Vera Institute of Justice:
Vera is working to center human dignity and minimize the harms of criminal legal and immigration system involvement that are inflicted on millions in the United States—especially on Black people and communities of color. Our work took on a heightened urgency this year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which people incarcerated in jails, prisons, and detention centers were left largely unprotected.
Protecting a population at risk
In early 2020, as America became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vera mobilized to help protect people in jails, prisons, and detention centers facing extreme risk of infection with no ability to protect themselves. We provided government leaders and advocates with specific recommendations to prevent further transmission of the virus by dramatically slowing arrests, stopping immigration raids, ending unnecessary prosecutions, and reducing jail and prison populations. We developed data tools tracking jail populations to monitor the impact of the criminal legal system’s response and provide accountability. And we shared our extensive guidance and resources with thousands of local, state, and federal officials through blog posts, special reports, webinars, and videos.
Our response work has played a critical role in freeing people:
In New Orleans and Los Angeles, our staff coordinated with advocates and system stakeholders to get people out of jail, contributing to a decline of almost 20 percent in the jail population in both places during the height of the outbreak.
In Houston, we drafted—and judges approved—a new standing bail order mandating release for many offenses. In the weeks immediately following its implementation, the jail population declined by 17 percent.
In Kentucky, which entered the COVID-19 pandemic with the second highest rate of jail admissions in the nation, Vera called for expanding the Kentucky Supreme Court’s mandatory release bail policy in the wake of COVID-19. This policy change reduced the statewide jail population by more than 25 percent during the summer of 2020.
In New York, an early epicenter of the pandemic, Vera released guidance briefs on the urgent need to release people from the state’s prisons and Rikers Island jail. We developed an online data tool—Jail Viz 2.0—that allows users to see in real time who is incarcerated in New York City's jails and why. Advocates, city officials, and even the City’s Board of Correction have told us that they used the tool to track progress on reducing the number of people at Rikers Island. Vera is currently developing a similar tool to track the daily state prison population.
Read the full report