Ending Mass Incarceration

Reducing the Use of Jails

Conversations about mass incarceration tend to focus on prison, but local jails admit almost 20 times more people annually. The long-term trend is shocking: Twenty-five years ago, for every 100 arrests, 70 people were booked into jail. By 2016, even after crime rates plummeted, that ratio had swelled to 99 out of 100, reflecting a knee-jerk use of jail out of step with public safety. Today, jails log a staggering 10.7 million admissions a year—mostly poor people arrested on minor charges who can’t post bail and for whom even a few days behind bars exact a high and harmful toll.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, Vera’s offices in New Orleans and Los Angeles, and direct partnerships with jurisdictions nationwide, we’re helping officials rethink their use of jails as a means to keep communities safe. There’s no simple fix, so the work includes using alternatives to arrest and prosecution for minor charges, ending the use of money bail, eliminating fines and fees that trap people in jail and, most importantly, investing in resources and partnerships that build healthier and safer communities.

Related Work

Understanding Police Enforcement

A Multicity 911 Analysis

With more than 240 million 911 calls each year, a sizable proportion of police officers’ time consists of responding to calls for service. Despite the importance of the 911 call system, little information exists on the nature of calls for service, how they are handled, and how police respond. The Vera Institute of Justice partnered with two police ...

  • Rebecca Neusteter, Megan O'Toole, Mawia Khogali, Abdul Rad, Frankie Wunschel, Sarah Scaffidi, Marilyn Sinkewicz, Maris Mapolski, Paul DeGrandis, Daniel Bodah, Henessy Pineda
September 29, 2020

Two Ways to Show Up for Black Lives in the Wake of George Floyd’s Murder

Bail fund donations and overhauling the money bail system

As police respond to the current protests with more violence and arrests, bail funds have seen an outpouring of support—collectively raising upwards of $30 million from tens of thousands of donors across the country in a matter of days. Some bail funds, like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, have received so many do ...

Blog Post
  • Insha Rahman
    Insha Rahman
June 05, 2020
Blog Post

Series: Covid-19

Vera’s New Prevalence Model Suggests COVID-19 is Spreading through ICE Detention at Much Higher Rates than Publicized

As of May 31, 2020, ICE reported testing 2,781 people in its custody; 1,461 positive cases were disclosed at just 61 of the more than 200 facilities it uses to detain people. ICE has not clarified whether the remaining tests are confirmed negative or still pending, meaning a minimum of 52 percent of people tested have received positive test results ...

Blog Post
  • Nina Siulc
    Nina Siulc
June 04, 2020
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Wayne County Jail – Report and Recommendations

For years, Wayne County has been working to resolve longstanding problems of overcrowding and poor conditions in the Wayne County Jail. Vera was engaged by the Hudson-Webber Foundation to conduct a study of Wayne County’s jail population in partnership with a working group of local justice-system stakeholders. The study involved analyzing quantitat ...

  • Nancy Fishman, Stephen Roberts, Alex Roth, Melvin Washington II, Andrew Taylor, Amy Cross
May 29, 2020