Scoping the Problem
It’s impossible to appreciate a problem, let alone solve it, without understanding its scope—the shape and scale of what’s happening. And a complex problem like mass incarceration, typically defined by the 2.3 million people incarcerated at any one time in America, requires substantial unpacking.
Our work wrestling with data falls into two broad categories: defining and monitoring trends in ways that inform both experts and the public, and using cutting-edge cost-benefit analysis. In the first category, for example, we created a truly unique vehicle to track incarceration trends at the county level—telescoping an issue that can feel huge and remote by generating numbers that matter locally. Similarly, cost-benefit analysis provides the foundation for smarter criminal justice policies. That work includes calculating the true price of prisons, something that the traditional budgeting process has failed to do.
Data tool on jail and prison populations in every U.S. county
In 2014, the nationwide jail incarceration rate of 326 per 100,000 county residents exceeded the highest county rates registered in the 1970s, which rarely exceeded 300 per 100,000.
The Price of Prisons
What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers
State corrections budgets have nearly quadrupled in the past two decades—yet the true taxpayer cost of prison reaches far beyond these numbers. State corrections budgets often fail to reflect certain costs— such as employee benefits, capital costs, in-prison education services, or hospital care for inmates—covered by other government agencies. In p...
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 ...
Series: Gender and Justice in America
More Incarcerated Women Deserve Clemency
Former President Obama commuted the sentences of more people in one year than any other president in our nation’s history. The total number of clemencies—including pardons and sentence commutations granted? 1,715. The number of women granted clemency? 106. Even in spite of the up-trend of women’s incarceration rates over the past decade—a 404 pe...
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...
Collaborating with Local Governments and Communities to Reduce Jail Populations
Vera is helping cities and counties around the country reduce their jail populations. Vera works collaboratively with county government, law enforcement, and community organizations to study their jail usage and population growth and to provide recommendations for safely reducing the population while creating more fair and effective local justice ...
Using Video Technology to Treat Substance Users on Probation and Parole in South Dakota
The challenges of accessing services for alcohol and other drug use in South Dakota may have contributed to the state’s high percentage of people convicted of low-level nonviolent offenses, particularly for drug or alcohol related offenses. To minimize these challenges, especially for parolees and probationers residing in the state’s vast rural are...
Bridging the Divide
Improving Parole Outcomes for Native Americans in South Dakota
The tribal parole program in South Dakota is aimed at solving a problem common to many jurisdictions: providing effective supervision to Native Americans who leave prison and return to live on tribal lands. This brief describes the issues that tribal communities face and how they are working together with the state government to provide effective s...
Game day injustice? Judges dole out harsher sentences after home team upset
Many people are aware of the implicit biases that shape everything from juvenile sentencing to the high number of people—particularly low-income people of color—incarcerated in the country’s prisons and jails. What they may not realize, however, is that something as simple as a judge’s favorite football team losing a game could drastically alter a ...
Series: Gender and Justice in America
Breaking the silence about women in prison
We like to think incarcerated women are so different from the general population. But that’s simply not true. I often say: If you want to understand sexism in America, go to a women’s prison. Gender bias for incarcerated women is the same bias that forces free women to have to choose between career and becoming a homemaker, accept less pay for doin...
Welcome to a New Era for Vera
Say hello to our new virtual home!
At the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of “the fierce urgency of now.” And as a friend of Vera, you know that we are in a moment of painful and potentially perilous urgency. Many Americans—including the public and policymakers from both aisles—are joining us to recognize criminal justice reform as one of the most pressin...
Racial Disparity in Marijuana Policing in New Orleans
In national research, self-reported marijuana use is similar across races, but in New Orleans, black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses, including simple possession. In recent years, some states have legalized marijuana, while the consequences for marijuana possession in Louisiana remain severe—under state law, repeated c...
Justice in Review
New Trends in State Sentencing and Corrections 2014-2015
In 2014 and 2015, 46 states enacted at least 201 bills, executive orders, and ballot initiatives to reform at least one aspect of their sentencing and corrections systems. In conducting this review of state criminal justice reforms, Vera found that most of the policy changes focused on three areas: creating or expanding opportunities to divert peop...
Tennessee’s new vision for public safety has lessons for criminal justice reform nationwide
As the 2016 legislative session gets underway in states across the nation, it’s a hopeful time for those who support criminal justice policy rooted in a holistic vision of public safety that embraces not only efficiency, but also justice, compassion, and a commitment to human dignity. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam has announced his second-term...
Final Report to the Tennessee Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism
This is the final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism issued in September 2015. It contains consensus recommendations of the Task Force for the consideration of Governor Haslam.