Back to top

Ram Subramanian

"Although jails are the “front door” to mass incarceration, there is not enough data for justice system stakeholders and others to understand how their jail is being used and how it compares with others. To address this issue, Vera researchers developed a data tool that includes the jail population and jail incarceration rate for every U.S. county that uses a local jail … The data revealed that, since 1970, the number of people held in jail has increased from 157,000 to 690,000 in 2014—a more than four-fold increase nationwide, with growth rates highest in the smallest counties. This data also reveals wide variation in incarceration rates and racial disparities among jurisdictions of similar size and thus underlines an essential point: The number of people in jail is largely the result of choices made by policymakers and others in the justice system. The Incarceration Trends tool provides any jurisdiction with the appetite for change the opportunity to better understand its history of jail use and measure its progress toward decarceration" (website). This website provides access to the Incarceration Trend tool for jails, summary, full report, a video tour of the tool with Chris Henrichson, and data and methods. Sections comprising the full report include: introduction; the expanding footprint of local incarceration—a snapshot of the findings—decades of growth, and growth's disparate impacts; understanding growth and disparities; using the Incarnation Trends tool; and conclusion. The Incarceration Trends tool is interactive and illustrates data per 100,000 county residents for: jail incarceration rate change (1970 to 2014); the 2014 jail incarceration rate; Black/African American jail incarceration rate; female jail incarceration rate; jail and prison incarceration rate for California and New York; what is trending in your county—exploring your counties jail data. One interesting finding is that the largest increase in the number of incarcerated individuals is occurring in mid-sized and small counties. Since 1970, local jail populations in mid-sized counties have grown 4.1 percent, small counties 6.9%, and large counties by 2.8%.

Racial Disparities & Dynamics in the Criminal Justice System cover

"Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier communities."

Sections of this report include: gateway to the criminal justice system—what a jail is; decades of growth; portrait of the jailed (mental illness); costs and consequences—worse case outcomes and decreased public safety, differential racial impact, accumulation of criminal justice debt, declining health, and harm to families and communities; diagnosing Los Angeles County's overcrowded jails; six key decision points that influence the use and size of jails—arrest (Broken Windows policing, and alternatives to arrest and detention), charge (in lieu of prosecution, and right-sizing the Jail in New Orleans), pretrial release and bail (what risk assessment is, facilitating pretrial release, and diversion and release opportunities during the typical criminal case trajectory flowchart), case processing (case processing reforms), disposition and sentencing (investing in alternative dispositions, and reentry and community supervision (using administrative data to prioritize jail reentry services, and improving community supervision and restructuring criminal justice debt); and conclusion. This website provides access to the full report, report summary, and a very good infographic.

Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America Cover

“Since 2000, at least 29 states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences, with 32 bills passed in just the last five years. Most legislative activity has focused on adjusting penalties for nonviolent drug offenses through the use of one or a combination of the following reform approaches: 1) expanding judicial discretion through the creation of so-called “safety value” provisions, 2) limiting automatic sentence enhancements, and 3) repealing or revising mandatory minimum sentences. In this policy report, Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections summarizes state-level mandatory sentencing reforms since 2000, raises questions about their impact, and offers recommendations to jurisdictions considering similar efforts.” This report contains these sections: introduction; background; new approaches to mandatory sentences; the impact of reforms; research and policy considerations; and future directions.

Playbook for Change Cover

This study 'demonstrated that there is not always a discernible relationship between population and spend'ing shifts from one part of the system to another. Policy changes that aim to cut spending on prisons do not necessarily have the expected impact on community corrections populations or spending. Larger fiscal realities, other legislative changes, and factors outside of policymakers' control can upset predictions of a policy's impact' (p. 2). Sections contained in this report include: introduction; methodology; summary of findings'prison populations and expenditures, and community corrections populations and expenditures; and conclusion'policy implications and fiscal realities. An appendix covers the structure of community corrections.

Realigning Justice Resources: A Review of Population and Spending Shifts in Prison and Community Corrections cover

"In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy" (p. 4). Sections of this report include: about this report; introduction; reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting the reentry of offenders into the community; making better informed criminal justice policy; and conclusion. Two appendixes provide information about: sentencing and corrections legislation by state, 2013; and sentencing and corrections by reform type, 2013.

Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends Cover

"For millions of Americans, the legal and life-restricting consequences of a criminal conviction continue even after they’ve repaid their debt to society as barriers to voting, housing, jobs, education, and a raft of social services limit their ability to provide for their families and successfully reenter society. In recognition of the damaging effects these collateral consequences can have, 41 states have enacted legislation since 2009 that allows certain individuals to move beyond their convictions. This report reviews that legislative activity, discusses the limitations of current approaches, and offers recommendations to states and localities considering similar reforms." Sections of this report include: introduction; background; new approaches to collateral consequences—expungement and sealing remedies, certificated of recovery, offense downgrades, building relief into the criminal justice process, ameliorating employment-related collateral consequences, access to information, and addressing discrete collateral consequences (i.e., housing, immigration, health care, family issues, financial health, education, public assistance, enfranchisement, sex offender registries, and driving privileges); limitations of reform; recommendations; and conclusion. Appendixes provide these tables: Collateral Consequences Reform Legislation by Year, 2009-2014; Collateral Consequences Reform Legislation by State, 2009-2014; Discrete Collateral Consequences Reform Legislation, 2009-2014; and Collateral Consequences Reform Legislation by Reform Type, 2009-2014. This website provides access to the full report, summary, and related infographic.

Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 2009-2014 Cover

"Segregated housing, commonly known as solitary confinement, is increasingly being recognized in the United States as a human rights issue. While the precise number of people held in segregated housing on any given day is not known with any certainty, estimates run to more than 80,000 in state and federal prisons—which is surely an undercount as these do not include people held in solitary confinement in jails, military facilities, immigration detention centers, or juvenile justice facilities. Evidence mounts that the practice produces many unwanted and harmful outcomes—for the mental and physical health of those placed in isolation, for the public safety of the communities to which most will return, and for the corrections budgets of jurisdictions that rely on it for facility safety. Yet solitary confinement remains a mainstay of prison management and control in the U.S. largely because many policymakers, corrections officials, and members of the general public still subscribe to some or all of the common misconceptions and misguided justifications addressed in this report." The most common misconceptions are corrected while describing some of the promising alternatives that reduce the use of solitary confinement. The ten misconceptions are: conditions in segregated housing are stark but not inhumane; segregated housing is reserved only for the most violent; segregated housing is used only as a last resort; segregated housing is used only for brief periods of time; the harmful effects of segregated housing are overstated and not well understood; segregated housing helps keep prisons and jails safer; segregated housing deters misbehavior and violence; segregated housing is the only way to protect the vulnerable; safe alternatives to segregated housing are expensive; and incarcerated people are rarely released directly to the community from segregated housing. Also included is a copy of the Washington State Department of Corrections "Prison Sanctioning Guidelines: Violation Categories and Range of Sanction Options" (current as of 5/7/15). The grid shows general and serious violation sanction options for the first offense, second offense, third offense, and the maximum ranges of sanction.

Solitary Confinement Cover

“As the size and cost of jails and prisons have grown, so too has the awareness that public investment in incarceration has not yielded the expected return on public safety. Today, in the United States, an opportunity exists to reexamine the wisdom of our reliance on institutional corrections—incarceration in prisons or jails—and to reconsider the role of community-based corrections, which encompasses probation, parole, and pretrial supervision … States and counties are moving to shift the burden from institutional to community corrections, sending greater numbers of offenders to supervision agencies with heightened expectations of success but often without the additional resources necessary to do the job that is being asked of them … There is considerable variability within and across states in the way community corrections is organized and financed. Agency responsibilities and accountability also differ” (p. 2). Since this report explains what the current state of and emerging strategies for community corrections, anyone working to strengthen the field or seeking to understand the potential of community corrections to reduce the recidivism of offenders should read this report. Sections cover: what community corrections is; its current state; emerging best practices; current practices that need more research; recent policy changes in community corrections; and moving forward—recommendations to the field.

The Potential of Community Corrections Cover
Subscribe to Ram Subramanian