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Incarceration's Front Door: Misuse of Jails in America, Vera Institute, 2015

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Incarceration’s Front Door:
The Misuse of Jails in America



Ram Subramanian • Ruth Delaney • Stephen Roberts • Nancy Fishman • Peggy McGarry

Incarceration’s Front Door addresses what is arguably one of the chief drivers of difficulty in
our troubled criminal justice system: jails.
The report’s encyclopedic examination of jail use—who’s in jail and the myriad paths leading there—is meant to inform. But it should also unnerve and incite us to action. As Vera’s
president, I observe injustice routinely. Nonetheless even I—as this report came together—
was jolted by the extent to which unconvicted people in this country are held in jail simply
because they are too poor to pay what it costs to get out. I was startled by the numbers
of people detained for behavior that stems primarily from mental illness, homelessness, or
addiction. I was dismayed by how even a brief stay in jail can be destructive to individuals,
their families, and entire communities. And I’ve been at this work for a while now.
I suspect that many readers will come to this report thinking that jail is reserved only for
those too dangerous to be released while awaiting trial or those deemed likely to flee rather
than face prosecution. Indeed, jails are necessary for some people. Yet too often we see
ordinary people, some even our neighbors, held for minor violations such as driving with
a suspended license, public intoxication, or shoplifting because they cannot afford bail as
low as $500. Single parents may lose custody of their children, sole wage-earners in families,
their jobs—while all of us, the taxpayers, pay for them to stay in jail.
Incarceration’s Front Door reviews the research and interrogates the data from a wide range
of sources to open a window on the widespread misuse of jails in America. It also draws on
Vera’s long experience in the field and examples from jurisdictions of different sizes and
compositions to suggest how the negative consequences of this misuse can be mitigated.
Indeed, this report marks a bittersweet homecoming for Vera as our very first project was
The Manhattan Bail Project, which showed that many, if not most, people accused of committing a crime can be relied on to appear in court without having to post bail or be held
until trial. The lessons we learned and shared in 1961 have not stuck nearly enough.
As the report makes clear, jails are all around us—in nearly every town and city. Yet too few
of us know who’s there or why they are there or what can be done to improve them. I hope
that Incarceration’s Front Door provides the critical insight to inspire you to find out more.

Nicholas Turner
President and Director
Vera Institute of Justice




Gateway to the criminal justice system


Decades of growth

11	 Portrait of the jailed
12	 Costs and consequences
Six key decision points that influence the use
and size of jails
20	Arrest
25	Charge

Pretrial release and bail


Case processing


Disposition and sentencing


Reentry and community supervision

46	Conclusion
48	Endnotes



Gateway to the criminal
justice system
Though there is hardly a town without one or a big city without several, jails
are rarely on the radar of most Americans. There are more than 3,000 jails in
the United States, holding 731,000 people on any given day—more than the
population of Detroit and nearly as many people as live in San Francisco.1 This
number, high as it may be, is only a one-day snapshot. In the course of a typical
year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—equivalent to the populations
of Los Angeles and New York City combined and nearly 19 times the annual
admissions to state and federal prisons.2 Although in common parlance jails are
often confused with prisons—the state or federal institutions where most of
those convicted of crimes and given a sentence of imprisonment are sent—jails

are locally run facilities, primarily holding people arrested but not yet convicted, and are the place where most people land immediately following arrest.
Jails are the gateway to the formal criminal justice system in a country that
holds more people in custody than any other country on the planet.3
Intended to house only 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. Most
jail inmates—three out of five people—are legally presumed innocent, awaiting

Locked up: Annual admissions
Jails have a much broader reach than prisons. Although state and federal
prisons hold about twice the number of people on any given day than jails do,
jails have almost 19 times the number of annual admissions than prisons do.


Local jails

State & federal prisons




trial or resolution of their cases through plea negotiation in facilities that are
often overcrowded, noisy, and chaotic.4 (See Figure 1.) While jails do hold people
accused of serious, violent crimes, nearly 75 percent of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property,
drug, or public order offenses.5 In New York City, for example, nearly 50 percent of
cases which resulted in some jail time were for misdemeanors or lesser charges.6
In Los Angeles County, a study of the jail system in 2008 by the Vera Institute of
Justice (Vera) found that the single largest group booked into the jail consisted of
people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.7
Although most defendants admitted to jail over the course of a year are
released within hours or days, rather than weeks or months, even a short stay
in jail is more than an inconvenience. Being detained is often the beginning of
a journey through the criminal justice system that can take many wrong turns.
Just a few 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 those who enter—making jail a
gateway to deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system at considerable costs to the people involved and to society at large. These
costs are also borne by their families and communities, depressing economies,
contributing to increased crime, and breaking familial and social bonds. For the
disproportionately high number of those who enter jails from minority communities, or who suffer from mental illness, addiction, and homelessness, time
spent in jail exacerbates already difficult conditions and puts many on a cycle
of incarceration from which it is extremely difficult to break free.
Recent criminal justice reform efforts have focused in the main on reducing
the number of people in state prisons.8 Prompted by ballooning state corrections budgets and a plummeting crime rate, policymakers across the political
spectrum have been willing to re-examine the punitive policies that relied on
incarceration as a principal crime control strategy.9 This new policy environment has also been encouraged and buoyed by consistent public opinion polls
that show most Americans support alternatives to incarceration—particularly
for nonviolent offenses—and research demonstrating that certain types of
law-breakers can be safely and more effectively supervised in the community.10
Given the complex role jails play in compounding the manifold negative
consequences of mass incarceration in America—well acknowledged today on
both sides of the aisle—local policymakers and their constituents interested in
reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier communities might do well to take a hard look at how the jail in their city
or county is used. To help foster public debate and action by public officials,
this report offers an overview of the nation’s misuse of jails. It examines the
characteristics of the people who typically cycle in and out of jails; some of the
key policies that contributed to the rise in the use of jail; and the impact of jail
incarceration on individuals, families, and communities. It also looks at key
decision points where strategies can be adopted to decrease the misuse of jails
within the American criminal justice system.

