Community Engagement

A Criminal Justice Reform Brand That Defies Party Lines

How an unlikely group of advocates codesigned the single biggest fund for criminal justice reform

Today, 2.3 million people in the United States are in prison and jail; and nearly half of adults have a family member that is (or has been) incarcerated. Despite touching the lives of so many Americans, the public discourse around criminal justice reform has historically been seen as polarized and is at risk of greater division. Yet when polled, the majority of Americans believe the criminal justice system needs an overhaul or major change. 

We have been third rail before. We can’t be third rail again. That means people will continue to be incarcerated and our system will continue to grow. That is the status quo.

Ana Zamora, Executive Director of The Just Trust

Enter The Just Trust: a new team of funders, directly-impacted people, and allies committed to accelerating momentum for justice reform. With an initial investment of $350M from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Just Trust is a rare type of investor focused on transforming the system. They believe that enacting meaningful change demands creative alliances from leaders across political spectrums, socioeconomic status, and state lines.

In the Spring of 2021, The Just Trust brought together IDEO​.org, Sovereign Objects, and Some Days, a unique mix of creative agencies, to create a holistic vision, brand strategy, visual identity, and action plan that centered the voices of directly-impacted communities. To hold themselves accountable to their belief in centering local leaders and people who have been impacted directly (and most harmfully) by the system, The Just Trust gathered a group of 2021 Field Advisors as co-designers in their launch strategy.

The process was a study of radical collaboration. We worked alongside a cohort of leaders that represented the vastness of the movement—from state-based advocates pushing reform in Kentucky through the ACLU to policymakers setting national agendas in D.C through the American Conservative Union. But getting to a shared vision was not straightforward. Finding alignment on the why” without ending up somewhere totally generic or lackluster was the crux of this creative challenge. How do you thread the needle between so many different perspectives and still end up somewhere emboldening?

Advocacy requires that you drastically adapt to where culture is going and where politics are going. But you can’t make the bold changes if you're not willing to take some risks and plant a stake in the ground(...)What we set out to do with this process is figure out how to really dig into those tensions and still carve out who we are, how we work, what we’re doing with that.

Ana Zamora, Executive Director of The Just Trust

Through interviews, work sessions, and response to narrative stimuli, the 2021 Field Advisors informed everything from the organization’s theory of change, funding priorities, and program activities to its mission, vision, values and vocabulary.

Navigating seemingly uncompromising perspectives across the movement was a great way to pressure-test our efforts. Words like reimagine” and collective” could easily turn off conservatives (who tend to focus on the scale, cost, and reach of the prison system); while not acknowledging the inherently racist foundation of the system could turn off progressives. Instead of neutralizing the needs of either group, we were able to help The Just Trust confidently enter the conversation with a rallying cry on common ground—one that honored the complexities of the movement. By anchoring their story in the themes of safety, dignity, and wellbeing, we helped ensure that The Just Trust could be useful to the field from day one. 

We’ve agreed on this universe of principles that makes sense for all of us from way over here to way over there (left & right).

David Safavian, Director of the American Conservative Union Foundation's Nolan Center for Justice

Centering the voices, experiences, and expertise of those most impacted by harmful policies must be central to any philanthropic strategy to achieving real and meaningful reform. I am honored to have worked with The Just Trust team and fellow leaders in this work to co-create an authentic path towards real reform, grassroots leadership development, and safety for ALL in our communities.

DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO, JustLeadership USA

This issue is not monolithic; rather, it’s a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem that’s rich with contrast and interesting contradictions. For our design to authentically resonate, this needed to be visible. In codifying the brand identity, operational principles, and core story we embraced this tension.

1. Begin with an invitation.

The logo highlights the US” in Just, welcoming reformers, funders, and allies to join in the conversation—no matter where they’re coming from.

2. Reflect the building momentum of the movement.

Vibrant colors and blocks of copy build on each other—revealing the big wins, quieter triumphs, missteps, and next steps of those fighting for reform are all part of a greater story. Altogether, The Just Trust’s brand identity reflects a patchwork for action that honors and archives the movement with a visual momentum and universal appeal. 

3. Galvanize people into taking collective action. 

Given the complexity and weightiness of the space, we wanted to create a brand that embodied the joy of resistance and was accessible to everyone. The messaging is inclusive and candid—inviting people across geographies and ideologies to see themselves in the movement and take part in meaningful transformation. 

In September, we finalized our engagement with the launch of The Just Trust’s new website, a graphics assets package, brand guidelines and community engagement strategy alongside our partner agencies. Since then, The Just Trust has already announced their first big grant-making initiative: identifying and investing in key states that are the most ripe for transformation through an open call to the community. As an entity dedicated to bridging communities and powering a movement, the new brand weaves together the best of advocacy, philanthropy, and culture to serve as a badge of shared commitment and accountability.

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