Topics: Sentencing and Corrections
This study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners’ contact with their families and other people who support them. It will also explore if these contacts improve their compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison.
This two-year research project, funded by the National Institute of Justice, seeks to identify and gauge the influence of legal, quasi-legal, and extra-legal factors on the decisions that criminal prosecutors make over the lifetime of a case. Measuring the impact of these decisions on case outcomes is expected to yield practical guidelines for system decision makers committed to the principled use of prosecutorial discretion.
Common Justice develops and advances solutions to violent crime that transform the lives of victims and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration. Locally, we operate the first alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program in the United States that focuses on violent felonies in the adult courts. Nationally, we leverage the lessons from our direct service to transform the justice system through partnerships, advocacy, and elevating the experience and power of those most impacted. Rigorous and hopeful, we build practical strategies to hold people accountable for harm, break cycles of violence, and secure safety, healing and justice for survivors and their communities.
Vera is supporting the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) in their efforts to establish a zero-tolerance culture for sexual assault in their juvenile correctional facilities by (1) assessing current sexual abuse incident rates; and (2) providing training and technical assistance to strengthen the social norms of youth and staff in order to attain a zero-tolerance culture for sexual assault.
Vera’s Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education Project aims to increase the participation of incarcerated individuals in high-quality postsecondary educational programs during and after prison through the provision of expert information and technical assistance to state departments of corrections, colleges and universities, state and local policymakers.
The Federal Sentencing Reporter was launched more than two decades ago by legal experts and scholars Daniel J. Freed and Marc L. Miller, in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice. It is the only academic journal in the United States that focuses on sentencing law, policy, and reform.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) strives to offer meaningful access to public housing and employment opportunities for people with criminal records and to keep communities safe and vibrant. Vera is providing research and policy guidance to HANO to inform screening processes that will allow for individualized assessments of the suitability of people with criminal convictions for HANO-assisted housing and employment in the city of New Orleans. This approach aims to reduce long-term negative consequences of criminal convictions while fostering fair and safe communities.
In 2012, the City of New York launched the nation’s first social impact bond—an innovative form of pay-for-success contracting that leverages private funding to finance public services—to fund the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) program, a large-scale initiative serving 16- to 18- year old youth detained in New York City’s Rikers Island jail.
Incarceration Trends aims to inform the public debate on mass incarceration and help guide change by providing easily accessible information on the prevalence of incarceration in every county in the United States. The centerpiece of the project is a new data tool—available at trends.vera.org—that collates and analyzes publicly available, but disparately located, data about incarceration. This tool can be used for reference and measurement by policymakers and others looking to understand incarceration in their county, how it has changed over time, and how it compares to others.
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.
Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Vera provides technical assistance to states seeking to apply the approach to their local prison and supervision systems.
For more than eight years, Vera’s New Orleans office has worked to advance practices that achieve equality, fairness, and effectiveness in the administration of justice. To achieve these goals, Vera works with government, residents, and local organizations as a center for data analysis, technical assistance, and project facilitation. Several successful efforts have demonstrated to agency leaders, city government, and other stakeholders that change is not only possible but well within reach.
Vera’s New Orleans Office has collaborated with government, community, and civic organizations to develop and operate the city’s first comprehensive pretrial services system. The demonstration project, launched in 2012 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and now funded by the City of New Orleans, is integrating good practices into the criminal justice system, with the goal of yielding greater public safety and fairness.
Our work in New York City spans across Vera’s centers and programs. What these projects have in common is close collaboration with our partners, data and evidence-driven approaches, and recommendations that seek to improve the systems that New Yorkers rely on for public safety, justice, and human services. Although these projects take place in the unique context of New York City, they all bear important implications and lessons for jurisdictions across the country.
Past Due investigates a significant, widespread matter of injustice in New Orleans and throughout the country: the routine imposition of financial bail and sentencing fines and fees on mostly indigent criminal defendants. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants and taxpayers alike, from collections costs to jail time. We will measure the true costs of relying on “users” (defendants) to fund criminal justice agencies (judges, prosecutors, public defenders…) and develop recommendations for a just and sustainable funding structure.
The Pathways Project is a five-year, Vera-led initiative that provides selected states with incentive funding and technical assistance to expand access to higher education for people in prison and those recently released. The project seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings. By validating what works through independent evaluation, the project also hopes to spur national replication and long-term public investment.
Los Angeles County asked the Vera Institute to study its criminal justice system, identify inefficiencies, and recommend strategies to make better use of jail space. Vera staff analyzed the county’s jail data, examined policies and processes that affect the jail’s population size, and recommended steps the county can take to alleviate jail overcrowding.
Our national experiment with mass incarceration has failed to make us safer and protect communities. More than 95 percent of people in our prisons will return home, yet 55 percent will end up back behind bars within five years. There is widespread consensus that we should end mass incarceration and transform the way we treat people who are incarcerated. The Reimagining Prison Project aims to produce such a plan – it envisions a smaller correctional system that places human dignity at its philosophical and operational core and also promotes public safety, successful reentry, and transparency. The Project is designed to shift the goal and culture of incarceration from retribution to rehabilitation thus producing stronger communities, and, overall, a safer U.S.
Segregated housing, commonly known as solitary confinement, is a growing fiscal, safety, and human rights concern for all corrections departments. Vera’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative is partnering with five state and local corrections systems to significantly reduce their reliance on segregated housing through the advancement of safe and effective alternatives.
Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is partnering with the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections (DOC) to create a county-wide model for engaging families who are involved with the juvenile justice system. The model will support the DOC’s goal of increasing family involvement in the service of better outcomes for the youth in their system and will help create family engagement standards for counties across the country.
Many corrections systems isolate certain prisoners from the general prison population—a practice known as solitary confinement or segregation. Vera's Segregation Reduction Project (SRP) works with states and local jurisdictions to decrease the number of people they hold in segregation, provides recommendations tailored to their specific circumstances and needs, and continues to assist them while they plan and implement change.
Every year, Vera highlights trends in criminal justice legislation passed in the previous year and promising practices in the states. These reports share not only the reforms enacted in specific subject matters, such as mandatory sentencing or collateral consequences of criminal conviction, but also distill lessons based on the legislation itself and interviews with relevant stakeholders and experts. These reports serve as valuable guides to policymakers and others interested in pursuing criminal justice reform in their jurisdiction.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) worked with the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) on a multi-year pilot project to help the adult residential and juvenile detention facilities of the Johnson County Department of Corrections (DOC) in Kansas partner with their county sexual assault response team (SART). Vera documented detailed steps for creating such partnerships, along with lessons learned from this project, in Partnering with Community Sexual Assault Response Teams: A Guide for Local Community Confinement and Juvenile Detention Facilities and its accompanying interactive web-based tool, PREAguide.org, released in December 2015.
In 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam established the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, with technical assistance and expert guidance from Vera. The task force was asked to provide policy recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet to reduce recidivism and address Tennessee’s growing prison population. The task force published its final report of its recommendations to the subcabinet and Governor Haslam in September 2015.
Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program launched a project to study the role of indigent defense, commonly known as public defense, for defendants with mental health disorders (MHD) in January 2013. With support from the National Institute of Justice, this work aims to 1) enhance understanding of the challenges faced by indigent defenders and their clients with MHD; 2) improve outcomes for defendants with MHD; and 3) inform the development of guidelines and training materials for defense attorneys that address common challenges to providing indigent defense for people with MHD.