Figure 1: Convicted
and unconvicted jail
inmates, 2013

38% Convicted
62% Unconvicted

Source: Todd D. Minton and Daniela Golinelli,
Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013 - Statistical Tables.
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2014), appendix table 3, p. 11



The history of jails in English-speaking countries, including
America, can be traced back to twelfth-century England during
the reign of King Henry II who ordered their construction and
placed them under the control of the crown’s local government representative, the county sheriff. Their primary purpose was to detain people awaiting
trial and those convicted but awaiting punishment. The earliest reference to
jails in the United States is to the construction of a “people pen” in 1632 in
prerevolutionary Boston. Mirroring the brutal British penal codes and practices of the day, the dominant form of criminal punishment in colonial America
was corporal—with serious crimes punishable by death, physical mutilation,
branding, or whipping, and lesser offenses by public ridicule and humiliation
through the use of the stocks, the pillory, the public cage, or the ducking stool.
But with the conversion of Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail into the country’s
first penitentiary in 1790—as part of penal reform championed by the Quakers—incarceration as punishment soon became the default response for serious law-breaking and with it the modern prison system was born.a
Today jails are, with few exceptions, municipal or county-level confinement
facilities that are administered by local law enforcement agencies or departments of correction.b Like their historical antecedents they are used to detain
people awaiting trial who are deemed a flight risk or a danger to public safety. But many also house a range of other people caught up in the criminal
system as described below. Jails range in size from small “lock-ups” that
hold no more than a handful of people to networks of facilities, such as the
eight jails in Los Angeles County that house approximately 20,000 inmates.c
Their costs are mainly paid for by a municipality or county with reimbursements sometimes coming from the state or federal governments.
Unlike state prisons, which almost exclusively hold people serving state
sentences, jail populations are heterogeneous, making them particularly
challenging to manage.
Jails may house:
>>Pretrial detainees held from the time they are arrested until they
post bail, are released on their own recognizance or to some form of
pretrial community supervision, or until the cases against them are
settled by trial or plea.
>>Locally sentenced inmates convicted of minor crimes for which they
have received short custodial sentences, typically a year or less but
longer in some states.d
>>State sentenced inmates convicted of more serious crimes awaiting transfer to a state prison or assigned to serve their sentence in a



local facility due to prison overcrowding. Local jurisdictions are paid
to house these overflow inmates. This latter trend is most significant
in California, where the state department of correction is under court
order to reduce crowding in prisons.e
>>Apprehended probation violators who are either awaiting a hearing
on an alleged violation of the terms of their supervision in the community, or serving the remainder of their sentence in local confinement.
>>Apprehended parole violators awaiting a hearing on an alleged
violation or transfer back to state prison.
>>Pretrial federal detainees awaiting trial on federal charges, in jurisdictions where no federal detention beds are available. Local jurisdictions are paid to house these inmates.
>>Apprehended pretrial or sentenced inmates from other jurisdictions awaiting transfer or housed at the jail due to unavailability of
beds in the other state or local jurisdiction.
>>Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees held at the
request of the U.S. government pending adjudication of immigration
violations or deportation. Local jurisdictions are paid to house these
For a brief overview of the history of jails, see
Six states—Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont—do not have
locally-run jails and instead run unified correctional systems, meaning that both prisons and jails
are under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Corrections. See Barbara Krauth, A Review
of the Jail Function within State Unified Corrections Systems (1997), 2,
Library/014024.pdf, p. 2.
Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project, (New York:
NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2011), i.
Individuals sentenced to a jail rather than a prison sentence are usually convicted of a misdemeanor—a low-level criminal offense that typically has no more than a maximum custodial
sentence of a year. Some states, such as Texas, allow jail sentences for certain felony offenders
(known as “state jail felonies”), while in other states, such as Pennsylvania, certain types of misdemeanors expose individuals to incarceration of more than one year.
See Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011).

Decades of growth
By every measure, the scale at which jails operate has grown dramatically over
the past three decades. The number of annual admissions nearly doubled, from
six million in 1983 to 11.7 million in 2013.11 While there are no national data on
how many unique individuals these admissions represent, data from Chicago
and New York City suggest that a small minority is responsible for upwards of
one-half of all admissions to jail—that is, some people return to jail over and
over. In Chicago, 21 percent of the people admitted to jail between 2007 and
2011 accounted for 50 percent of all admissions.12 In New York City, from 2008



through mid-year 2013, just shy of 500 people were admitted to jail 18 times
or more, accounting for more than 10,000 jail admissions and 300,000 days
in jail.13 The number of people in jail on any given day has also climbed—from
224,000 people in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013, the latest year for which data are

Jail’s revolving door in New York City, 2008 - 2013

473 people were admitted
to jail 18 times or more:
> 85% charged with misdemeanor or violation
> 21% had a serious mental illness
> 99.4% had a substance use disorder

Accounting for
more than


jail admissions



and more than

days in jail

The rate of confinement (that is, the proportion of the population in jail at any
one time) also rose markedly over roughly the same time: increasing from 96
per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1983 to a peak of 259 per 100,000 in 2007.15 The rate
has since declined to 231 per 100,000 in 2013.16 This growth in the confinement
rate continued for years after crime rates started to decline (see Figure 2.) Both



Figure 2: Crime and jail rates per 100,000
Key: Jail Property Crime Violent Crime

















Source: For jail rates, see Craig A. Perkins, James J. Stephan, and Allen J. Beck, Jails and Jail Inmates: 1993-94.
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995); Allen
J. Beck and Jennifer C. Karberg, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2000. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001); Todd D. Minton and Daniela Golinelli,
Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013 - Statistical Tables. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014); and for crime rates, see Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics - UCR Data
Online at


Arrest rate
(per 100,000)













jail use tracks the rise of drug
crime enforcement. From 1981
until 2006, when they peaked,
total drug arrests more than
tripled, from 560,000 to 1.9 million, and the drug arrest rate (per
100,000) grew 160 percent. The
share of people in jail accused
or convicted of a drug crime
increased sharply in the 1980s,


violent and property crime rates peaked in 1991 and have been declining steadily ever since—nationally, violent crime is down 49 percent from its highest
point more than 20 years ago and property crime is down 44 percent.17
While the country has continued to grow safer—at least by the most common measures of public safety—an ever-larger proportion of the population is
being sent to jail, though reFigure 3: Drug arrests, 1981–2012
search demonstrates that there is
little causal connection between
improved public safety and an
increased use of incarceration.18
Total arrests
Notably, much of this growth in

