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

Broken Ground

Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

Jail construction has vastly expanded America’s capacity to incarcerate people. In 1970, there were 243,000 jail beds in the United States, but by 2017, there were 915,100. This report explores the persistence of jail expansion by examining a convenience sample of 77 counties in 31 states that considered or pursued jail expansion between 2000 and 2...

Publication
  • Chris Mai, Mikelina Belaineh, Ram Subramanian, Jacob Kang-Brown
November 18, 2019
Publication

Gatekeepers

The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration

Police in America arrest millions of people each year, and the likelihood that arrest will lead to jail incarceration has increased steadily. Ending mass incarceration and repairing its extensive collateral consequences thus must begin by focusing on the front end of the system: police work. Recognizing the roughly 18,000 police agencies around the...

Publication
  • Rebecca Neusteter, Ram Subramanian, Jennifer Trone, Mawia Khogali, Cindy Reed
August 12, 2019
Publication