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

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...

Publication
  • Insha Rahman
September 15, 2017
Publication

New York City's Pretrial Supervised Release Program

An Alternative to Bail

Policymakers and practitioners are increasingly raising concerns about the large number of people being held in jails pretrial across the US. The supervised release program (SR) in NYC is an example of a new approach to handling cases pretrial. SR gives judges the option to release some defendants who would otherwise be detained due to their inabil...

Publication
  • Cindy Redcross , Melanie Skemer, Dannia Guzman, Insha Rahman, Jessi LaChance
April 10, 2017
Publication

Series: Gender and Justice in America

Why We’re Working to Reduce the Number of Women Incarcerated at Rikers Island

There’s no doubt that the advisory group’s aims are ambitious. NYC’s overall decline in the use of jail means that many women charged with low-level offenses or first-time charges have their cases resolved without spending any time at Rikers—of the 57,119 women arrested across the five boroughs in 2014, less than 12 percent were detained. The women...

Blog Post
  • Kaitlin Kall
    Kaitlin Kall
March 31, 2017
Blog Post

Jail in New York City

Evidence-Based Opportunities for Reform

Jail in New York City: Evidence-Based Opportunities for Reform examines the key decision points within New York City’s criminal justice system that drive people into the jail. The report uses rich data on case processing, pretrial decision-making, bail decisions, and case disposition to understand how decision makers can impact the size of the jail...

Publication
  • Michael Rempel, Ashmini Kerodal, Joseph Spadafore, Chris Mai
March 24, 2017
Publication