Source: Howard N. Snyder, and Joseph Mulako-Wangota, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
With underlying data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the information
presented in this figure was generated using the Arrest Data Analysis Tool at



Figure 4: Drug defendants and inmates as share of
jail populations





Source: For the 1983 drug share, see Allen J. Beck, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1989 (Washington,
DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991);
and for 2002, see Doris J. James, Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002 (Washington, DC: US Department
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004).

from nine percent in 1983 to 23 percent in 1989, and has hovered there ever
since (see Figures 3 and 4).19
Not only are more people ending up in jail, those who get there are spending
more time behind bars. The length of stay increased from an average of 14 days
in 1983 to 23 days in 2013.20 Although the national data on length of stay do not
distinguish between those held pretrial and those sentenced to a term in jail,
this increase is nevertheless a significant and worrisome trend. Moreover, since
the proportion of jail inmates that are being held pretrial has grown substantially in the last thirty years—from about 40 to 62 percent—it is highly likely
that the increase in the average length of stay is largely driven by longer stays
in jails by people who are unconvicted of any crime.

Length of stay in jails
Average length of stay in days has been increasing over the past 30 years.









Wherever possible, the authors of this report support their
analysis of the current state of jails in the United States with
reference to the latest available national data—most of which are collected by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
The BJS releases jail reports with statistical tables annually as part of its
Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear series. These reports include data on
jail capacities, population counts, and demographic breakdowns. They do
not, however, include more detailed data on such topics as the severity of
charges or the prevalence of mental health issues. The last time the BJS
released data on these topics was in 2002 in its Survey of Inmates in Local
Jails, a detailed survey of a sample of nationally representative jail inmates.
These surveys were conducted in five-to-seven year intervals from 1972
through 2002, but have not been conducted since. This report includes
figures from the latest survey where the survey’s findings are still relevant
and more recent figures are not available. The authors also draw attention
to data from local jurisdictions when doing so can illuminate an issue or a
notable trend.

Portrait of the jailed
While jails still serve their historical purpose of detaining those awaiting trial
or sentencing who are either a danger to public safety or a flight risk, they have
come to hold many who are neither. Underlying the behavior that lands someone in jail, there is often a history of substance abuse, mental
Figure 5: Racial disparities
illness, poverty, failure in school, and victimization. Sixty-eight
percent of people in jail have a history of abusing drugs, alcohol, or both.21 Forty-seven percent of jail inmates have not
graduated from high school or passed the General Educational
Development (GED) test.22
Nationally, African Americans are jailed at almost four times
the rate of white Americans.23 Despite making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans account for 36
percent of the jail population (see Figure 5).24 Locally, disparities
can be even starker: in New York City, for example, blacks are
jailed at nearly 12 times the rate of whites and Latinos more
than five times the rate of whites.25
Among the many disadvantaged people in jails, the largest
group by far is people with a mental illness. Jails have been described as the “treatment of last resort” for those who are menSource: Todd D. Minton and Daniela Golinelli, Jail Inmates at
Midyear 2013 - Statistical Tables (Washington, DC: US Department
tally ill and as “de facto mental hospitals” because they fill the
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
vacuum created by the shuttering of state psychiatric hospitals
2014) and United States Census Bureau of the Census “QuickFacts.”



Mental illness and substance
use disorders in jails





Serious mental illnesses

72% of
people in
jail with a serious
mental illness also
have a substance
use disorder.

all jail


Diagnosable substance use disorders


and other efforts to deinstitutionalize people with serious mental
illness during the 1970s, which occurred without creating adequate
resources to care for those displaced in the community.26
Serious mental illness, which includes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression, affects an estimated 14.5 percent of men
and 31 percent of women in jails—rates that are four to six times higher than in the general population.27 According to the BJS, 60 percent of
jail inmates reported having had symptoms of a mental health disorder in the prior twelve months.28 People with serious mental illnesses
are often poor, homeless, and likely to have co-occurring substance use
disorders and, thus when untreated, are far more prone to the kinds
of public order offenses and minor crimes that have been the focus of
law enforcement in recent years and have helped swell jail populations. 29
The prevalence of people with mental illness in jail is at odds with

the design, operation, and resources in most jails. Characterized by
constant noise, bright lights, an ever-changing population, and an
atmosphere of threat and violence, most jails are unlikely to offer
any respite for people with mental illness. Coupled with the near-absence of mental health treatment, time in jail is likely to mean
further deterioration in their illness. According to the latest available
data, 83 percent of jail inmates with mental illness did not receive
mental health care after admission.30 The lack of treatment in a chaotic environment contributes to a worsening state of illness and is a
major reason why those with mental illness in jail are more likely to
be placed in solitary confinement, either as punishment for breaking
rules or for their own protection since they are also more likely to be
While most people with serious mental illness in jails, both men and
women, enter jail charged with minor, nonviolent crimes, they end up
staying in jail for longer periods of time. In Los Angeles, for example,
Vera found that users of the Department of Mental Health’s services
on average spent more than twice as much time in custody than did
the general custodial population—43 days and 18 days respectively.32

Costs and consequences
The growth of jails has been costly in many ways, contributing little,
if at all, to the enhancement of public safety. From 1982 to 2011, local
expenditures on corrections—largely building and running jails—increased nearly 235 percent.33 The increasing direct costs of operating
jails, however, are matched by the indirect costs and consequences of
jailing people who do not need to be there or holding them for longer than necessary. These consequences—in lost wages, worsening


For people with mental illness in jail, their illness is often
at the center of several interrelated problems. A BJS study
published in 2006—the most recent national study of its kind—showed
that people with mental illness in jail are more likely than others to experience homelessness, unemployment, and substance abuse.a
>>Seventeen percent of people with mental illness in jail were homeless
in the year before their arrest, compared to nine percent of the rest of
the jail population.
>>Nearly a third of the people in jail with mental illness were unemployed in the month before arrest, compared to less than a quarter of
the rest of the jail population.
>>Thirty-four percent of people with mental illness in jail were using
drugs at the time of their arrest compared to 20 percent of the rest of
the jail population. Fifteen percent of people with mental illness were
using both drugs and alcohol at the time of their arrest compared to
seven percent of the rest of the jail population.
Doris J. James and Lauren Glaze, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates (Washington,
DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006), p.4.

