Vera Institute of Justice | Securing Equal Justice

Securing Equal Justice

America is rapidly evolving into a majority-minority country with a growing share of immigrants—and that trend only captures the racial and ethnic changes taking place. America is also aging and becoming more openly diverse in terms of gender expression and sexual orientation. These and other shifts are co-occurring alongside persistent systemic racism and increasingly visible nativism, more Americans than ever living in concentrated poverty, and justice systems nationwide that do not have the trust of communities they serve.

The changing face of America challenges us to deepen our commitment to delivering on the promise of equal treatment enshrined in the Constitution. It may require a revolution in practice in some areas, but we can make our justice systems fair, accessible to all, and worthy of people’s trust.

That begins with local law enforcement agencies that serve on the frontlines of the criminal justice system. Policing in America is at a perilous crossroads. The ranks of police officers across the nation are filled with dedicated men and women who want to serve and support communities, but decades of over-policing; egregious, highly visible examples of police misconduct; the seemingly indelible stain of racism; and lack of accountability undermine their efforts and public confidence.

We’re working nationally to encourage policing that is responsive to the needs of communities. Law enforcement must be accountable to the communities that they have sworn to serve and protect. This work includes a project to expand the widely used police performance management tool—Compstat—to hold police managers accountable for more than just reducing crime and disorder. Vera’s Compstat 2.0 initiative is updating this management tool to also measure and track community satisfaction with police service, residents’ fear of crime, police officer use of force, and other factors that are aligned with societal expectations of democratic policing.

The path to equal justice requires reckoning with practices that are unfair and failing. For roughly a decade, we worked to address institutional and implicit biases that led blacks and Latinos to be prosecuted more harshly than whites arrested for the same crimes, providing lessons as the country takes a closer look at how prosecutors drive mass incarceration. We are working to break cycles of violence in poor communities by joining young men of color who have hurt as well as been harmed in a process that promotes healing and accountability far better than traditional punishment.

Justice is often out of reach for the most vulnerable members of society, such as survivors of violence and sexual abuse—domestic and otherwise—that until recently had nowhere to turn for help: People with disabilities, those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, LGBTQ victims, and incarcerated people. Our work on behalf of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people is poised to expand. We want to make the entirety of the justice system more accessible to them. And in a country where already one in seven Americans is 65 or older, the justice system needs innovations to protect them from harm. Our nonprofit legal guardianship program for elderly people and people with disabilities operates in New York City and is a model nationally.

The concept of liberty and justice for all is not tied to citizenship. From the newest Americans to noncitizens who have deep roots in this country, immigrants to America also deserve justice. They should have equal access to the protections of law enforcement, a duty that often requires police to overcome language barriers in order to serve and protect people who can be especially vulnerable. And our commitment to fairness requires due process when someone is facing the possibility of being deported. In addition to launching the first-ever publicly supported defender program for poor detained immigrants facing deportation, our work includes providing legal assistance and pro bono representation to children who bravely journey to America alone and immigrants who have a mental illness.

Related Work

Immigration Courts Are Acting Like Business as Usual During the Pandemic, with Dire Consequences

Protecting the rights of immigrants facing deportation has always been challenging. But the pandemic has made it harder to communicate with clients, coordinate witnesses, and obtain evidence. Immigration courts and detention facilities have failed to provide adequate technology, time, and support to ensure due process. “They've seen it as business ...

Blog Post
  • Erica Bryant
    Erica Bryant
March 03, 2021
Blog Post

Immigrants Facing Deportation Do Not Have the Right to a Publicly Funded Attorney. Here's How to Change That.

Who would benefit from these legal defense services? Immigrants who are facing deportation but can’t afford an attorney would benefit from these legal defense services. Of the more than 1.25 million people with pending cases in the immigration court system, 500,000 lack representation. The lack of representation is particularly staggering for peopl ...

Blog Post
  • Erica Bryant
    Erica Bryant
February 09, 2021
Blog Post

A Federal Defender Service for Immigrants

Why We Need a Universal, Zealous, and Person-Centered Model

The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) recommends that the Biden administration draw from time-tested models, data, and knowledge to build a federally funded, universal legal defense service that provides universal, zealous, and person-centered defense to all immigrants. This federal defender service should be modeled on the criminal federal defender ...

Publication
  • Vera Institute of Justice
February 09, 2021
Publication

Examining Organizational Change and Procedural Justice

An International Cross-Site Evaluation of Two Police Departments

The origins and ongoing practices of policing continue to have implications for public trust and perceptions of police legitimacy. Researchers and practitioners have attempted to apply theories of procedural and organizational justice to this issue. Organizational justice is the notion that how employees view their employers will affect the way pe ...

Publication
January 19, 2021
Publication

Building the Movement Summary

Advancing Universal Representation: A Toolkit for Advocates, Organizers, Legal Service Providers, and Policymakers

The movement for universal representation—the idea that every immigrant facing detention and deportation should have the right to a publicly funded lawyer if they cannot afford one—continues to gain significant momentum. As a result of local and state campaigns, more than 40 jurisdictions across the country now fund deportation defense programs. Wi ...

Publication
January 14, 2021
Publication

Vera Calls on President-Elect Biden to Prioritize Immigration and Criminal Justice Policies in First 100 Days

Vera’s justice platform—and those of other justice-oriented nonprofit organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice—do just that. The Biden-Harris team has already identified several policy areas that align with these platforms, including improving oversight and accountability measures in policing, reducing the incarcerated population, and prov ...

Blog Post
  • Hayne Yoon
    Hayne Yoon
  • Elle Teshima
    Elle Teshima
December 16, 2020
Blog Post