Ending Mass Incarceration

Reducing the Use of Jails

Conversations about mass incarceration tend to focus on prison, but local jails admit 20 times more people annually. The long-term trend is shocking: In 1982, for every 100 arrests, 51 people were booked into jail. By 2012, even after crime rates plummeted, that ratio had swelled to 95 out of 100, reflecting a knee-jerk use of jail out of step with threats to public safety. Today, jails log a staggering 12 million admissions a year—mostly poor people arrested for minor offenses who can’t post bail, and for whom even a few days behind bars exact a high toll. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, our own office in New Orleans, and direct partnerships with jurisdictions nationwide, we’re helping officials use jails as they were intended: to protect communities from dangerous people. There’s no simple fix, so the work includes using alternatives to arrest and prosecution for minor offenses, recalibrating the use of bail, and addressing fines and fees that also trap people in jail.

Related Work

An Unjust Burden

The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color. However, there is no evidence that these widely disp...

Publication
  • Elizabeth Kai Hinton, LeShae Henderson, Cindy Reed
May 03, 2018
Publication

United Toward Justice

Urban and Rural Communities Share Concerns about Incarceration, Fairness of the Justice System, and Public Spending Priorities

Research by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) has demonstrated rising incarceration rates in small, rural counties and declining rates in large, urban counties—so we wondered: is this the product of a country divided on issues of incarceration and justice? In a moment shaped by narratives of bitter partisan and geographic divisions, one might ex...

Blog Post
  • Jasmine Heiss
    Jasmine Heiss
  • Jack Norton
    Jack Norton
April 19, 2018
Blog Post