Message from the President

The United States incarcerates nearly 2 million people on any given day—more than any other country in the world. Police killed nearly 1,000 people in the last year—and more than 5,000 since 2015. Every year, half a million people cross the border seeking refuge, only to find themselves detained in deplorable, prison-like conditions.

Our deeply flawed criminal legal system, with its roots in the enforcement of slavery, has devastated the lives of millions, particularly people of color, for centuries. Black people are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced, and saddled with lifelong conviction records than white people. Of the 10.5 million arrests police make every year, 80 percent are for low-level, nonviolent offenses like “disorderly conduct.” And the consequences of such minor infractions—like driving with a broken taillight or selling loose cigarettes—can be deadly, as they were for Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and many others.

Our system, which puts punishment before people’s safety and well-being, destroys countless lives. We criminalize poverty, homelessness, substance use, and mental health conditions, and we incarcerate people for issues that would be more effectively addressed in the community. We separate families who come to the U.S. fleeing violence, corruption, and natural disasters, and force children as young as one to live in overcrowded “tent camps” at the U.S.-Mexico border. Our misplaced reliance on cash bail means hundreds of thousands of people are detained before trial because they can’t pay for their freedom. Harsh sentencing practices far out of line with international norms keep too many people incarcerated for too long.

This approach is racist, ineffective, and costly. We pour billions of dollars into a system that doesn’t make our communities safer, and there is bipartisan agreement that our criminal legal system demands reform.

These challenges are enormous. Daunting. But our experience shows us that change is possible. At the Vera Institute of Justice, we work to end overcriminalization and mass incarceration, but our goal is not only to shrink and transform the criminal legal and immigration systems. We develop just, antiracist solutions that promote true public safety and help our communities thrive.

We take on big initiatives to address the systemic injustices inherent in our criminal legal and immigration systems. We work to ensure that people facing deportation have access to publicly funded attorneys so they can navigate notoriously complicated immigration proceedings. We’re expanding access to postsecondary education in prison, which can reduce the odds of reincarceration by 48 percent. We partner with prosecutors to reduce racial disparities in charging and sentencing. And we collaborate with incarcerated people and frontline staff to transform correctional culture by creating restorative housing units for young adults.

We advocate for change at the local, state, and national levels to shift spending away from the infrastructure of mass incarceration toward things that really make people healthier and more resilient, like comprehensive health care, schools, affordable housing, drug treatment programs, and other social services.

To do our work, we partner with impacted communities and government leaders. We rely on dedicated and motivated staff and the support of friends and funders who believe in Vera’s work—who believe in us. What we all have in common: the certainty that we can and must take action and implement solutions so that fewer people are behind bars, and everyone is treated with dignity. The road is neither easy nor short. But change is possible.

Thank you,

Nick Turner

Nick Turner
President & Director