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.
Shifting the culture of incarceration from retribution to rehabilitation
Our national experiment with mass incarceration has failed to make us safer and protect communities. More than 95 percent of people in our prisons will return home, yet 55 percent will end up back behind bars within five years. There is widespread consensus that we should end mass incarceration and transform the way we treat people who are incarcer...
Safe Alternatives to Segregation
The latest research, reports, policy briefs, and information on promising practices
College in Prison
Postsecondary education opportunities for incarcerated people
People involved in the criminal justice system have, on average, much lower education levels than the general population. Research suggests that education is key to improving many long-term outcomes for incarcerated people, their families, and their communities—including reducing recidivism and increasing employability and earnings after release. T...
Series: Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails
Why We’re Studying the Causes and Consequences of Solitary Confinement
Every day, tens of thousands of incarcerated people are held in restrictive housing (commonly known as “solitary confinement” or “segregation”) in America’s prisons and jails. Confined to a cell no larger than a parking space for at least 23 hours a day, isolated from social interaction, and deprived of sensory stimulation, the effect on the menta...
Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education in Prison
Fact Sheet for Corrections Leaders
Starting in 1994 with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, students in state and federal prisons were barred from accessing Pell Grants, which provide financial aid for postsecondary education. In July 2016, the Second Chance Pell Experiment reinstated Pell Grant eligibility for some incarcerated students. Vera is cu...
Examining the Use of Restrictive Housing and its Impact on Officer Wellbeing
While research is growing on the effects of restrictive housing—more commonly known as solitary confinement—there are still many questions about who is housed in these units and why they are there. Moreover, while many studies have investigated the impact of placement in restrictive housing on incarcerated people, there is very little research on ...
Join Us to Reimagine Prison
Launched as part of Prison Visiting Week for Vera’s Reimagining Prison initiative, this explainer video focuses on alternative approaches to incarceration in use by countries such as Germany. Comparatively, “tough on crime” practices in the U.S. have been ineffective. We spend $80 billion on incarceration per year, yet more than half the people who...
What This Election Means for Criminal Justice Reform
It is not even 72 hours after the election, and the entire world is trying to assess the impact of an election result that will surely produce a dramatic restructuring across a broad array of issues and geographies—including justice reform, which we struggle and fight for along with you. As in any election and assumption of power, there will be a ...
Confronting Race and Justice in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Obama pushes to end solitary confinement; states lead the way
In an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, President Barack Obama condemned solitary confinement and announced sweeping changes to its use in federal prisons nationwide. On any given day in the U.S., as many as 100,000 people are estimated to be held in solitary confinement. Also known as segregation or restricted housing, this practice r...
Reforming the Use of Solitary Confinement: A Conversation
The Vera Institute of Justice hosted this conversation between two people on the front lines of the movement to rethink solitary confinement in the U.S.—and the potential for reform. Moderator Bill Keller, The Marshall Project Speakers Commissioner W. David GuiceDivision of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, North Caroli...
Series: Unlocking Potential
Increasing interest in and passion for learning throughout the prison system
Former intern Monnero Guervil interviews Baz Dreisinger for this blog post. What inspired you to create John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Prison-to-College Pipeline (P2CP) program? How does it differ, if at all, from other college in prison programs? I was volunteering in an educational capacity in prisons. This started be...
The end of federal private prisons is a big step towards reimagining criminal justice
The United States’ incarcerated population stands at more than 2.2 million. Nearly 1.6 million Americans are behind prison bars—only 22,000 of whom reside in privately managed federal facilities. So why are there headlines about Thursday’s Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum, which announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons should begin “the p...
Observations from Rikers: A German’s first visit to the island
This blog post reflects the author's own opinion and is not an official statement.