Vera Announces Funding for Organizations in Rural America Seeking Alternative Solutions to Incarceration

Third round of community grants intended to sustain existing work in smaller cities and rural communities to reduce incarceration and address inequities in the criminal justice system

NEW YORK, NY (August 3, 2021) – Today, the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards initiative announced its third round of partnership grants to community-based and statewide organizations committed to reducing incarceration and resisting jail expansion in smaller cities and rural communities.

While major cities have seen a reduction in jail and prison populations, smaller cities and rural counties are now grappling with the nation’s highest rates of jail and prison incarceration and the negative impacts that accompany this rising trend. In 2020, three of every five people in jail were incarcerated outside of major metro areas. These community grants are intended to support local organizations committed to: reducing incarceration rates; limiting arrests; addressing inequities in the pretrial justice system; eliminating racial, gender, and class-based disparities in incarceration; and resisting jail expansion. The grants will help redirect resources toward community priorities that support families and actually enhance community safety.

The grantees can use the funds for efforts to:

(1) make data and knowledge about local incarceration more widely available;

(2) change the public narrative about incarceration in local and national media by elevating the human toll of jail, the ways incarceration harms public safety, the financial impact of jails, and the experiences of communities in small cities and rural areas; and

(3) build public and governmental will to end mass incarceration locally and statewide, through policy and practice change.

“Vera’s In Our Backyards initiative is building a national movement to end mass criminalization and reverse mass incarceration by focusing on the nation’s smaller cities and rural communities,” said Jasmine Heiss, Campaign Director for Vera’s In Our Backyards. “We are focused on ending the quiet jail boom by decriminalizing poverty and public health issues, centering racial equity, and shifting power and resources so that public safety truly means the safety of everybody. As the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront, investment in carceral infrastructure instead of community resources has made many communities even more vulnerable during public health crises. That is why we are proud to distribute this third round of community grants to local organizations working to combat the rising use of jails that is threatening our small cities and rural communities.”

The following organizations have been awarded grants in Vera’s In Our Backyard initiative’s third round of community grants:


Huntsville Bail Fund, Montgomery Bail Out, and Race Against Injustice Now are three bail funds united in their efforts to reduce the harm of pretrial detention on marginalized communities and to reimagine the justice system as a whole.

"We at the RAIN Community Center are excited for the opportunity to shine a light into often overlooked local aspects of the criminal justice system,” said Robert Hunter on behalf of Race Against Injustice Now.

“The In Our Backyards Initiative is a real opportunity to put small communities front and center in the fight to decarcerate jails. With Vera’s support, we can give small town Alabamians the advocacy that they deserve,” said Tahirih Osborne, President, Huntsville Bail Fund.


The Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition (AJRC) looks to build on the growing protests against police violence to shift the narrative around punishment being the only viable option to deal with crime. In addition, they aim to stop the advancement and growth of the carceral system and will work to block the expansion of the Washington County jail.

“Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition (AJRC) is thrilled to be included in the Vera Cohort as we know that our team will gain additional learnings to implement in Arkansas to make it a better place for all of our community members. Vera has already been an incredible partner to our community and was integral in the successes that we have experienced these past two years that have reduced incarceration in Washington county and gained overall buy in on exploring ways to invest in non carceral community resources,” said Sarah Moore, cofounder, AJRC


The Deep Center in partnership with the Southern Center for Human Rights collects data on detainment and incarceration practices in order to prepare policy, elevate system-affected voices, provide assistance to campaigns to enact policy reforms, and reduce the harm caused to communities affected by mass incarceration, racial injustice, and poverty.

"At Deep Center, we have a saying: “The problem is the problem.” In this case, the problem is a justice system that far too often, has far more damaging effects than not. This problem is all of ours. No single decision or decision-maker in a local justice system determines the fate of our criminal justice system nor is ultimately responsible for our situation —but we are all responsible for knowing exactly what exactly the fallout from regressive policies and institutionalized racism looks like in our community and how it affects us as a whole. Many of the more retrograde policies that exist simply do not have to. People—those incarcerated, those impacted, those who don't even realize how their tax dollars funnel into it, community members, family, justice stakeholders—all deserve better. The problem is neither inevitable nor irreversible. But to chart a different course will take leadership, vision, risk, and ultimately, the will of those in Chatham County saying it can and must be different—that we all deserve a more restorative community that seeks to value and rehabilitate, rather than to over punish and harm,” said Coco Papy, Director of Development and Communications, Deep Center

“We at the Southern Center for Human Rights are so grateful to have the continued opportunity for collaboration with Deep Center through an In Our Backyard grant generously provided by the Vera Institute of Justice. This campaign allows us to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders and build momentum for policy reforms aimed at curbing the criminalization of poverty and sentencing practices that exacerbate Chatham County’s mass incarceration epidemic,” said Sara Totonchi, Executive Director, Southern Center for Human Rights.


