This work encompasses research and publications that raise public awareness; cost-benefit analyses to understand how limited resources can be used efficiently and effectively; policy development and evaluation all aimed to help sentencing and corrections officials who are confronting evolving sets of issues and challenges in the criminal justice system; and in-depth technical support to state and local jurisdictions to identify issues and resolve systemic problems in the criminal justice system, including in prisons and jails. Through the use of collaborative efforts and analysis, the Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC) gives officials a solid understanding of their jurisdiction’s operations and exposes specific problems and opportunities for reform. The center also recommends strategies and policies tailored to a jurisdiction’s specific circumstances.

Featured areas of work include:

  • Informing the public debate on mass incarceration—The Incarceration Trends Project aims to 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.
  • Reducing the use of jail incarceration— Vera works with local jurisdictions to develop and test practical and transformative reforms to reduce the use of jail incarceration and tools for achieving those reforms.
  • Improving conditions of confinement—For people who are incarcerated, their time behind bars should be one of transformation—as it is designed to be other parts of the world—that prepares them for a productive return to society. Among our work to ensure that is support for post-secondary education, which began with our Unlocking Potential: Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, and now includes supporting the federal government’s Second Chance Pell Pilot program, involving 67 colleges serving 12,000 students in over 100 state and federal prisons in 28 states. Other work includes reducing the use of solitary confinement, which we began in 2005. We are now working in six jurisdictions, and poised to expand to more.   
  • Keeping families together—In 2013, Vera helped New York City Housing Authority launch the Family Reentry Pilot Program designed to reunite formerly incarcerated individuals with their families who reside in public housing, provide them with six months of case management and supportive services, including assistance in obtaining employment, continuing education, participating in substance abuse counseling, and securing public benefits.

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 and solutions testing that is focused and productive.

For more information, contact center director Fred Patrick.