Illustration by Michelle Garcia

Annual Report 2022

Vera Institute of Justice

Annual Report 2022

Vera Institute of Justice

A Letter from the Board Chair

Proactive approaches to public safety—like housing, health care, and education—are more humane and more effective than reactive approaches like incarceration. Yet, the United States incarcerates nearly 2 million people, at great harm to communities and at great cost to society. To build a society that is truly safe for all, the United States needs to recalibrate its public safety investments.

Vera is using research, technical assistance, communications, and advocacy to show a different path, one that can reduce the harms of the immigration and criminal legal systems while uplifting communities most impacted by mass incarceration and the criminalization of immigrants.

This year, Vera and its government, community, and grassroots partners have:

  • launched the national Fairness to Freedom campaign to protect people from unjust deportations by ensuring publicly funded legal representation is available to everyone in immigration proceedings. This builds on the success of Vera’s expanding SAFE Network, which helps jurisdictions build public defender-like services for immigration court;
  • successfully advocated for greater investment in alternatives to police and incarceration that put people on a sustainable path to healthier lives. This means expanded mental health treatment, housing, and employment programs in cities from Los Angeles, California to Huntsville, Alabama;
  • promoted the growth of quality, equitable education programs in prison in preparation for the 760,000 incarcerated people who Vera estimates will be eligible for Pell Grants in 2023. This eligibility is the result of a successful four-year campaign led by Vera and a coalition of partners to reverse the federal government’s ill-advised ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students.

We offer thanks to the dedicated staff, partners, friends, and supporters who make these successes possible. Your generous and committed support fuels our fight for justice and safety for all.

Damien Dwin
Board Chair

A Letter from the President

The fact that the Los Angeles jail system is the single largest provider of mental health services in the United States is symbolic of the country’s approach to public safety. Overinvestment in the machinery of incarceration and simultaneous underinvestment in health care, education, and housing is a failed strategy. Vera exists to combat it.

The safest places in the United States don’t have more police, more jails, more prisons, or harsher sentences. They have access to jobs, good schools, housing, and health care.

Drawing on six decades of experience, Vera is writing a new public safety narrative at the local, state, and federal levels. Our work, in concert with government and grassroots partners, has resulted in increased investments in community-based programs proven to reduce crime before it occurs, rather than react to it after the fact. This includes alternatives to incarceration like supportive housing and mental health services, efforts to prevent unjust deportations that destabilize families and disrupt communities, and work to build strong education programs in prisons that can help break the cycle of incarceration.

And as this work advances, we seek to mitigate the harm of racially biased, sensationalist media coverage of crime, exploited by some candidates who push the tired lie that public safety and justice reform are at odds. Many use rising crime statistics to attack efforts to end mass incarceration, falsely blaming things like bail reform for increased crime. But we know that’s not true.

We have seen the terrible public policy that such climates of fear can foster. In the 1990s, fear-based governance led to “tough-on-crime” laws that did catastrophic, generational damage, the worst of which was borne by Black communities and poor people of every race and ethnicity. Mass incarceration did not make us safe then, and it will not today.

Jails and prisons are cruel, ineffective responses to problems that are often rooted in economic instability, mental illness, and substance use. Vera is piloting and promoting evidence-based approaches to address these needs while analyzing their effectiveness and delivering hard data that can be used to defend against attacks on needed reforms.

Everyone deserves safety. And everyone deserves justice. Vera is proving that we can have both. We will continue to fight fear with facts, driven by the fundamental belief that all people deserve to be treated with dignity. With your support, we know that we can build criminal legal and immigration systems that deliver fairness and safety for all.

Nicholas Turner
President and Director

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