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

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

Looking to Norway for Inspiration on Reducing the Use of Solitary Confinement

Recognized as a leader in progressive incarceration, Norway’s system is based on the idea that courts are for punishment and correctional facilities are for creating better neighbors. Correctional policies and practices center around respect for the human dignity of incarcerated people and staff. They focus primarily on rehabilitation, resocializat ...

Blog Post
  • Janelle Guthrie
March 11, 2020
Blog Post

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

Corrections at a Crossroads

Ironically, prisons began as 19th century reforms—a movement away from the barbarism of public humiliation, corporal punishment, and executions. Practices like solitary confinement—pioneered at Eastern State Penitentiary and in Auburn Prison’s regime of silent, forced labor—were meant to rehabilitate incarcerated people. They reflected moralistic a ...

Blog Post
  • Sebastian Johnson
    Sebastian Johnson
February 24, 2020
Blog Post

A Means to an End

Assessing the Ability to Pay Bail

Research shows that money bail is unfair, ineffective, and disproportionately burdens people of color and those with low incomes; jurisdictions that no longer rely on money bail have excellent court appearance rates, fewer people in jail, and strong public safety outcomes. In April 2018, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) developed and launched t ...

Publication
  • Sandra van den Heuvel, Anton Robinson, Insha Rahman
December 14, 2019
Publication