Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

We can end mass incarceration.

The incarceration rate in the United States more than quadrupled between 1970 and 2008—to a rate five to 10 times higher than that of countries like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. At the peak of mass incarceration, 2.3 million people were in jails and prisons in this country.  

Decades of research and experience show that we cannot incarcerate our way to a safer, fairer, more just society and that mass incarceration has disproportionately impacted Black people, people of color, immigrants, and people experiencing poverty. There is growing consensus that we cannot continue with the “tough-on-crime” status quo. Recent reforms include unprecedented investments in community violence intervention and civilian crisis response, ending money bail in states like Illinois, and zeroing out incarceration for girls and gender expansive youth in many jurisdictions.  

 The movement to end mass incarceration is winning. Today, there are 25 percent fewer people in prison than when incarceration was at its peak in 2009, 39 percent fewer Black people in prison since its peak in 2002, and a greater demand from the public for accountability from police, prosecutors, and government leaders.  

After decades of extraordinary growth, incarceration is now on the decline.
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Vera Institute of Justice, an independent organization associated with Vera Action, brings together experts, activists, and policymakers to develop and implement solutions that reduce incarceration and its harms. Through its place-based programs in California, Louisiana, and New York, and several national initiatives, Vera helps governments and communities reshape their policies and practices to end mass incarceration, build safer communities, and affirm human dignity:

Prosecutorial Reform

 Reshaping Prosecution helps district attorneys across the country make the case that a community-driven approach to prosecution will make communities safer and more just. It works with prosecutors to reduce incarceration primarily by declining and diverting cases and building evidence for alternative approaches. 

Bail Reform and Pretrial Justice

 In partnership with state and local advocates, government leaders, and lawmakers, Vera advances policies, legislation, and court rules that end the use of money and profit in the pretrial system, reduce the number of people in jail, expand community-based pretrial services, and lessen racial disparities in the criminal legal system. 

Redefining Public Safety

Vera’s Redefining Public Safety initiative focuses on new approaches to keeping our communities safe beyond policing by increasing the use of crisis response alternatives and government investment in violence prevention and neighborhood safety. 

Dignity Behind Bars

Prisons and jails must be healthy places to live and work, where people are given opportunities for education, treatment, and training that set them up for success. Vera works to ensure people behind bars are treated with dignity and given opportunities for growth. 

Access to Housing

Vera is working to open doors for formerly incarcerated people to public and affordable housing, as a person’s conviction history should not be a barrier to having a roof over their head. 

Postsecondary Education in Prisons and Jails

Vera’s Unlocking Potential initiative promotes access to life-changing education by supporting the scale and quality of college programs for incarcerated people and developing strategies that reduce racial inequities in college access and completion rates.

Youth Justice

Vera’s Ending Girls Incarceration initiative partners with government and community leaders to develop solutions and policies at the state and local levels that advance the freedom and well-being of girls and gender expansive youth.