By showcasing the effect incarceration has on parents and their children, Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) uses their connections to media, lawmakers, and advocates to fix issues such as bail reform and pretrial services. KYA has a proven track record of effecting changes through their efforts.

"Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) is honored to be a part of this initiative, which can have a profound impact for Kentucky children," said Cortney Downs of KYA. "Too many young people are experiencing the multiple challenges of having a parent incarcerated, and the rural focus of In Our Backyards can help identify real solutions that work to keep the public safe and protect children from the harms of losing a parent to incarceration."

North Carolina

A partnership between Emancipate NC, NAACP of Wilson County, and the Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE) is fighting to reduce incarceration in Wilson County, North Carolina, by working with policy makers and local actors in law enforcement and public schools. They aim to educate the public and legislators on the realities of racial injustice and the role it plays in the proliferation of incarceration.

"The Wilson Education Committee of NAACP is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Vera, EmancipateNC and CAPE in dismantling incarceration,” said Dr. Carol White, NAACP of Wilson.

"As someone who has a loved one who is incarcerated, I know how the system affects families and communities. Thank you to Vera for funding our work,” said Cierra Cobb, advocate at Emancipate NC.


River Valley Organizing (RVO) will implement their Beyond Incarceration Project, a campaign that centers returning citizens as leaders, program creators, and community organizers. Through research, interviews, listening to the community, and civic engagement, the Beyond Incarceration Project aims to shift the narrative around incarceration and effect change through community-led oversight.


CALEB will embark on a campaign to move Hamilton County, Tennessee, away from relying on cash bail and pretrial detention and make pretrial liberty the norm. They aim to make Chattanooga and surrounding Hamilton County leaders in limiting the use of money bail and onerous pretrial restrictions, reducing fees, and securing commitments from local elected officials.

"CALEB's Criminal Justice Task Force has worked diligently to get the word out about the opportunity for ending cash bail. We stand on three Core Values; Liberty should be the norm pending trial, Justice for All without profit of excessive fees, and Decarceration as the answer to Mass Incarceration. We continue to build power by organizing people and organizing money to help efforts to bring a just system to Hamilton County and the whole state of Tennessee. CALEB is thankful for the opportunity to work with VERA Institute of Justice to build that community support,” said Allen Shropshire, CALEB.

The Community Defense of East Tennessee provides support and education to incarcerated people and their families, and educates the public and local officials about incarceration and its harmful effects on the community.

“We must challenge the systemic narratives that are fueled by profit, not justice. It's imperative to emphasize the racial disparities and injustices to confront and dismantle the structures that uphold, protect and embolden those who use them as a predatory weapon,” said Imani Mfalme, Community Defense of East Tennessee.


Formed in response to ICE raids in Hays County, Texas, Mano Amiga campaigns against the detainment and deportation of undocumented people in the United States. They will continue to pursue numerous pretrial solutions to confront mass incarceration in the rural, four-county corridor between Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

“As a grassroots organization endeavoring to transform the criminal legal system in our rural stretch of Texas, we've seen firsthand that the epicenter of mass incarceration is no longer in the big cities; it's right here in our backyard. We are thrilled to partner with Vera, a trusted, and eminently knowledgeable institution, in order to encourage best practices in our corner of the Lone Star State that reduce the unnecessary, out-of-control criminalization of our community members, and to instead champion policy that ushers in true public safety and social well-being,” said Eric Martinez, policy director, and Jordan Buckley, Mano Amiga member.

Texas Jail Project will build on existing de-carceral momentum in rural Texas. In response to the growing county jail population, and to interrupt the compounding trauma cycle of county jail confinement, Texas Jail Project’s goals are to foster micro-communities of decarceral family advocates, nurture embodied participatory defense, and to continue bearing witness to the collective struggle of disabled and marginalized people in Texas county jails. Their objective is to grow the number of people that seek to replace systems of punishment with systems of care.

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