CSC Overview

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Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC) works with government leaders to advance criminal justice policies that promote fairness, protect public safety, and ensure that resources are used efficiently. The center draws on the skills and expertise of its staff, as well as the practical knowledge of working criminal justice professionals who face similar justice challenges.

CSC offers an array of services to help sentencing and corrections officials who are confronting challenges such as shrinking budgets, overextended staff and physical plants, and the churning of repeat offenders through the system. Our research and analysis services give officials a solid understanding of their jurisdiction’s operations and expose specific problems and opportunities for reform. The center also recommends strategies and policies tailored to a jurisdiction’s specific circumstances.

  • Promoting data-driven solutions—The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) aims to cut corrections spending and reinvest savings in practices that improve public safety and strengthen neighborhoods. CSC is working with six states on JRI activities.
  • Improving reentry services—The Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education during and after prison can increase employability and reduce recidvism. CSC is partnering with three states in this initiative.
  • Keeping families together—CSC staff are conducting an extensive research study in Washington State to explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners' contact with their families.

Why We Do This Work

Over the past 20 years, the prison population in the United States has almost tripled. Today, nearly 1 in 100 adults are in jail or prison. Some of these individuals are high-risk, violent offenders. But just as many are low-risk, nonviolent offenders. Once they are released, roughly half of all prisoners are incarcerated again within three years, either for a new offense or for violating the conditions of release. This high reliance on incarceration brings with it substantial fiscal and social consequences, including large corrections budgets and weakened communities. CSC helps officials find more cost-effective ways to protect public safety. Our research and analysis can pinpoint inefficient and ineffective policies and identify alternative approaches that work. Our technical assistance brings practitioners together to examine these findings and engage in problem solving that is focused and productive.

For more information, contact center director Fred Patrick.

 

Projects

A New Role for Technology: The Impact of Video Visitation on Corrections Staff, Inmates, and their Families

This study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners’ contact with their families and other people who support them. It will also explore if these contacts improve their compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison.

Establishing a Zero-tolerance Culture for Sexual Assault in Juvenile Corrections

Vera is supporting the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) in their efforts to establish a zero-tolerance culture for sexual assault in their juvenile correctional facilities by (1) assessing current sexual abuse incident rates; and (2) providing training and technical assistance to strengthen the social norms of youth and staff in order to attain a zero-tolerance culture for sexual assault.

European-American Prison Project

The European-American Prison Project aims to advance an international dialogue around what works in corrections, influence the beliefs and attitudes of important stakeholders, and stimulate reform efforts in the United States.

Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education

Vera’s Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education Project aims to increase the participation of incarcerated individuals in high-quality postsecondary educational programs during and after prison through the provision of expert information and technical assistance to state departments of corrections, colleges and universities, state and local policymakers.

Federal Sentencing Reporter

The Federal Sentencing Reporter was launched more than two decades ago by legal experts and scholars Daniel J. Freed and Marc L. Miller, in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice. It is the only academic journal in the United States that focuses on sentencing law, policy, and reform.

Incarceration Trends

Incarceration Trends visualizationIncarceration Trends aims to inform the public debate on mass incarceration and help guide change by providing easily accessible information on the prevalence of incarceration in every county in the United States. The centerpiece of the project is a new data tool—available at trends.vera.org—that collates and analyzes publicly available, but disparately located, data about incarceration. This tool can be used for reference and measurement by policymakers and others looking to understand incarceration in their county, how it has changed over time, and how it compares to others.

Incarceration's Front Door: Reducing the Overuse of Jails

Local jails exist in nearly every town and city in America. While rarely on the radar of most Americans, they are the front door to the formal criminal justice system in a country that holds more people in custody than any other on the planet. Their impact is both far-reaching and profound: in the course of a typical year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—almost 20 times the number of annual admissions to state and federal prisons—at great cost to the people involved, their families and communities, and society at large. Through research, publications, and technical assistance to local jurisdictions, Vera aims to foster public debate and policy reform to reduce jail incarceration, repair the damage it causes, and promote safe, healthy communities.

International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange

The International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange seeks to build a cross-cultural learning community among American and international policymakers and thought leaders, informing and shaping the global conversation on criminal justice.

Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Vera provides technical assistance to states seeking to apply the approach to their local prison and supervision systems.

National PREA Resource Center

Vera is working with the National PREA Resource Center (PRC) to provide tools and information to the corrections field on how to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual assault in confinement settings.

New Orleans Pretrial Services

Vera’s New Orleans Office has collaborated with government, community, and civic organizations to develop and operate the city’s first comprehensive pretrial services system. The demonstration project, launched in 2012 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and now funded by the City of New Orleans, is integrating good practices into the criminal justice system, with the goal of yielding greater public safety and fairness.

NYC-based Research Projects

Our work in New York City spans across Vera’s centers and programs. What these projects have in common is close collaboration with our partners, data and evidence-driven approaches, and recommendations that seek to improve the systems that New Yorkers rely on for public safety, justice, and human services. Although these projects take place in the unique context of New York City, they all bear important implications and lessons for jurisdictions across the country.

Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project

The Pathways Project is a five-year, Vera-led initiative that provides selected states with incentive funding and technical assistance to expand access to higher education for people in prison and those recently released. The project seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings. By validating what works through independent evaluation, the project also hopes to spur national replication and long-term public investment.

Reducing Jail Overcrowding in Los Angeles

Los Angeles County asked the Vera Institute to study its criminal justice system, identify inefficiencies, and recommend strategies to make better use of jail space. Vera staff analyzed the county’s jail data, examined policies and processes that affect the jail’s population size, and recommended steps the county can take to alleviate jail overcrowding.

Reimagining Prison

Our national experiment with mass incarceration has failed to make us safer and protect communities. More than 95 percent of people in our prisons will return home, yet 55 percent will end up back behind bars within five years. There is widespread consensus that we should end mass incarceration and transform the way we treat people who are incarcerated. The Reimagining Prison Project aims to produce such a plan – it envisions a smaller correctional system that places human dignity at its philosophical and operational core and also promotes public safety, successful reentry, and transparency. The Project is designed to shift the goal and culture of incarceration from retribution to rehabilitation thus producing stronger communities, and, overall, a safer U.S.

Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative

Segregated housing, commonly known as solitary confinement, is a growing fiscal, safety, and human rights concern for all corrections departments. Vera’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative is partnering with five state and local corrections systems to significantly reduce their reliance on segregated housing through the advancement of safe and effective alternatives.         

Segregation Reduction Project

Many corrections systems isolate certain prisoners from the general prison population—a practice known as solitary confinement or segregation. Vera's Segregation Reduction Project (SRP) works with states and local jurisdictions to decrease the number of people they hold in segregation, provides recommendations tailored to their specific circumstances and needs, and continues to assist them while they plan and implement change.

Sentencing and Corrections Trends Reports

Every year, Vera highlights trends in criminal justice legislation passed in the previous year and promising practices in the states. These reports share not only the reforms enacted in specific subject matters, such as mandatory sentencing or collateral consequences of criminal conviction, but also distill lessons based on the legislation itself and interviews with relevant stakeholders and experts. These reports serve as valuable guides to policymakers and others interested in pursuing criminal justice reform in their jurisdiction.

Sexual Assault Response Teams in Corrections Project

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) worked with the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) on a multi-year pilot project to help the adult residential and juvenile detention facilities of the Johnson County Department of Corrections (DOC) in Kansas partner with their county sexual assault response team (SART). Vera documented detailed steps for creating such partnerships, along with lessons learned from this project, in Partnering with Community Sexual Assault Response Teams: A Guide for Local Community Confinement and Juvenile Detention Facilities and its accompanying interactive web-based tool, PREAguide.org, released in December 2015.

Tennessee Governor's Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism

In 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam established the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, with technical assistance and expert guidance from Vera. The task force was asked to provide policy recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet to reduce recidivism and address Tennessee’s growing prison population. The task force published its final report of its recommendations to the subcabinet and Governor Haslam in September 2015.

The Price of Prisons

Vera’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit and Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in collaboration with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, have developed a methodology to guide a complete accounting of the cost of prisons.

Partnering with Community Sexual Assault Response Teams: A Guide for Local Community Confinement and Juvenile Detention Facilities
03/22/2016
Community-based sexual assault response teams, or SARTs, are considered a best practice for addressing the needs of victims and holding perpetrators accountable. The federal standards for implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) mandate the coordinated response provided by SARTs to...
A New Role for Technology: Video Visitation in Prison
03/02/2016
Research shows that prison visitation is integral to the success of incarcerated people, reducing recidivism, facilitating their reentry into the community, and promoting positive parent-child relationships. However, people are often incarcerated long distances from their home communities in areas...
Human Toll of Jail Fact Sheet
02/23/2016
There are more than 3,000 jails in the United States, holding 731,000 people on any given day—more than the population of Detroit and nearly as many people as live in San Francisco. But there’s more to the story of jail incarceration than just the numbers. In collaboration with media publisher...
Building Effective Partnerships for High-Quality Postsecondary Education in Correctional Facilities
01/29/2016
In 2015, the United States Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, aimed at supporting postsecondary education programs for people in prison. This program restores eligibility for Pell grants to students in state and federal prisons for the first time since it was...
Final Report to the Tennessee Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism
01/20/2016
This is the final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism issued in September 2015. It contains consensus recommendations of the Task Force for the consideration of Governor Haslam.
05/10/2016
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The Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails blog series features the voices of various perspectives—from corrections officials and academic experts to advocates and formerly incarcerated people—examining the issues presented...
05/04/2016
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Chances are, if you are a New Yorker charged with a misdemeanor and have little-to-no criminal history, you will be headed home after arraignment with no money bail. In fact, 80 percent of people charged with misdemeanors are released pretrial on...
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    History

*/ The Unlocking Potential: Perspectives on Education in Prison blog series—as part of Vera’s Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project—explores postsecondary education in prison and its benefits—during and after incarceration—...
Fred Patrick
Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Nancy Fishman
Project Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Ram Subramanian
Publications Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Margaret diZerega
Director, Family Justice Program
Christian Henrichson
Research Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Jon Wool
Director, Vera New Orleans Office
Sara Sullivan
Project Manager, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Angela Browne
Senior Fellow, Washington DC Office
Allison Hastings
Senior Policy Analyst
Ruth Delaney
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Léon Digard
Senior Research Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Bruce Frederick
Senior Research Fellow, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Elizabeth Swavola
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Karen Tamis
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Jessa Wilcox
Senior Program Associate
Vedan Anthony-North
Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Jacob Kang-Brown
Senior Research Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Kaitlin Kall
Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Mathilde Laisne
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, New Orleans Office
Kayemba Mvula
Research Analyst, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, New Orleans Office
Stephen Roberts
Research Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Elena Vanko
Program Analyst
Rose Wilson
Senior Research Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, New Orleans Office
Corinna Yazbek
Senior Associate for Strategic Partnerships, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, New Orleans Office
Rebecca Silber
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Danny Murillo
Program Analyst
Chris Mai
Policy Analyst, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Insha Rahman
Senior Planner
Terrell Blount
Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
John Bae
Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Jessica Lasso
Center Coordinator, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Jessi LaChance
Research Analyst, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Cara Compani
Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Leah Skrzypiec
Part-time Research Assistant

Using Applied Research to Guide Policy and Practice

A key component of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections’ work is data analysis that helps government officials diagnose problems and evaluate policies and programs. Staff also conducts original research to contribute to the field’s larger base of empirical knowledge. CSC researchers employ a broad range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including statistical analysis, surveys, interviews and focus groups.

Below are just a few examples of the types of research that CSC routinely conducts.

Impact Evaluation

New innovations must be tested to learn if they are achieving the desired results and to understand how they could be improved or replicated. Even programs that have been successful in  some jurisdictions can lead to adverse, unintended consequences in others if they are not implemented with fidelity to their model or if the local context produces unexpected outcomes. Rigorous implementation and impact evaluations are therefore vital. Some recent and current examples of impact evaluations conducted by CSC include:

A New Role for Technology: The Impact of Video Visitation on Corrections Staff, Inmates, and their Families

This study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners’ contact with their families and other people who support them. It will also explore if these contacts improve their compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison. CSC is partnering with Vera’s Family Justice Program to conduct this research.

Read more 

An Analysis of the Implementation and Impact of the Level of Service/Case Management Inventory in the Department of Community Justice, Multnomah County, Oregon

In 2008, the Department of Community Justice (DCJ) contracted with CSC to explore the implementation and effectiveness of its Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (LS/CMI) supervision model through a quantitative analysis of supervision officer practices and intermediate client outcomes (absconding, sanctions, and revocations). Outcomes were compared between one group who entered DCJ supervision after the implementation of the LS/CMI and a comparison sample, selected using propensity score matching.

Systems Analysis

CSC researchers have considerable experience in analyzing the flow of offenders and defendants through multiple stages and agencies of the criminal justice system. This is done in order to identify operational areas of success, challenge, and opportunity. CSC also conducts interviews and focus groups with key agency staff members to better interpret and contextualize the analytic findings. Some recent examples include:

Reducing Jail Overcrowding in Los Angeles

Los Angeles County asked the Vera Institute to study its criminal justice system, identify inefficiencies, and recommend strategies to make better use of jail space. Vera staff analyzed the county’s jail data, examined policies and processes that affect the jail’s population size, and recommended steps the county can take to alleviate jail overcrowding.

Read More

Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, CSC conducts a comprehensive analysis of criminal justice data to identify the key factors that contribute to the corrections population growth, and develops policy proposals to reduce costs and improve public safety.

Read More

Process Analysis

If agencies and organizations are to continue improving the services that they provide, it is not enough to know whether a program is effective, we must also understand how and why it is achieving its impact. Process evaluations conducted by CSC use multiple methods to get to these answers. Some examples include:

A Process Evaluation of the College Initiative’s Mentoring Program

The College Initiative (CI) is a New York City non-profit organization that provides supportive services to released prisoners who are pursuing post-secondary education. Vera was contracted by CI to conduct a process evaluation of their peer-mentoring program, partnering experienced CI students with new recruits to support them in reentry and education. CSC researchers used a variety of methods to create a logic model, identify program strengths and weakness, and make recommendations, many of which have since been implemented by CI.

An Evaluation of the New York City Department of Probation’s Justice Community  Program

The Justice Community Program engages justice-involved young people in community benefit projects around New York City. In partnership with Vera’s Center on Youth Justice, CSC is conducting research at each Justice Community site during 2013 to describe the programs’ content, structures, and underlying logic models; evaluate the implementation of the program model; and measure the intermediate outcomes for program participants.