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

#SecondChanceMonth is an Opportunity to Examine What Happens After Incarceration–and Make It Better

Welcoming people who are formerly-incarcerated home into our communities and providing them access to opportunities is the smart thing to do. Not only does it make communities safer, it creates the potential for the kinds of individual transformation that can spur community renewal and change the economic trajectories of entire families. Join us as...

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  • Vera Staff
    Vera Staff
April 13, 2018
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New Report Highlights California’s Success in Expanding Access to College for Incarcerated People

And Shows the Rest of the Country How It Can Be Done

Today, California has more in-person postsecondary education programs—offered in 34 out of the state’s 35 prisons—than any other state in the nation. CDCR is offering higher education to nearly 4,500 incarcerated students. Programs that meet students outside the prison walls have expanded in correlation to inside programs, as more people who starte...

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  • Heather Erwin
    Heather Erwin
April 04, 2018
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This Women’s History Month, Let’s Leave Girls’ Incarceration in the Past

Last year, Vera took an important step towards addressing these inequities by launching the New York City Task Force on Ending Girls’ Incarceration—with a collaborative of the city’s key juvenile justice and youth-serving agencies—that aims to develop a comprehensive plan to end girls’ incarceration in the five boroughs. Now, we’re committed to doi...

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  • Shawnda Chapman Brown
    Shawnda Chapman Brown
  • Mahsa  Jafarian
    Mahsa Jafarian
March 27, 2018
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Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative

Findings and Recommendations in Five Jurisdictions

After decades of misuse and overuse, the role of solitary confinement in United States jails and prisons is now being addressed. In recent years, this practice—also known as restrictive housing or segregation—has been the subject of increased scrutiny from researchers, advocates, policymakers, media, and the government agencies responsible for peop...

Publication
  • Vedan Anthony-North, David Cloud, Léon Digard, Allison Hastings, Jacob Kang-Brown, Jessi LaChance, Stephen Roberts, Sara Sullivan, Elena Vanko, Jessa Wilcox
December 20, 2017
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Series: Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails

Momentum Builds in 2017 to Reduce the Use of Solitary Confinement

The path continued when Vera launched its Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, generously funded by the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in 2015. Numerous states and counties applied to partner with us and examine their practices with an aim to reform. Details of what we learned is outlined in the five...

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  • Sara Sullivan
    Sara Sullivan
  • Mary Crowley
    Mary Crowley
December 20, 2017
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Photo Credit: CBS / 60 Minutes

Series: Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails

Oprah Spotlights Solitary Confinement as Movement to Rethink its Use Picks Up Steam

Two members of the SAS Initiative Advisory Council, Dr. Craig Haney and Danny Murillo, are prominently featured in Winfrey’s report. Both Murillo and Haney speak to the trauma of long-term restrictive housing, and both also have intimate knowledge of the impacts of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay—Dr. Haney as a social psychologist, and Danny Mu...

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  • Matthew Lowen
    Matthew Lowen
October 23, 2017
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Closing the Distance

The Impact of Video Visits on Washington State Prisons

For people who are incarcerated, separation from family and friends is a difficult fact of life, as are the financial and logistical barriers that keep their loved ones from visiting them in prison. Because research has shown that contact with loved ones is a critical factor in improving outcomes for incarcerated people returning home, prison syste...

Publication
  • Léon Digard, Jessi LaChance, Jennifer Hill
August 15, 2017
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Series: Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails

Mental Health Units as Alternatives to Segregation

It Can Be Done

The definition in Massachusetts also includes several other disorders: those commonly characterized by breaks with reality or perceptions of reality; developmental disability, dementia, or other cognitive disorders; or personality disorders manifested by episodes of psychosis or depression, when those disorders lead to significant functional impair...

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  • Joel  Andrade, PhD, LICSW, CCHP
    Joel Andrade, PhD, LICSW, CCHP
June 22, 2017
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Series: Dispatches from T.R.U.E.

Working Together Toward Community, Connection, and Comradeship in T.R.U.E.

An offender in the T.R.U.E. unit asked me, “Why do you want to participate in this program?”  I explained that I was tired of the revolving door in Corrections and the disruption it causes to the community.  They then asked, “What experiences do you have dealing with this population?” Even though there has never been a unit like this in an ...

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  • James Vassar
June 13, 2017
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