Confronting Race and Justice in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Vera harnesses the growing public demand for justice and partners with leaders in the justice system to drive change. One critical aspect of this work is addressing how the justice system disproportionately targets people of color, from policing to sentencing practices. This too is garnering increased public attention, most recently with the documentary "13TH". While African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they are 40 percent of those behind bars. This is the result not of criminality, but of policies that target communities of color. African Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, for instance, but they make up 31% of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40% of those in prison for them.

Vera works to address these racial disparities in the system, as well as to end the era of mass incarceration that has disproportionately devastated communities of color.

Prosecutors have broad discretion to influence the trajectory of criminal cases—and to begin to mitigate the racial disparities that are pervasive in the criminal justice system. In partnership with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, we analyzed more than 200,000 cases to help the office understand how their decision making might be leading to racially disparate outcomes. The study found that, controlling for other factors, race was a factor in case outcomes, including pretrial detention, plea bargaining, and incarceration.
Our country’s near exclusive reliance on incarceration to address violence has failed crime survivors—including young men of color, who are among those most likely to be harmed but rarely receive victims services. Common Justice operates the first alternative to incarceration and victim service program for serious and violent felonies in the adult courts. Through restorative justice, it aims 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.
On September 13th, 1994, President Clinton signed the largest piece of criminal justice legislation in U.S. History—the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, more commonly known as the Crime Bill. On its 20th anniversary, we called upon the architects of the bill, its executors, and current bipartisan leaders and thinkers to discuss the bill’s intentions and impact—and what these might mean for the next twenty years of criminal justice policy. Their voices are presented along with historical context on our multimedia platform.
Helping people who are incarcerated advance their education not only transforms the lives of people who have often faced profound disadvantages, but also changes the educational trajectory of future generations and spurs the economic renewal of the communities they come from. Once commonplace, access to college in prison was drastically reduced through the 1994 Crime Bill. We’re working to bring college back to dozens of prisons—and to thousands of students—through our pilot program in three states and through the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell initiative.

Bail, Fines, and Fees

A look at how bail, fines, and fees in the criminal justice system impact poor communities in New Orleans

The New Orleans criminal justice system, like many other local systems across the country, operates significantly on funding generated from the people cycling through it—from bail and associated fees before trial, to fines and fees levied after conviction. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants—the majority of whom are poor and black— ...

July 25, 2016
In New Orleans, the fines and fees that help fund the local justice system move money from poor, predominantly black communities—the places that need it most—to government institutions and private industry. This video explains exactly how that system operates in New Orleans as part of our Past Due project, which is analyzing the costs of relying on defendants to fund criminal justice agencies, and developing recommendations for a more just and sustainable funding structure.
Like many advocates, correctional officials, and politicians—including President Obama—we are committed to ending America’s widespread use of solitary confinement. But making changes to this deeply entrenched practice requires persistence. We’ve worked with 10 states and cities to analyze the way they use solitary confinement, recommend changes, and help implement them—including Washington State, which has seen a nearly 50% reduction in their use of the practice. We’re bringing in an additional five partners this year.