Improving Courtroom Communication: A Procedural Justice Experiment

Improving Courtroom Communication: A Procedural Justice Experiment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Erin J. Farley, Elise Jensen, and Michael Rempel


Center for Court Innovation

Research indicates that litigants are more likely to leave court with a positive impression of their experience and to comply with court orders in the future when they perceive the court process as fair. This research underlines the importance of procedural justice. In court settings, procedural justice concerns the role of fair and respectful procedures and interpersonal treatment in shaping assessments of legal authorities and reactions to specific case outcomes.

In 2011, with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Center for Court Innovation and the National Judicial College launched a pilot demonstration project at the Milwaukee County Criminal Court with the goal of enhancing defendant perceptions of procedural justice by improving the oral, written, and nonverbal communication used by judges in the courtroom. In the initial months of the project, Center staff worked with a group of experts—judges, legal theorists, communications experts, and others—to develop a one-day training for judges and other court staff that aimed to improve courtroom communication practices. Seven Milwaukee judges from misdemeanor and felony courtrooms were recruited to participate in the demonstration (in addition to representatives from partner agencies such as the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office), which involved attending the project training, then developing and implementing individualized action plans to improve their communication with defendants.

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