Closing Mass Incarceration’s Front Door Initiative

Ending money bail and transforming systems for pretrial safety and freedom

The front door to mass incarceration in this country is the for-profit money and cash bail system. On any given day, nearly half a million people are sitting in jails across the United States awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford the price of their freedom. More than one-in-three people in the U.S. struggle to find $400 in an emergency and yet, the average bail set on a felony case is $10,000.

Against this backdrop, the for-profit money bail system’s disproportionate impact on Black people and other people of color, as well as people facing poverty, is stark. Even a few days in jail can result in people losing their jobs and housing and cause their children and families to suffer. Although it may seem counterintuitive, research demonstrates that the money bail system does not make our communities safer. The only beneficiary is the predatory bail bond industry, which earns $2 billion annually.

Now is the time to end money bail and invest in true community safety. Vera’s Closing Mass Incarceration’s Front Door team works nationally to transform pretrial systems and deliver both safety and freedom. In partnership with state and local advocates, government leaders, and lawmakers, our experts develop policies, draft legislation, and recommend court rules that end the use of money and profit in the pretrial system, reduce the number of people in jail, and lessen racial disparities. We have been at the forefront of some of the country’s most historic pretrial reforms, such as New York’s 2019 bail law, and played an important role in dozens of other jurisdiction.

Working in partnership with advocates and legislators to transform pretrial justice

Transformative, state-level policy change requires the collaboration and partnership of many actors. Vera staff have worked with coalitions and lobbyists in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, and Texas to draft legislation, educate elected officials about good bail policy, and build momentum for reform. Our work has led to passage of a new bail law in New York that cut the statewide jail population by one-third and a court rule in Kentucky at the beginning of the pandemic that expanded mandatory pretrial release to many misdemeanors and low-level felonies. We're also building support in Michigan for a bipartisan set of pretrial reform bills that would reduce the number of offenses for which money bail could be imposed.

New York’s new bail law reduced the statewide jail population by 33 percent.

We’re also providing national expertise on bail reform, as many jurisdictions have strong local champions for pretrial justice but need assistance with training, setting up pretrial services, and countering backlash to reforms. Vera staff have provided this kind of expertise in locations including Illinois, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas.

Countering the Backlash to Reform

Even though every jurisdiction that has passed good bail reform—like New Jersey and New York—has seen a drop in the jail population with no harm to public safety, organized backlash from law and order opponents threatens to undermine the progress made on pretrial justice. Vera’s staff have worked to counter the intense fearmongering and backlash to New York’s bail law by issuing explainers, educating the media, and providing legislators with the facts about the law’s benefit to communities and public safety. Similarly, Vera staff have engaged lobbyists to beat back bail rollbacks in places including Texas and New Jersey.

Vera’s pretrial justice efforts demonstrate that pretrial freedom and safety are possible and benefit families and communities.

Contact Us
Insha Rahman Vice President, Advocacy & Partnerships irahman@vera.org (212) 376-3046
Aidan Cotter Senior Program Associate, Closing Mass Incarceration’s Front Door acotter@vera.org