Ending Mass IncarcerationReducing the Use of Jails

Local Models

Solutions to the problem of bloated jails are within reach. Indeed, a vanguard of reform-minded officials are implementing reforms that others can follow and adapt. We’re working hand-in-hand with many of them.

In New Orleans, where Vera has had a local office since 2008, we’ve helped to expand alternatives to arrest, speed case processing, create pretrial services that change how courts make bail decisions, and most recently, begun to scope alternatives to the web of user fines and fees that in effect criminalize poverty. Our work with individual counties and cities (such as Oklahoma County and Tulsa County, OK and Whatcom County, WA) focuses on more targeted needs and problems and involves partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders, from the judiciary, to criminal justice policy bodies to chambers of commerce. And through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, we’re assisting officials in five sites who are committed to downsizing their jails.

Related Work

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...

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

Past Due

Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans

In 2015, government agencies in New Orleans collected $4.5 million in the form of bail, fines and fees from people involved in the criminal justice system and, by extension, from their families. Another $4.7 million was transferred from the pockets of residents to for-profit bail bond agents. These costs have become the subject of considerable publ...

  • Mathilde Laisne, Jon Wool, Christian Henrichson
January 09, 2017

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Criminal Justice Reform Task Force

Report and Recommendations

For years, Oklahoma County has been grappling with an overcrowded and run-down jail. With discussions abounding about whether to replace it with a larger facility, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce convened a task force to examine the county’s local justice system and needs. Chaired by Clayton Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thun...

  • Nancy Fishman, Kaitlin Kall, Hanna Dershowitz, Jessi LaChance, Stephen Roberts, Rebecca Silber
December 14, 2016

Justice in Katrina's Wake

Changing Course on Incarceration in New Orleans

In 2005, New Orleans detained more people in its local jail per capita than any other urban jurisdiction in the country. The jail—designed to hold people too great a risk to be released pretrial—was actually used to detain thousands of people too poor to pay a financial bond, with dramatic human and financial consequences. In the 10 years since Hur...

  • Judge Calvin Johnson (Retired), Mathilde Laisne, Jon Wool
November 04, 2015

Series: Justice in Katrina's Wake

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans has changed course on incarceration

There is an important course correction happening in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. The tragedies wreaked by the levee failures on poor communities was paralleled by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mitigate another harm those communities suffered repeatedly, a tragic overuse of local incarceration. The people of New Orleans and government...

Blog Post
  • Jon Wool
    Jon Wool
August 24, 2015
Blog Post

The Price of Jails

Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration

Jails are far more expensive than previously understood, as significant jail expenditures—such as employee benefits, health care and education programs for incarcerated people, and general administration—are often not reflected in jail budgets, but rather in other county agencies. This report surveys 35 jail jurisdictions in 18 states to tally the ...

  • Christian Henrichson, Joshua Rinaldi, Ruth Delaney
May 21, 2015