physical and mental health, possible loss of custody of children, a job, or a place
to live—harm those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities. Ultimately, these consequences are corrosive and costly for everyone
because no matter how disadvantaged people are when they enter jail, they are
likely to emerge with their lives further destabilized and, therefore, less able to
be healthy, contributing members of society.34
Of the more than $60 billion spent annually on correctional institutions, $22.2
billion, or about one third, is spent by local jurisdictions.35 Even this figure fails
to capture the true costs of jails to local jurisdictions, as money spent on jails—
for pension plans for staff for example, or healthcare for inmates—often comes
out of the budget of non-correctional agencies. Cities and counties have to cover
most costs themselves, drawing on the same pool of tax revenue that supports
schools, transportation, and an array of other public services.36



Figure 6: Pretrial detention and sentencing
Compared to low-risk defendants released prior to trial,
those detained before trial were…
…more likely to
receive a sentence
of imprisonment

…more likely to
be given a longer
prison sentence



more likely


Source: Christopher Lowenkamp, Marie VanNostrand, and Alexander
M. Holsinger, Investigating the Impact of Pretrial Detention on Sentencing
Outcomes (New York: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013).

Figure 7: Pretrial detention and reoffending
Compared to low-risk defendants held for no more than
24 hours, those held for 8-14 days were...
…more likely
to be rearrested
before trial

…more likely to
recidivate after
sentence completion



Source: Christopher Lowenkamp, Marie VanNostrand, and Alexander M.
Holsinger, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detentions.
(New York: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013).



Recent research supported by the Laura and John
Arnold Foundation on people held in jail pending the
resolution of the charge(s) against them (commonly
referred to as “pretrial detention”)—with data drawn
from counties in two states in different parts of the
country—has reignited interest in pretrial policies
and practices. Researchers found that even a relatively
short period in jail pretrial—as few as two days—correlates with negative outcomes for defendants and for
public safety when compared to those defendants released within 24 hours. While results varied by length
of detention and risk level, in virtually every catego-

ry, those detained were more likely to be rearrested
before trial, to receive a sentence of imprisonment,
to be given a longer term of imprisonment, and to recidivate after sentence completion (see Figures 6 and
7). The probabilities were especially high for low-risk
individuals and for those held for their entire pretrial
period and remained true even when researchers controlled for relevant factors including risk level, supervision status, offense type, offense level, time at risk in
the community, demographics, and other factors.37
Earlier research had noted that those held pretrial may be more likely to receive custodial as well as
longer sentences because defendants already in jail
receive and accept less favorable plea agreements and
do not have the leverage to press for better ones.38 In
the Arnold Foundation study, however, the harsher
sentences held even for those detained for only a few
days (and who, therefore, did have the freedom to hold
out for a more favorable offer from prosecutors). For
the much smaller number of defendants who go to
trial, research has found that jurors tend to view defendants brought to court in jail uniforms and shackles as guilty regardless of the merits of the case.39 For
policymakers interested in reducing incarceration at
both the state and local levels, this research has major
implications: reducing detention, especially for lowand medium-risk defendants, can help reduce incarceration by lowering recidivism and prison terms.

Community-level consequences of incarceration are most evident in African
American and Latino communities whose members are disproportionately represented in jails across the country. While blacks and Latinos combined make
up 30 percent of the general population, they are 51 percent of the jail population.40 This disparity is caused by myriad and interconnected factors, including
policing practices that concentrate law enforcement activities in low-income,
minority communities, combined with the socio-economic disadvantages
experienced by residents in those neighborhoods.41 Black males, in particular,
are arrested at a younger age and at higher rates than their white counterparts,
often giving them a longer “rap” sheet regardless of the charges or the eventual
dispositions of the cases.42 Schools in minority neighborhoods are more likely to
have law enforcement officers on site and to embrace “zero tolerance” policies.43
“Stop, question, and frisk” policies have been shown to target young men of

color, especially black men.44 Black men are also more likely to be arrested for
drug crimes despite similar rates of use when compared to whites.45 With arrest
records on file at earlier ages, subsequent contacts with police result in more
severe case outcomes as these young men come of age.46
Black men are also disproportionately held pretrial as a result of an inability
to post monetary bail. Although their bail amounts are similar to bail amounts
set for whites, black men appear to be caught in a cycle of disadvantage.
Because they are incarcerated at higher rates they are more likely to be unemployed and/or in debt, resulting in more trouble posting bail.47
Moreover, these disparities persist at sentencing. Black men in the state
and federal justice systems tend to receive longer sentences than their white
counterparts convicted of similar crimes—differences that become more pronounced as the severity of sentences increase.48

Many jails, courts, and other criminal justice agencies charge for the services
they provide, including jails that charge for clothing and laundry, room and
board, medical care, rehabilitative programming, and even core functions such
as booking.49 In addition, most jails have contracts with private telephone and
video conferencing companies that charge higher rates to inmates than they do
in the community.50 While each individual fee may be small, they add up. Some
people have been required to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees.51 Even
when jurisdictions offer payment plans, they often include surcharges and
other fees.52 Add to this child support payments, credit card debt, rent, and other
living expenses that can accumulate during incarceration—often with late
charges or compounded interested tacked on—the financial picture for many
leaving jail is very bleak.
Moreover, fees may continue to accrue after release. If convicted, an individual may be ordered to pay restitution; if sentenced to probation or court-ordered
programming or treatment, a person may also have to pay supervision fees plus



the programming costs.53 For many, these payments are impossible to make:
people who spend more than a few days in jail, and who often work at lowwage jobs to begin with, risk losing their jobs and may find getting new ones
extremely challenging, especially if they have supervision and programming
obligations that interfere with the work day.54 This, in turn, increases their vulnerability to being incarcerated again. In Florida, for example, agencies expect
to collect only nine percent of fines and fees assessed.55
Although debtors prisons were formerly abolished in the United States
almost two hundred years ago, many people today are returned to jail for
non-payment of fines and fees.56 Although the use of incarceration for failure
to pay a debt is unconstitutional absent evidence that a person willfully refuses
despite an ability to pay (and that alternative punitive measures are unavailable), there are no specific guidelines for how judges should evaluate a defendant’s ability to pay, resulting in both inconsistency in the application of this
rule, and a risk that people are returned to custody simply for being poor. 57

