Victims, Our Responsibility.”
- Constructing Restorative Justice in Lithuania
- Recently, the Lithuanian Government approved Resolution 806 paving the way for implementing restorative justice in the country.
- Focus on Prisoner Reintegration
- The PF New Zealand 2007 annual conference, When Prisoners Come Home… A Community Response to Prisoner Reintegration, highlighted the many issues surrounding a prisoner’s release from prison.
- PF Romania Advocates for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups
- PF Romania is an organizing member of the European Network on Improving Equal Treatment and Human Dignity of Members of Vulnerable Groups Sentenced for a Penal Offence.
- Rethinking Crime and Punishment
- It’s a burgeoning problem that many may not even be aware of. The imprisonment rate in New Zealand has reached epidemic proportions—it is 164 per 100,000, double what it was in 1980 and now one of the highest in the world. The New Zealand Department of Corrections estimates that it costs $161.91 (NZD) per day for each prisoner, so the added prisoners result in an extra $141 million per year. And imprisonment does not seem to be changing the criminal behaviour of prisoners because 60 percent of all released prisoners re-offend within two years. As is the case in many countries, the issues surrounding crime and punishment are demanding new solutions.
- PF Portugal Highlights Restorative Justice
- This year’s Convocation theme of Love and Justice was an appropriate one for PF Portugal to use at its annual nationwide PF Volunteers Meeting. The Portuguese Government recently announced a proposal for an experimental penal mediation programme that would allow for alternative prison sentences in cases of crimes that would have required less than five years in prison.
- Promoting Restorative Justice in Pakistan
- Recently, PF Pakistan sponsored an introductory seminar on prison ministry and restorative justice for 40 individuals from the NGO Caritas Pakistan. The seminar was a part of a larger PF Pakistan strategy to promote restorative justice in the country.
- Police Training in Colombia
- In October 2006, PF Colombia Board Chairperson Lácides Hernandez served as an instructor in a training course covering restorative justice theory and practice for Medellín Metropolitan police.
- Using Workshops to Advocate for Justice Reform
- Justice reform is a priority for Prison Fellowship Ethiopia. One justice reform strategy is the organization of training workshops for all actors in the criminal justice system including police officers, judges, and prison directors. With the goal of building capacity in the justice system, these workshops cover different topics.
- Advocating for Victims’ Rights in New Zealand
- On September 7, PF New Zealand representatives addressed the New Zealand Justice and Electoral Committee Inquiry into Victims Rights. The PF NZ team recommended that the government strengthen victims’ access to victim offender conferencing and victim offender panels.
- Raising Community Awareness about Restorative Justice
- Recently, Uvenama Rova of PF Papua New Guinea gave a presentation on restorative justice to a Women’s Fellowship Workshop of the United Church of Papua New Guinea.