The pertinence of communication to criminal justice cannot be understated, insofar as the effectivity of criminal justice can be said to rest upon proper communication practices and a clear transfer of information. Speaking from a criminal justice background, Stojkovic, Kalinich, and Klofas (2008) define communication as follows: “communication is the exchange of information between a sender and receiver that delivers meaning between the parties involved.” (p. 81) Accordingly, communication can be said to be ubiquitous within criminal justice, since there is always communication present in the various environments that constitute criminal justice, such as police situations, the courtroom setting, the corrections facility and the juvenile facility. However, each of these environments, according to their uniqueness, can be said to require their own specific communication guidelines and preferred practices in order to lead to desired results. Accordingly, the following paper shall examine such communication practices within the aforementioned settings, with the aim of advancing preferable communication strategies that may be beneficial to such particular contexts.
Before beginning, it is relevant to underscore the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication. Thus, following Stojkovic et al.’s definition (2008), communication as the transmission of information is not only restricted to the verbal form. Whereas verbal communication entails “all forms of spoken information” (Allen & Sawhney, 2010, p. 255) and “is the most popular mode of communicating among administrators, taking the form of face-to-face communication and telephone communication” (Allen & Sawhney, 2010, p. 255), at the same time non-verbal communication is a crucial part of this process, insofar as it “permeates everything” (Lord & Cowan, 2010, p. 175), and moreover “repeats what was said verbally, clarifying and emphasizing. It complements and accents what was said, such as clapping hands while congratulating.” (Lord & Cowan, 2010, p. 175) As such, nonverbal communication is “used to send and receive messages, and to make judgments and decisions concerning first impressions of others and perceptions of the experiences of others.” (Lord & Cowan, 2010, p. 175) Following this definition, therefore, one can understand the shared ubiquity of verbal and nonverbal communication, and furthermore, how within criminal justice, it becomes just as important to interpret what is said as it is to interpret what is left unsaid: To the extent that communication is a transmission of information, verbal communication and nonverbal communication can obviously affect the information being transmitted. For example, verbal communication can be used to send false information, in the form of lying. Moreover, nonverbal communication can conflict with nonverbal communication, as Lord and Clown (2010) note: “of course, sometimes-nonverbal communication contradicts what was said verbally, and the listener must decide which to believe.” (p. 175) In this regard, the understanding of the different forms of verbal and nonverbal communication and how they may affect the information being sent within a particular context are crucial to successful practice, since communication is present throughout the various processes of criminal justice.
Accordingly, it is most prudent to approach such different contexts in their particularly, namely, to understand how communication and its different forms function within these contexts. Each context has its particular demands and structure. For example, context of public communications presented to the press would obviously call for a sensitivity and understanding of the intricacies of this context. In the presentation of information to the press, the form of communication could take oral or written forms. In this case, the form of verbal communication is above all prevalent to the transmission of information. Thus, careful selection of words, diction and the precise intent of the information that is to be communicated must be considered. In this respect, especially problematic is the problem of interpretation: such information is being received by those outside of the organs of criminal justice, such as the media and the public, and there thus exists the possibility that the original message could be lost. Thus, Allen and Sawhney’s (2010) recommendation is especially pertinent, as they state “law enforcement agencies should be extremely careful in press releases to media to ensure that the information is decoded by the receivers the way it was intended.” (p. 235) In other words, communication to press must be constituted by a clear understanding of the information that is to be transmitted, and moreover, such communication must present a lucid account of this information, in order to minimize possible ambiguities in interpretation. Accordingly, non-verbal communication, for example, in the form of press conferences is also relevant: law enforcement must be conscious of the fact that non-verbal communication, such as body language, could betray the intent of the message. In essence, there must be a clear harmony between verbal and non-verbal communication, in order to ensure that the intent of the press statement will be properly received. While miscommunication is nevertheless in one sense unavoidable, according to the subjectivity involved in interpreting communication, a practice of clarity should nevertheless be stressed so as to avoid gross mischaracterizations of the initial message.
Within the courtroom setting and particularly testimony, the same consciousness of clear communication is relevant. The information being transmitted in the courtroom setting is obviously affected by the medium of both verbal and non-verbal communication. The diction used in testimony is thus crucial to presenting a clear message without ambiguity to the courtroom. Simultaneously, despite any clarity of verbal communication, nonverbal communication affects the successful transmission of information without ambiguity. For example, “non-verbal communication (facial expression, gestures, body movement, and paralinguistic elements such as variation of voice pitch, speech rate and loudness) may subtly affect the proceedings and outcome of a trial, yet the participants may be unaware of this.” (Kette and Konecni, 1995, p. 317) The successful transmission of information therefore does not only mean that the verbal content of communication is accurate, but moreover, that the non-verbal communication does not subvert the intent of the message. For example, uncertainty or nervous body language can destroy what may be a clear expression of content and information.