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

A Path to Recovery

Treating Opioid Use in West Virginia's Criminal Justice System

In the United States, a disproportionate number of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system suffer from opioid use disorder. Key to confronting the opioid epidemic and related deaths is expanding access to a range of treatment options, including all forms of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This report looks at how one stat...

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  • Ram Subramanian, Alison Shames
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Against the Odds

Experimenting with Alternative Forms of Bail in New York City’s Criminal Courts

Statistics show that money bail is unaffordable and out of reach for many New Yorkers. On any given day, 7,000 people are detained pretrial at Rikers Island and other New York City jails because they cannot make bail. While judges in New York can choose up to nine different forms of bail at arraignment—include “alternative” forms that require littl...

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  • Insha Rahman
September 15, 2017
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