According to one study that examined prison and jail incarceration together,
individuals who do manage to find work after release earn less on average than
their counterparts who have never been incarcerated.58 Among formerly incarcerated men in that study—two-thirds of whom were employed before being
incarcerated—hourly wages decreased by 11 percent, annual employment by
nine weeks, and annual earnings by 40 percent as a result of time spent in jail
or prison (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8: Incarceration reduces earnings power
Estimated effect of incarceration on male wages, weeks worked annually,
and annual earnings, predicted at age 45

48 weeks

39 weeks




If Not



If Not



If Not



Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility (Washington, DC:
The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010).



Public benefit programs may not be able to help. For those who were receiving or were eligible for benefits like food stamps or Medicaid, a jail stay can
cause a suspension or termination of that support.59 Suspended benefits can be
more easily restarted upon release, whereas terminated benefits can take years
to reinstate.60 Even a short gap in benefits, however, can have serious consequences for the large number of people leaving jail who have debt, little or no
income from work, and may also have a chronic illness—an end result that is
particularly disproportionate when people are accused of non-serious offenses,
such as a traffic or ordinance violation.
Housing can also be a challenge for people jailed for even a short period of
time. Those in debt may find it impossible to afford market-rate housing, and,
much like employers, many landlords are unwilling to rent to someone with
a criminal record (of arrest or conviction or both). Staying with family members can also be problematic, especially if they live in public housing as many
local public housing authorities ban, at least temporarily, those with a criminal
record.61 A survey in Baltimore found that people who have spent time in jail or
prison are much less likely to hold a lease or mortgage after release than they
were prior to being confined.62 Another study showed that people are far more
likely to become homeless for some period following release from jail, even
when the charges are dismissed.63

Given high levels of need and the constant churning of their population, most
jails struggle to deliver health care that meets minimally accepted standards of
care in the community. This is particularly critical as people in jail report high
rates of medical problems.64 Moreover, conditions in jail—especially crowding
and poor sanitation—can be especially harmful to the many in custody with
chronic health problems, particularly mental illness, and facilitate the spread
of contagious diseases.65 The greater prevalence of contagious diseases in jails
affects both the families and communities to which those incarcerated there return.66 Since most people do not stay in jail for very long, it is difficult to provide
them adequate care while incarcerated or to connect them to treatment in the
community upon release.67 Lack of continuity of care is likely a large part of the
reason why people with mental illness tend to cycle in and out of jail.

Families and communities also suffer from the misuse of jails. For families, the
consequences are manifold—financial, structural, and emotional. Communities
where rates of incarceration are high tend to experience declines in social and
economic well-being as well as in public safety.68
Families face considerable financial consequences when a member goes to
jail. They may have to pool limited family resources to post bail or to pay for jail
telephone calls and other services, and they may experience a loss of income or
housing when the incarcerated person was the primary earner or leaseholder.



To some degree, every family— regardless of socio-economic circumstances—
is temporarily broken apart when a member is jailed, with the consequences
most pronounced when the jailed person has children. In particular, when
mothers go to jail, their children are more likely to experience a change in caregiver or to enter foster care.69 A study of mothers in Illinois’ Cook County Jail
found that those whose children entered foster care upon their incarceration
were half as likely to reunite with their children upon release when compared
to non-incarcerated mothers with children in foster care.70
Jails can make conditions in already struggling communities worse. Jail admissions tend to be concentrated in neighborhoods with elevated rates of poverty, crime, and racial segregation, and low rates of educational attainment and
employment—and which are also often heavily policed.71 In turn, high rates of
incarceration further destabilize these communities, often leading to increased
rates of crime and even higher levels of police enforcement.72

Six key decision points that
influence the use and size of jails

How and why so
many people cycle
through jails is the
result of decisions
dispersed among
largely autonomous
system actors.

Although there is new appetite for reducing America’s reliance on incarceration, scaling back jail populations will be a complicated task. How and why
so many people cycle through jails is the result of decisions dispersed among
largely autonomous system actors—which together make up one system of
incarceration. These include the police who choose to arrest, release, or book
people into jail; prosecutors who determine whether to charge or divert arrested persons; pretrial services program providers who make custody and release
recommendations; judges, magistrates, or bail commissioners who decide
whom to detain or release, and under what conditions; other court actors, from
attorneys and judges to administrators, whose action or inaction can accelerate
or delay pending cases; and community corrections agencies who choose how
and when to respond to persons who violate their conditions of supervision
in the community. Release and detention decisions may also depend on the
existence of critical community services that can provide the supports needed
to keep people charged with crimes out of custody.
Given that all of these actors may be driven by contradictory goals or incentives and may operate with varying degrees of knowledge of, or enthusiasm for,
alternatives to jail incarceration, it can be very difficult to align or coordinate
their efforts to ensure that jails are used only when absolutely necessary to
serve the public good. But it’s not impossible.
New York City provides a good example of how changes in local system
practices across agencies can work in concert to reduce the number of people
in custody. New York substantially decreased its jail and prison (as well as
community corrections) populations between 2000 and 2009, primarily as a
result of changes in policy and practice around arrest and the use of alterna-


tives to incarceration and other diversion programs, requiring in tandem policy
changes across the police department, the courts, and district attorneys’ offices.
Throughout that period, the crime rate in the city continued to fall.73
Because jail admissions and length of stay—the two main determinants of
jail populations—are a function of decisions made by multiple criminal justice
system actors at the local level, opportunities can and do arise along the trajectory of a typical individual case to prevent a person from going to jail unnecessarily or to release him or her as soon as safely possible. However, in practice,
seizing the opportunity at any given point can be challenging and will require
some coordination among system actors since their actions in large part depend on information provided or action taken by others in the system.

