“Where we have denied humanity, we must embrace human dignity.”
Reimagining Prison, The Vera Institute of Justice

Here at Vera, we reject the myth that changing the oppressive culture of our prisons and jails is impossible. We’re working to radically transform incarceration in America by replacing punishing practices with an approach that prioritizes compassion, true accountability, healing, restoration, opportunity, and hope

Restoring Promise and Reimagining Prison

In October, the groundbreaking final report from Vera’s Reimagining Prison project traced the role that our country’s legacy of racial oppression has played in shaping mass incarceration and presented a compelling vision of what it would mean to place human dignity at the core of our criminal justice system. To mark the release of this report, we organized a convening at John Jay College of Criminal Justice that featured a powerful simulcast discussion with incarcerated young men and corrections officers. Filmed inside the T.R.U.E. unit in Connecticut—the first site in our Restoring Promise initiative—the discussion provided a tangible example of what can be achieved by a radical reimagining of prison. The T.R.U.E. unit, opened more than 18 months ago at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, provides a restorative justice model of incarceration for young adults aged 18 to 24—a model that prioritizes fairness, choice, safety, and restoration over retribution. Since opening in 2017, there have been no acts of violence there. Staff members report a greater sense of calm at work and improved job satisfaction. Young adults in the unit feel safer, more prepared to succeed, and more connected to family.

"I've gained a purpose, an opportunity to give something back."
T.R.U.E. Community Member

The power of T.R.U.E. has inspired us, and we’re building a movement based on its remarkable success. Our Restoring Promise initiative has now grown to a total of five units across three states. But we are not stopping there. Following our Reimagining Prison convening, we brought a diverse delegation of more than 30 corrections leaders and advocates committed to justice reform to visit German and Norwegian prisons that are explicitly rooted in human dignity. They came back inspired, and we are continuing to work with them to expand Restoring Promise and change the narrative about who we incarcerate and why.

College in Prison

Our focus on transforming conditions of confinement—and creating a system rooted in human dignity—also drives our work to make postsecondary education in prison available for everyone who is eligible and wants it. Why college in prison? Justin Roslonek, a formerly incarcerated student, explains it best:

“Thanks to Vera—which works with local partners to expand access to college education for incarcerated people—I was able to start taking college courses while serving at Rahway State Prison. On the day of my release, I went straight to class, at Rutgers University, and I haven’t looked back. I am now finishing my B.S. in Marketing, and feel excited about moving forward with my life and making a positive contribution to my community.” – Justin Roslone

This work to increase access to education in prison is spreading across the nation. Over the past year, as the national technical assistance provider to the Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell initiative, we continued to work with 65 colleges and universities in over 100 prisons in 27 states. In just two short years of facilitating this program, our partners have enrolled more than 10,000 students in college-level courses and empowered more than 1,000 to graduate with a postsecondary degree or credential. Now, we’re pairing this effort with a national campaign to cultivate broad public support for postsecondary education in prison at the state and national levels—with the eventual goal of repealing the federal ban on Pell Grants for students in prison.

Reducing Solitary Confinement

As we work to expand restorative justice and education for those in prison, we work just as hard to end harmful practices like solitary confinement.

Solitary V1
"Near total isolation extracts a terrible price."
Justice Anthony Kennedy

Every day, approximately 60,000 people are held in solitary confinement in America’s prisons, and since the 1980s, our prisons and jails have increasingly relied on this cruel practice to maintain order. But solitary can damage, sometimes irreparably, people who experience it for even brief periods of time, and it stops incarcerated people from developing the skills they need to successfully return to their communities.

That’s why we are stepping up our work to sharply reduce the use of solitary. In the last year, we worked with corrections officials in five states—Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, and Virginia—to help them adopt policies and practices designed to establish solitary as a rare last resort. We helped close the infamous solitary unit at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and helped Virginia launch a new program that diverts people with serious mental illness to safe alternative programs. Moving forward, we will seek to partner with a total of seven jurisdictions to reduce their use of solitary by at least 25 percent by the year 2020, and 50 percent by 2023