Ending Mass Incarceration

Bringing Dignity to Life Behind Bars

With few exceptions, American jails and prisons are dehumanizing environments. For incarcerated men and women—95% of whom will return home—the possibility of rehabilitation is undermined by the brutality and monotony of life behind bars. High recidivism rates suggest the model isn’t working. The environments are punishing for staff as well.

Downsizing prisons and jails is not enough. They must be healthy places to live and work, places that affirm fundamental human rights, and where the possibility for personal transformation is a reality. Getting there requires commitment, imagination, and close partnerships with corrections administrators and others eager for change. Our work includes ending the widespread use of solitary confinement, protecting people from sexual assault, exploring ways to better connect people who are incarcerated with their families, and expanding access to higher education in prison. It also draws on lessons from countries that take a much less punitive approach to confinement with far better results.

Related Work

Getty Images: Joe Raedle

Series: Target 2020

A Monumental Missed Opportunity for Criminal Justice

Vera President, Nick Turner, reflects on fifth round of debates.

Twenty-five years past the 1994 crime bill, we are ready to talk about a new paradigm to address harm and wrongdoing that seeks to provide safety for all communities, does not peddle in fear and racism, and does not mistake excessive punitiveness for accountability. For the people, as we say. We note that the criminal legal system is 90 percent sta...

Blog Post
  • Nicholas Turner
    Nicholas Turner
November 25, 2019
Blog Post

“I Can’t Imagine Babies Being Kept from Their Mom”

WNBA All-Star and Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner visits a women’s jail in Phoenix

Editors’ note: Edited and abridged for clarity Last month, the WNBA All-Star and Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner accompanied Vera project director Margaret diZerega and digital strategy director Kindred Motes on a tour of the Estrella Jail—a women’s-only facility in Phoenix. As part of a partnership with NBA Voices, Vera has organized seve...

Blog Post
  • Margaret diZerega
    Margaret diZerega
  • Kindred Motes
    Kindred Motes
September 18, 2019
Blog Post

A Piece of the Puzzle

State Financial Aid for Incarcerated Students

Postsecondary education in prison puts people on a path toward a brighter future by disrupting the cycle of poverty and incarceration. But it has not been offered at scale due to the numerous barriers—including the 1994 ban on Pell Grants to people in prison—that prevent students and postsecondary institutions from accessing state and federal fundi...

Publication
  • Lauren Hobby, Brian Walsh, Ruth Delaney
July 11, 2019
Publication

Preventing Suicide and Self-Harm in Jail

A Sentinel Events Approach

Suicide is the leading cause of death in jails across the country. At a time when the public is paying closer attention to local jails and their primary role in mass incarceration, it is critical to shine light on the problem of jail suicide and the steps jails can take to prevent future deaths. This report is the second from Vera that frames suici...

Publication
  • Jason Tan de Bibiana, Therese Todd, Leah Pope
July 08, 2019
Publication

Vera mourns the loss of our colleague and justice champion Fred Patrick, and honors his life and legacy

We lost a good man this weekend. It is with profound sadness that we share news of the passing of our beloved colleague and friend Fred Patrick, director of our Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC). A mentor to many staff at Vera, Fred was a passionate and tireless advocate for a more just and humane criminal justice system. A son of Baton R...

Blog Post
  • Vera Institute  of Justice
    Vera Institute of Justice
July 02, 2019
Blog Post

Growing Momentum to Expand Access to Quality Postsecondary Education for People in Prison

Postsecondary education in prison cuts costs, which provides opportunities to reinvest in communities. “Safer communities” is another way of saying less crime and less taxpayer dollars spent on prisons. According to the findings of Vera’s 2015 “Price of Prisons” report, states spend upward of $45 billion a year incarcerating people, but continue to...

Blog Post
  • Fred Patrick
    Fred Patrick
June 18, 2019
Blog Post