A Letter from the President

Herb Sturz, co-founder of Vera Institute of Justice, was fighting to close Rikers Island until the very end of his life. I visited with him in May, four weeks before he died. Prone and in pain, Herb still wanted to discuss strategy to shutter this horrific jail complex. As was always his way, in a last gentle piece of advice, he recommended two people I should call to advance that goal.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Vera’s founding. As we mourn Herb and his successor Michael E. Smith, who passed away in May, we strive to build on their legacies by forging criminal legal and immigration systems that safeguard the humanity of all they touch.

We work for true justice in a country whose racist roots remain clearly active. Before the historic inauguration in January of the United States’ first woman, Black, and Asian vice president, a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol, displaying the Confederate flag and attempting to overturn a fair election. The restrained law enforcement response to this largely white group added to evidence that the United States still does not treat all people equally under the law. Overcriminalization and mass incarceration have replaced Jim Crow and continue to destroy lives, separate families, and squander resources in ways that cause outsize harm to Black people and other people of color.

Vera began as an organization dedicated to reforming bail in Manhattan. Today, we are committed to transforming justice systems on a national scale: helping to ensure prosecutors pursue justice, not jails; every single immigrant facing deportation who needs a government-funded lawyer has one; and all incarcerated students can receive a high-quality college education.

And for nearly two years, this work has been done against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to cause suffering. I am thankful for our supporters and friends, who make our work possible. I am grateful to our staff and partners, who are weathering this difficult time with an unwavering commitment to transforming our justice systems. Last month, we returned to our offices after 20 months of separation. Though uncertainty continues, returning to community fortifies us.

As we celebrate 60 years of fighting for justice, we are still Herb’s Vera: empirical, independent, fierce, insistent, and endowed with entrepreneurial spirit. In our last conversation, Herb spoke of his love for Vera, his confidence in our course. In his memory, and in honor of the many who suffer under the oppressive systems he sought to change, we press on.

Nicholas Turner
President and Director

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A Letter from the Board Chair

In 2021, the world was still grappling with the new reality forged by the onset of COVID-19, the most profound collective trauma in at least a generation. As we look to the future, we have an opportunity to examine what aspects of our society should return to normal—and what should change.

The government is providing $350 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding for communities to use in their recovery from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. We envision a future in which all people have equal access to health, safety, and protection under the law.

In 2021, Vera has worked to challenge political and media narratives that insist more spending on handcuffs, jails, and prisons is an investment in “public safety.” Advocating with research and data, Vera has shown how federal, state, and local governments can steer resources into community violence interventions that show promising results, behavioral health support and diversion programs that will limit the harms of policing and incarceration, and pretrial release and post-incarceration reentry programs that will improve quality of life for individuals, families, and communities.

As we seek systems that truly ensure health, safety, and justice for all, Vera is working to reduce the harms of the immigration and criminal legal systems as they currently exist. As a result of work done this year by Vera and its government, community, and grassroots partners:

  • fewer people will endure the terror of non–public safety traffic stops, which are fueled by racial bias and have resulted in the deaths of far too many people, including Philando Castile and Sandra Bland;
  • fewer people in immigration detention will be forced to face deportation proceedings without the assistance of an attorney who can help protect their rights, greatly decreasing the odds that they will be unjustly deported;
  • more incarcerated people will have access to high-quality college education that can help them thrive when they are released.

We are grateful to the dedicated staff, partners, friends, and supporters who make our work possible. Your generous and committed support gives us strength to keep striving toward our goal of justice for all.

Damien Dwin
Board Chair