Ending Mass Incarceration

Reducing the Use of Jails

Conversations about mass incarceration tend to focus on prison, but local jails admit almost 20 times more people annually. The long-term trend is shocking: Twenty-five years ago, for every 100 arrests, 70 people were booked into jail. By 2016, even after crime rates plummeted, that ratio had swelled to 99 out of 100, reflecting a knee-jerk use of jail out of step with public safety. Today, jails log a staggering 10.7 million admissions a year—mostly poor people arrested on minor charges who can’t post bail and for whom even a few days behind bars exact a high and harmful toll.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, Vera’s offices in New Orleans and Los Angeles, and direct partnerships with jurisdictions nationwide, we’re helping officials rethink their use of jails as a means to keep communities safe. There’s no simple fix, so the work includes using alternatives to arrest and prosecution for minor charges, ending the use of money bail, eliminating fines and fees that trap people in jail and, most importantly, investing in resources and partnerships that build healthier and safer communities.

Related Work

The Perils of Probation: How Supervision Contributes to Jail Populations

Probation has been viewed traditionally as an alternative and solution to the problem of mass incarceration. However, as the number of people on probation has grown massively and probation supervision has become more punitive over the past few decades, recent reports have focused on how probation is actually contributing to mass incarceration. But ...

  • Alex Roth, Sandhya Kajeepeta, Alex Boldin
October 27, 2021

A Technical Guide to Jail Data Analysis

Analyzing jail data is a crucial part of understanding incarceration trends. Quantitative data from local government sources can help to drive policy and inform change by providing insights into who is in jail and for how long, the reasons why, and which system actors are involved. Used in concert with research on the human and financial costs of j ...

  • Stephen Roberts, Jennifer Peirce, Sandhya Kajeepeta, Madeline Bailey
October 08, 2021