Ending Mass Incarceration

Reducing the Use of Jails

Conversations about mass incarceration tend to focus on prison, but local jails admit almost 20 times more people annually. The long-term trend is shocking: Twenty-five years ago, for every 100 arrests, 70 people were booked into jail. By 2016, even after crime rates plummeted, that ratio had swelled to 99 out of 100, reflecting a knee-jerk use of jail out of step with public safety. Today, jails log a staggering 10.7 million admissions a year—mostly poor people arrested on minor charges who can’t post bail and for whom even a few days behind bars exact a high and harmful toll.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, Vera’s offices in New Orleans and Los Angeles, and direct partnerships with jurisdictions nationwide, we’re helping officials rethink their use of jails as a means to keep communities safe. There’s no simple fix, so the work includes using alternatives to arrest and prosecution for minor charges, ending the use of money bail, eliminating fines and fees that trap people in jail and, most importantly, investing in resources and partnerships that build healthier and safer communities.

Related Work

Close the Atlanta City Detention Center and Deliver Long-term Public Safety

In September 2020, the City of Atlanta engaged the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) to chart a path to close the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC). Vera met with key justice system stakeholders, service providers, and community advocates; analyzed data; and brought to bear evidence and examples from across the country to develop a strategy to re ...

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  • Amy Cross, Elizabeth Swavola, Melvin Washington II, Sandhya Kajeepeta, Alex Boldin
March 01, 2021
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The Impact of New York Bail Reform on Statewide Jail Populations

A First Look

New York’s recent bail reform law, which was passed in April 2019 and amended on July 2, 2020, was expected to reduce the footprint of jail incarceration by limiting the use of money bail. The new law mandated pretrial release for the vast majority of nonviolent charges and required that judges consider a person’s ability to pay bail. A comprehensi ...

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  • Jaeok Kim, Quinn Hood, Elliot Connors
February 11, 2021
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The Cost of Incarceration in New York State

How Counties Outside New York City Can Reduce Jail Spending and Invest in Communities

Jail populations have fallen significantly across New York State, and crime has dropped as well. But spending on jails continues to climb. In 2019, the 57 counties outside New York City collectively spent more than $1.3 billion to staff and run their jails. Counties must cut jail spending and reinvest those savings in communities most impacted by ...

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  • Lauren Jones, Sandra van den Heuvel, Amanda Lawson
January 15, 2021
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Understanding Police Enforcement

A Multicity 911 Analysis

With more than 240 million 911 calls each year, a sizable proportion of police officers’ time consists of responding to calls for service. Despite the importance of the 911 call system, little information exists on the nature of calls for service, how they are handled, and how police respond. The Vera Institute of Justice partnered with two police ...

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  • Rebecca Neusteter, Megan O'Toole, Mawia Khogali, Abdul Rad, Frankie Wunschel, Sarah Scaffidi, Marilyn Sinkewicz, Maris Mapolski, Paul DeGrandis, Daniel Bodah, Henessy Pineda
September 29, 2020
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