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

Photo by Karl Soderstrom

People in Prison in 2019

Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) researchers collected data on the number of people who were incarcerated in state and federal prisons as of December 31, 2019, to provide timely information on how prison incarceration is changing in the United States. This report fills a gap until the Bureau of Justice Statistics releases its next annual report—lik ...

Publication
  • Jacob Kang-Brown, Chase Montagnet, Eital Schattner-Elmaleh, Oliver Hinds
May 14, 2020
Publication

Series: Covid-19

Use this Data to Hold Your Local Jail Accountable During the Pandemic

Jails are places where people, even during ordinary times, are at greater risk of death. It’s clear that the best way to keep people safe is to let them return home. Although there have been some efforts to decarcerate, they have been too small. Now, using a new tool from Vera, you can hold policymakers accountable by monitoring jail populations ac ...

Blog Post
  • Christian Henrichson
    Christian Henrichson
  • Oliver Hinds
    Oliver Hinds
April 08, 2020
Blog Post

Series: Covid-19

Albany, Georgia Reduces Jail Population by 27 Percent in Response to Coronavirus

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the country, high incarceration rates in small cities and rural counties—often overlooked in discussions of mass incarceration—threaten to compound a mounting crisis. Decades of investment in carceral infrastructure, and disinvestment in public health, have brought us to a moment in which rural U.S. landsc ...

Blog Post
  • Jack Norton
    Jack Norton
April 07, 2020
Blog Post

Series: Covid-19

In a Precarious Economy, Governments and Courts Must Take Immediate Action to Reduce Criminal Justice Fines and Fees

Fines and fees exist at every stage of the criminal justice process, from arrest and booking to conviction and sentencing. People can be ticketed for even minor infractions, charged to enter a jail, and then charged additional fees for each day they remain there. Even those serving non-jail sentences like probation or community service can be charg ...

Blog Post
  • Maria Rafael
    Maria Rafael
April 02, 2020
Blog Post

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