“Bigger and more expensive jails aren’t the only solution,”
noted a 2012 Los Angeles Times editorial titled “LA County
Jails: What’s the Fix?”a The editorial drew on Vera’s analysis
of Los Angeles County jails and the systems that fill them.
Los Angeles County is the largest county in the United States, and it also
operates the largest jail system. Eight jails are fed by 88 municipalities with
47 law enforcement agencies, and more than 30 courthouses with more
than 400 judges. In 2009, the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office
and its Criminal Justice Coordination Committee contracted with Vera to
study persistent overcrowding in the jails and make recommendations for
safely and efficiently alleviating it.
Understanding this complex operation and the problem of overcrowding
began with an analysis of administrative data from nine agencies involving
the 800,000 cases booked into the county jail system in 2007 and 2008.
Vera reviewed policies, procedures, and practices from the agencies that
influence the size of the jail population (including police departments, the
courts, the prosecutor and public defender offices, the probation department, the state corrections and parole agencies, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department), convened focus groups and meetings and conducted
more than 100 confidential interviews.
Over the course of two years, researchers matched information from the
nine major databases to track the progress of more than 54,000 cases from
arrest to disposition within that time frame. The study analyzed the flow of
people into and out of jail and through the court process. Through analysis
of individual cases and large administrative data sets, the researchers created profiles of typical offenders and identified trends in jail usage. Their
analysis also revealed key decision points that influence the size of the jail
population, as well as bottlenecks that cause delays that keep people in jail
longer than necessary.



On the basis of this analysis, Vera issued a final report to the county that
reviewed the issues and challenges identified and made 39 recommendations—that ranged from pretrial screening and bail schedules to the integration of key databases—to reduce jail crowding and improve the effectiveness of the justice system.b In particular, the report detailed the many
obstacles to effective responses to people with mental illness caught up in
the criminal justice system and the lack of diversion options.
Editorial Board, “L.A. County’s broken jails: What’s the fix?” Los Angeles Times,
January 30, 2012.
Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project: Final Report
(New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2011).

Six key decision points—arrest, charge, pretrial release/bail, case processing,
disposition and sentencing, and supervision and reentry—are explored in the

sections that follow through an analysis of who is involved, what typically happens, and what could happen otherwise to reduce jail incarceration through the
implementation of strategic reforms.


Even when a police
officer feels that
justify an arrest,
that decision does
not have to open the
door to jail.

Arrest is a person’s entry point into the criminal justice system. An incident occurs and law enforcement—the police or sheriff’s department—is called to the
scene, or there is an interaction with or observation by law enforcement in the
course of regular duties, such as a traffic stop or a street encounter.
What happens at arrest is an important determinant of the flow and number of accused persons who enter jail. The police have several choices when
responding to reported or observed criminal activity. They decide whether to
decline intervention; whether an arrest, summons, or verbal warning is warranted; or whether to refer an individual to services outside the criminal justice
system, such as community mental health or substance abuse programs. Even
when a police officer feels that circumstances justify an arrest, that decision
does not have to open the door to jail. Under most state laws, the officer may
take the suspect to the station house to be photographed and fingerprinted and
where a more detailed background check can be completed.74 Where available,
computers in cars or hand-held tablets allow police officers to conduct some of
these procedures in the field. Law enforcement can then release the defendant
using a “notice-to-appear” or “desk appearance” ticket to secure a promise from
the person to appear in court when required. 75
How the police make an arrest decision is influenced by a number of intersecting factors and dynamics on a precinct, departmental, local, state, and
federal level. While state and federal laws define what constitutes a criminal
offense, local political pressures, policy decisions, and departmental priorities
will play a larger role in how and when police resources are used and where
they are deployed. In some jurisdictions, pressure from public officials—often


responding to the concerns of residents and businesses to combat low-level,
quality-of-life offenses (see “Broken Windows Policing” on page 21.) —has led
to zero-tolerance policing policies that may also require arresting anyone who
breaks the law. This may increase the number of misdemeanor or non-criminal
arrests (ordinance violations) for drug possession, vagrancy, loitering, and other
public order offenses. Meanwhile, political or community pressures may determine which neighborhoods to target, how and when line officers are deployed,
and which arrest protocols to follow, including whether pre-arrest (e.g., cite and
release) or post-arrest (e.g., the provision of an appearance ticket at the police
precinct) diversion options are available for certain types of offenses.
Other important dynamics on the department and community level may also
be at play. Some police departments institute informal or formal arrest quotas
or targets and link performance evaluations and career advancement to compliance with them.76 These policies have been the subject of extensive litigation, so
it is difficult to estimate how prevalent they remain. In some cash-strapped mu-

nicipalities, police officers understand that they need to make more arrests in
order to raise revenue through fines, fees, and asset forfeiture—as has been the
focus of some press coverage in the wake of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.77 On the other hand, police departments in resource-poor neighborhoods may

Published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982, George Kelling
and James Q. Wilson’s essay titled “Broken Windows”
has had a large and lasting influence on police strategy
around the nation.a In it the authors argued that quality-of-life offenses, such as graffiti or public intoxication, can give residents
the impression that neighborhood crime is on the rise, causing residents to
become fearful, avoid public areas, and lose trust in local law enforcement.
The authors also suggested that criminals may become emboldened by this
decay, which they may perceive as a marker of an apathetic community and
an ineffective police force, leading to an increase in serious crime. Kelling
and Wilson posited “broken windows” as an evocative metaphor of the disarray that may ensue: “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.”
The broken windows theory was zealously adopted by police forces around
the country in the 1990s and early 2000s. Quality-of-life and low-level offenses or infractions were targeted through zero-tolerance and stop-andfrisk policies as a way of preventing more serious crime from flourishing.b
In 1994, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton implemented
broken windows policing which resulted in a steep increase in misdemeanor marijuana arrests—from 1,851 arrests in 1994 to more than 50,000 in
2000, a 2,760% increase.c



