This is really important stuff.Â The pilot implementation Mark relates will lead to refinements and improvements, but I do not think it will show the basic idea to be wrongheaded.
The most important modifications, I predict, will follow the discovery that a lot of the letters go unread or their contents denied.Â Some will be deliberately left unopened, possibly for a long time, because of the return address, which surely indicates something unpleasant inside: “Oh, s__t, I don’t want to deal with this now” (now can go on for quite some time; the human mind is full of tricks).Â Some will just be overlooked with the junk mail.Â Â I have had students tell me they didn’t read the syllabus, quite late in the semester, as an excuse for missing a deadline, and one they obviously thought would have some weight. Some will miss the mark because the letter itself is, as several comments note, quite badly drafted; I have also had students misunderstand instructions in the syllabus because I had been too cute about stating them.
What would help this message connect with the targets?Â IIRC, when Kennedy conducted the first version of this with teenage gangbangers, they were together in a room with relatives and friends and addressed in speech.Â One important element of that framework that it’s viva-voce, which is the conventional mode of discourse for the audience, and the way we all communicate when we want to confirm that a message has been received.Â A letter is what someone sends you (certified) to prove he sent it, not because he especially cares that you act on it. Like a credit card disclosure form or a stock prospectus, this letter is a supply-side act. A second element of the live/intervention format is that other people know the recipient got the message (here I would think the battered spouse would be an important witness to the event), and that the recipient knows they know he received it. I understand the difficulty in spamming everyone the offender knows with copies, or posting the thing on a lamppost near his house, but I bet some formal procedures and a live event with others present will be necessary to make this work as well it it can.
A letter like this swims in a sea of communication designed and delivered by professionals in communication, including especially advertising, that is intensely visual.Â Maybe its gray all-text formality makes it stand out usefully, maybe not.Â This is worth some experimentation.Â Assuming it’s snail mail, it also arrives by a medium less and less used by any of us for anything.Â Government seems regularly a day late and a dollar short using tweets, text messages,Â cool media, and good graphics and typography for messages.Â Even a few public service spots on TV announcing that ‘these letters have gone out, and if you or anyone you know might have received it, it’s urgent to read it and act accordingly’ would help (I would hope, not the sheriff in a headshot reciting those words!).
The underlying conceptual error is the same one my colleagues and I fall into when we talk about teaching: we talk about teaching–that is, what we do–and not learning, which is what the students are maybe not doing.Â Sending a letter is pushing a string, like lecturing in a classroom.Â I know on other evidence that Kennedy is especially aware of how the world looks to criminal offenders and how they manage risk, so I expect he’s already on top of the modifications indicated for Warn 2.0. [27/III: It turns out the High Point implementation is already Warn 2.0, maybe even 2.1; see David’s comments.]
In a comment, Kennedy (obviously speaking from experience) anticipates opposition to the general idea that we should warn people at great risk of doing a bad thing, who have indeed already done it, about how sure and severe the consequences will be.Â I’m at a loss to understand this.Â I conjectureÂ a really sick subconscious distaste for the scheme, something like “if you warn them they won’t reoffend and then we won’t be able to catch them and punish them”. I would hope this is rare among the skeptics of Kennedy’s program, but I can’t come up with a cavil I wouldn’t be ashamed to advance.Â What’s not to like here, especially from the point of view of women spared yet another beating?