The Vera Institute of Justice Proposes a New Paradigm for Sentencing in the United States

FEBRUARY 8, 2023
Contact: Michael Czaczkes,

(New York, NY) Today, the Vera Institute of Justice released A New Paradigm for Sentencing in the United States. This report examines how sentencing practices in the United States have driven the country’s unprecedented surge in incarceration over the last 50 years and offers new guiding principles to rectify this ongoing crisis.

At the current rate of prison population decline, it would take another 75 years to reach the prison population levels of the early 1970s. Our report offers seven proposals to Congress and state legislatures that would dramatically reduce the number of people incarcerated in our prisons. These legislative actions include setting a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for adults and 15 years for young people, based on research showing people “age out” of crime; allowing people to earn one day off their sentences for each day of positive behavior; and abolishing mandatory minimums.

“Our retributive and punitive approach to sentencing does not make communities safer in the way proponents claim and the public assumes,” said Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice. “This report is intended to disrupt the system’s proclivity for long, harsh sentences that are ineffective, which is why Vera calls on legislators, prosecutors, and judges to help advance sentencing reform.”

Vera’s modeling on the federal system shows that enacting five of the reforms in this report in 2006 would have resulted in a federal prison population merely 22 percent of what it was in 2016—roughly 38,000 people instead of the 176,000 then in Federal Bureau of Prisons custody. Instead, the U.S. prison population has ballooned by a shocking 500 percent since 1973—growth that is in large part due to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx men. The result has not been a safer country, but cyclical disruption, trauma, and instability that marks families and communities nationwide. Today, the United States has the opportunity to dismantle this system of mass incarceration, while furthering public safety, through sentencing reform that privileges liberty and repairs harm.


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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