Despite the ubiquity of this approach, there is little evidence that broken windows policing is effective at reducing overall crime.d An exhaustive review of
research by the National Research Council concluded that there is not strong
evidence that aggressively responding to minor offenses, particularly with arrest, effectively reduces or prevents more serious crime.e Furthermore, critics
argue that these types of policies often target low-income, minority communities and are, therefore, applied inequitably.
It is worth noting that Kelling and Wilson did not argue explicitly for more
arrests of disorderly community members. Instead, they suggested that police
officers should help uphold social norms in the communities they serve by
reducing public nuisances, such as redirecting an intoxicated loiterer to a less
public area of town. As originally formulated, their theory supports increased
interactions with residents, but not necessarily increased arrests or citations.
In an interview in 2015, Kelling explained, “Broken windows is a tactic, an essential part of community policing, that works with the community to identify
problems and set priorities...We don’t want police to just be making arrests.”f
George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows,” Atlantic Monthly (March 1, 1982).
Bernard E. Harcourt and Jens Ludwig, “Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and a
Five-City Social Experiment,” University of Chicago Law Review 73 (2006): 271-319.
Bernard E. Harcourt and Jens Ludwig, “Reefer Madness: Broken Windows Policing and Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in New York City, 1989-2000,” University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory
Working Paper 142 (2006) and Andrew Golub, Bruce D. Johnson, and Eloise Dunlap, “The Race/
Ethnicity Disparity in Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in New York City,” Criminology & Public Policy 6,
no. 1 (2007): 131-164.
See Bernard E. Harcourt and Jens Ledwig, “Broken Windows,” edited by Wesley Skogan and
Kathleen Frdyl, in Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence (Washington, DC: National
Academy of Sciences, 2004); Jeffrey Fagan and Garth Davies, “Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New York City,” Fordham Urban Law Journal 28, no. 2 (2000):
457-504; and Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, George Mason University “Broken Windows Policing,”
See for example, Skogan and Frdyl, 2004.
Patt Morison, “’Broken Windows’ Policing Isn’t Broken, Says Criminologist George L. Kelling,” Los
Angeles Times, January 6, 2015.


have no other option but to arrest and jail when responding to certain types of
people—those who are intoxicated, mentally ill, or drug addicted—because of
a lack of partnerships with community-based treatment and triage centers, or
because such community resources simply do not exist.
The likelihood that arrest will lead to a jail booking has increased steadily
over the years. Thirty years ago, when crime rates overall were higher, there
were 51 admissions into jail for every 100 arrests.78 By 2012, the most recent year
for which national data are available, that number had climbed to 95 admissions per 100 arrests.79 While not all admissions come from arrests—warrants
for people suspected of parole and probation violations, for example, provide
another route to jail—the growth in admissions even as arrest rates have
declined reflects changing policies rather than growth in more serious crimes
by high-risk individuals. According to an analysis of 17 state courts, nearly 78



Thirty-year trends: Arrest and booking rates per 100,000
Even as arrest rates have decreased sharply—tracking crime rates—bookings into jail have continued to grow.
In 1983 there were only half as many bookings as arrests while in 2012 bookings nearly matched arrests,
suggesting a greater propensity to hold many who in earlier times would have been released.















percent of all cases in which a district attorney files charges involve people accused of misdemeanor crimes; and in some jurisdictions such as New York City,
many of these are for minor drug offenses.80 Drug crimes are the only offenses
for which the arrest rate continued to increase throughout the 1990s and into
the new century.81

Citation and release. The New Orleans
Police Department is just one among many
law enforcement agencies that is relying
more on citation and release. In the summer of 2008, the city council enacted
an ordinance mandating the use of a summons rather than arrest when police
encounter people who commit a municipal offense other than domestic violence.
From 2009 through 2011, the use of summonses in cases other than domestic violence and public intoxication increased from 41 percent to more than 70 percent.
Arrests correspondingly dropped from 59 percent to 30 percent.a This change in
approach not only conserves costly jail beds, it is also an enormous time-saver for
officers, allowing them to focus on serious public safety concerns.



Pre-booking diversion programs. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in King County, Washington, identifies people
arrested for lower-level drug and prostitution offenses and diverts them
away from the criminal justice system and into community-based services.b
When police-initiated diversion programs like this are effective, they yield
benefits all around—for individuals, their families, and communities—and
reserve expensive criminal justice system resources for more serious cases.
Programs for offenders with behavioral health issues. Every police officer
in Portland, Oregon, receives training in how to respond to a suspect who
appears to suffer from mental illness or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.c Beyond basic training, the department established a special corps of
officers who volunteer and receive more intensive training to focus on calls
for service involving unstable people. The department is also involved in
prevention, running a Mobile Crisis Unit that pairs an officer with a licensed
mental health professional who can connect people with appropriate mental health services in the community. And for people whose mental illness
or substance use disorder is driving their repeated encounters with law enforcement—typically as suspects in drug or property crimes—the department participates in a Service Coordination Team that offers treatment in
lieu of detention. Between 2008 and 2010, the team saved the county nearly
$16 million in jail costs alone. The work in Portland reflects an emerging trend
nationally in which police departments are forging innovative and powerful
partnerships with local mental health service providers.
Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance, “Use of Summonses versus Custodial Arrest for Municipal
Offenses,” December 8, 2010, and Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance, “Use of Summonses
versus Custodial Arrest for Municipal Offenses,” July 14, 2011, unpublished reports provided to
Vera in its role as a member of the alliance.
“Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion,”
c City of Portland, Police Bureau, “Behavioral Health Unit,”
Cameron Smith, Report of the Reset Subcommittee on Public Safety (Boston: Crime & Justice
Institute, 2010), 16,

The policies and pressures that have led police officers to arrest and detain a larger proportion of criminal suspects are not unchangeable, though they may receive
considerable public support, as zero-tolerance policies have until recently. Some
law enforcement agencies are focusing on community crime prevention strategies
that do not always involve detaining people. They are making more use of citation
and release, partnering with service agencies to divert certain groups of defendants
away from the justice system altogether, and increasing their capacity to respond
constructively to people with a mental health or substance abuse problem.



