"Working with Vera on this project has changed my life."
– Dytajah W., youth advisor for Vera’s initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration

Alleviating the harmful toll of incarceration extends far beyond prison. Across the country, particularly in rural counties and small towns, local jail populations have grown at alarming rates. Intended to house people awaiting trial who are deemed to be a danger to society or a flight risk, jails have instead become massive warehouses in which too many are incarcerated simply because they are too poor to pay bail. This burden of jail incarceration disproportionately impacts communities of color, with black people jailed at almost four times the rate of white people. This is why Vera is at the forefront of a powerful movement to sharply curtail the use of jail and local incarceration.

Bail Assessment Pilot

To ease the burden of these unfair bail practices, our Greater Justice New York initiative launched a bail assessment pilot in the Bronx and Queens that provides judges with a tool to assess a person’s ability to pay when setting bail. So far, in a third of cases where the tool was used, judges either imposed a more affordable bail amount, or set no bail at all. At the same time, we continued our efforts in many other cities and counties to help communities dramatically reduce their jail populations. Our work helped Philadelphia surpass its original, three-year jail population reduction goal in less than two years. In Tulsa County, Oklahoma, our work helped to achieve in just one year an 18-percent drop in the jail population—which had grown by nearly 400 percent over the previous four decades.

Bail Stories V3
“A $1,000 [bail payment] can feed a family of three or four for two months…ultimately, you’re going to take the time [in jail] rather than have your family go hungry.”
From "Bail Stories" co-produced by Vera and the New York City Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice

In Our Backyards

While earlier narratives on the growth of incarceration focused almost exclusively on large cities, our research has shown that it’s now the nation’s 2,600 small towns and rural counties that are the biggest drivers in jail incarceration. In partnership with Google.org, we expanded In Our Backyards, our effort to raise awareness of the human and financial costs of incarceration and inspire action to curb the overuse of jails, especially in smaller cities and rural counties. Our online resource hub provides information about the number of people in jail for every county, stories that illustrate the dehumanizing impact of incarceration, and new polling data that shows broad public support for justice reform. In the coming year, we will continue conducting research in small towns and cities and work with local communities to craft solutions that can help them safely and effectively reduce their overreliance on incarceration

Reshaping Prosecution

Most people end up in jail because a prosecutor recommends it. Prosecutors— most of whom are elected—wield an amazing amount of power.


This year, Vera launched Reshaping Prosecution, the latest, most ambitious chapter in our longstanding work on prosecution and racial justice. This data-driven project is designed to help reform-minded prosecutors adopt practices that combat the overuse of incarceration, address racial inequities, and advance equal justice in their communities. Work is underway in St. Louis; Contra Costa County, CA; the 16th Circuit Court District in Mississippi; and Jacksonville, FL—with plans to expand soon to additional jurisdictions. We are also partnering with local community leaders in each place, to ensure that prosecutors better communicate with the people they serve. Our new online tool—Unlocking the Black Box of Prosecution—provides both community members and prosecutors with guidance on concrete opportunities for reform.

Ending Girls' Incarceration

How often do we have the chance to safely and effectively end a form of incarceration altogether?


It’s rare, but we now have an unparalleled opportunity to stop the arrest and incarceration of girls across the country—a practice that especially impacts girls of color and Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Questioning, Transgender, and Gender Non-Conforming youth. Tragically, most girls in the juvenile justice system are incarcerated for low-level offenses—like truancy—that pose no risk to public safety and that are often rooted in histories of trauma and abuse. Instead of providing girls with the help they need to recover and heal, the system simply locks them up. In response, we are partnering with advocates and government leaders in New York City; Philadelphia; Santa Clara County, CA; Maine; Hawaii; and North Dakota to provide alternatives that ensure well-being and safety for girls in their communities.

“In a lot of places, girls are treated very unfairly by systems. Most of the time they end up there because of things that happened to them such as trauma and abuse. We need to end girls’ incarceration everywhere because detention is not an environment where girls can get help to heal or change. As a formerly incarcerated girl in New York City, working on this project with Vera has changed my life. Being able to see the inside of how the system works and using my voice and experience to change it has helped me to understand it better.” – Dytajah W., youth advisor for Vera’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration