Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. The misuse of jails is neither inevitable nor irreversible, but charting a different course will take leadership and vision.

The Safety and Justice Challenge is a 5-year, $75 million investment by the MacArthur Foundation to demonstrate alternatives to incarceration as usual. As part of the launch of the initiative, Vera published Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, an analysis of our nation’s misuse of jails and what can be done by policymakers to reverse course. Vera subsequently published The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration, which demonstrated through research that jails are far more expensive to taxpayers than previously understood. 

The Safety and Justice Challenge is currently supporting two related ongoing Vera research and communications projects. The Incarceration Trends Project aims to inform the public dialogue, advance research, and help guide change by providing easily accessible information on jail and prison populations in every U.S. county through an interactive data tool. And the Human Toll of Jail storytelling project features ordinary people, both those who are or have been caught up in local criminal justice systems, and those who work on its front lines.

In addition to efforts to drive the national conversation on jail use, Vera works on the ground with jurisdictions selected to participate in the Safety and Justice Challenge Network. Vera is currently providing technical assistance to guide reform efforts in:

  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Spokane, WA
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Mesa County, CO
  • Shelby County, TN