The misuse of jails is neither inevitable nor irreversible, but charting a different course will take leadership and vision.
Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America
Local jails exist in nearly every town and city in America. While rarely on the radar of most Americans, they are the front door to the formal criminal justice system in a country that holds more people in custody than any other on the planet. Their impact is both far-reaching and profound: in the course of a typical year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—almost 20 times the number of annual admissions to state and federal prisons—at great cost to the people involved, their families and communities, and society at large. Through research, publications, and technical assistance to local jurisdictions, Vera aims to foster public debate and policy reform to reduce jail incarceration, repair the damage it causes, and promote safe, healthy communities.
Dispersing new ideas. Vera uses its publications and expertise to engage stakeholders and the public in an evolving national conversation about the role of jail incarceration in local criminal justice systems.
Incarceration's Front Door
On Life Support
Nick Turner on PBS Newshour
Expanding the knowledge base on the causes and consequences of jail incarceration. Policy and practice reform to reduce the use of jail should be informed by solid research. Vera researchers are exploring critical issues surrounding the use of jail incarceration and the impact of diversion and alternatives.
The Price of Jails
Testing new ideas. Following the legacy of the Manhattan Bail Project, Vera continues to work with local jurisdictions to develop and test practical and transformative reforms to reduce the use of jail incarceration and tools for achieving those reforms.
A new initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
With almost 12 million admissions every year, local jails have a far broader impact on the daily lives of communities than state and federal prisons. Intended to house those deemed to be a danger to society or a flight risk before trial, jails have become massive warehouses primarily for those too poor to post even low bail or too sick for existing community resources to manage. Three out of five jail inmates are being held pretrial and are presumed innocent, and 75 percent of both pretrial and convicted inmates are jailed for nonviolent property, drug, or traffic offenses. They are disproportionately from minority communities and far more likely than those in the general population to suffer from serious mental illness and substance use disorders. Although most defendants admitted to jail over the course of a year are released within hours or days, even a short stay in jail can have dire consequences. Research has shown that spending as few as two days in jail can increase the likelihood of a sentence of incarceration and the harshness of that sentence, reduce economic viability, promote future criminal behavior, and worsen the health of the largely low-risk defendents who enter them—making jail a gateway to deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system.