Justice should make people and communities whole. Smart justice focuses on the underlying causes of crime and violence.

When California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 in November 2014, they cast an affirmative ballot for smart justice. By reclassifying low-level, nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies, Prop 47 takes aim at the soaring rates of incarceration. At the same time, the law reduces barriers to jobs, housing and education, reduces the prison population, and provides formerly and currently incarcerated people with a second chance.

Some might define Prop 47 as an outgrowth of the national movement to tackle mass incarceration. But The California Endowment (TCE) embraces the initiative as a path to healthy communities.

Savings from reduced incarceration will be redirected into drug and mental health treatment, education, job training and victim services.

What’s more, the initiative offers people who would otherwise face prison and the stigma of a felony conviction the opportunity to contribute to civil society—improving the quality of life for their families, their communities and the state.

But Prop 47 foes have gone into overdrive, stoking fears and blaming the new law for everything from illusory hikes in crime to cluttered court dockets.

Enter TCE, pledging to rewrite the narrative around health and justice. Recognizing that Prop 47’s success is central to building healthier communities, TCE engaged McKinney & Associates to provide communications training and guidance to the leaders of organizations working on the ground to implement the initiative, especially in underserved communities.

A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL), a McKinney client and TCE grantee, identified Southern California grassroots leaders who could translate the training into greater communications capacity to engage key constituencies. Our multi-tiered project began with market research to help us assess needs and design a training curriculum that would build greater cohesion and cultural competency in strategies and tactics.

McKinney led onsite sessions that helped participants craft resonant themes—the building blocks for clear, culturally relevant messages. Through role play and mock encounters, the leaders honed language to resonate with critical audiences ranging from formerly incarcerated people to community influencers.

In the weeks following the training sessions, we worked with TCE and ANWOL to finalize messaging and supporting arguments. That task was accompanied by a comprehensive Prop 47 communications toolkit that includes a nine-step strategic communications planning outline and tip sheets on event planning, media outreach and social media engagement. The “How To” package was supplemented with webinars on making the ground game successful.

This potentially game-changing initiative is poised to become a national model thanks to the vision of philanthropies like TCE, which applies resources to its slogan: “Health Happens Here.”