After a police officer has arrested and detained someone suspected of breaking
the law, the person has to be formally charged in order for the case to proceed—
and that decision has to be made quickly following a custodial arrest.82 It is
up to the prosecutor to accept or decline the case, and if he or she chooses the
former, to determine what charge(s) to file, which usually occurs during arraignment. The prosecutor’s charging decisions are important to the outcome of
the criminal case and the accused person’s future, but they also have significant
influence on jail populations.
Prosecutors screen new arrests, looking at whether the elements of the alleged
crime are present in the arrest complaint and whether the quality of evidence
seems sufficient to support charges against the person. Prosecutors may reduce,
increase, or dismiss charges, depending on the information provided to them by
the police, or request additional information before making a decision.
Once a prosecutor determines that a case is legally sufficient to move forward, he or she brings charges, unless there is clear exculpatory evidence or if
institutional policy in the public interest determines otherwise.83 Because the
initial charge is used as a baseline from which the prosecutor will pivot later in
the case through plea negotiations, few legally sufficient cases are dismissed or
diverted at this early point in the process, even though the prosecutor has wide
discretion to do both.
When a person is formally charged, the type and severity of the initial charge(s),
as well as any charge enhancements invoked, influence bail amounts and eligibility for non-financial pretrial release as well as diversion programs or community-based sanctions designed to address underlying problems. In turn, these
charge decisions influence whether the person will be detained pretrial (and for
how long) and, if convicted, be given a custodial sentence.
Some district attorney offices are re-evaluating their handling of certain
cases, declining to prosecute some types or relying more on alternatives to
prosecution, which do not require filing formal charges, such as problem-solving courts and other pre-charge diversion programs. This shift in course, while
hardly widespread across the nation’s 3,000 counties, does reflect a belief
among some prosecutors that jails are not always the best option for ensuring public safety, and a growing desire among them to reduce the number of
people exposed to the collateral consequences that accrue to people who are
charged with a criminal offense and spend time in jail.84
While it is easy enough to do so in individual cases, systematic efforts to
move away from a reliance on prosecution and jail detention will require district attorneys to participate in an analysis of their current jail populations and
the longer-term outcomes for specific categories of people, charges, and dispositions. With a view to producing improved public safety, district attorneys

District attorneys
can serve as leaders
in the creation
of communitybased solutions to
crime problems
and in the early
identification of
defendants suitable
for diversion.



Decline to prosecute. In July 2014,
Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) District
Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson decided to stop prosecuting most people arrested for low-level marijuana
offenses.a Mr. Thompson said in a
memo that the new policy was established to keep nonviolent individuals, especially young people of color,
out of the criminal justice system because open cases as well as convictions can become barriers to employment, housing, and higher education. The policy was established after years of steady increases in misdemeanor marijuana arrests, including more than 8,000 such arrests in the
year ending June 30, 2014.
Community prosecution. In communities from Denver, Colorado to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, assistant district attorneys are assigned to work in
specific neighborhoods, often co-locating in police stations, to develop
partnerships with neighborhood organizations and learn the problems
(whether a “drug house” or a poorly lit bus stop) that make places less
safe.b They work with community members to develop prevention strategies to reduce both crime and arrests and with victims to better understand
their fears and losses and to explain court processes. Together with service
providers, prosecutors also identify those whose behavior is a nuisance or
worse in the neighborhood, and help keep them out of the criminal justice
system if that can be done safely.
Pre-charge diversion. The Hennepin County (Minnesota) District Attorney’s Office partners with a local nonprofit, Operation de Novo, Inc., to
provide an alternative to prosecution for people with no felony history and
a limited misdemeanor history who have been arrested for a felony-level property crime where restitution is no more than $2500—people who
otherwise are likely to be detained pretrial and to receive a jail sentence.c
Operation de Novo case managers work with eligible arrestees to set requirements and goals for the year, which include community service and
victim restitution.  Those who successfully complete the program have a
way to “pay their debt” to society and their victim without the added burden of a criminal conviction. In one recent year, the program handled 828
felony cases, collected and returned $440,200 in restitution to victims, and
oversaw 10,720 hours of client community service.d
Community courts. Many cities run courts located in local communities
that take a problem-solving approach to crime. Focusing primarily on misdemeanor, quality-of-life offenses—such as simple drug possession, theft,



prostitution, drinking in public, and trespassing—these courts work with
community-based organizations to create opportunities for participants
to do required community service and to offer support designed to reduce their re-offending.e While some community courts intervene after
an individual has been formally charged and pled guilty, the City of San
Francisco runs 10 neighborhood courts that operate as true alternatives to
prosecution.e Prosecutors refer eligible misdemeanor cases to volunteer
adjudicators who are residents of the neighborhood and use restorative
justice practices to hold individuals accountable for their actions, address
any underlying problems, and meet the needs of victims. Once individuals comply with the directives of the neighborhood court, prosecutors
dismiss their cases.
Stephanie Clifford and Joseph Goldstein, “Brooklyn Prosecutor Limits When He’ll Target
Marijuana, New York Times, July 8, 2014.
See Center for Court Innovation, “Denver’s Community Justice Councils,” and Milwaukee County District
Attorney’s Office, The Milwaukee Community Prosecution Model,
Authors’ interview with Niki Leicht, Executive Director, Operation de Novo, Inc., December 3, 2014.
Spurgeon Kennedy et al., Promising Practices in Pretrial Diversion (Washington, DC: National
Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, 2006), 11; for an overview of adult diversion programs
in Hennepin County, see
For information about community courts, including examples from around the country, see Center
for Court Innovation, “Community Court,”
City and County of San Francisco, District Attorney, “Neighborhood Courts,”

can serve as leaders in the creation of community-based solutions to crime
problems and in the early identification of defendants suitable for diversion,
especially those whose underlying problems contribute to their criminal behavior—such as mental illness, substance abuse, or homelessness. Population
and outcome analyses can help produce a risk assessment instrument for use at
initial case review.85 (See “What is Risk Assessment?” on page 31.)
To be viable and effective in these cases, alternative to prosecution programs
must have strong links to communities. Such links allow prosecutors to identify
service providers to which they can refer troubled people; to establish realistic
conditions and goals for those diverted; and to build public understanding and
support for their use of diversion and other programs.86



Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the major issues with the criminal justice system in New Orleans it
revealed, members of the New Orleans City Council asked Vera to conduct
an assessment of the city’s justice system and to identify the areas most in
need of change.a At the time Katrina struck, New Orleans had a population
of 455,188 and the Orleans Parish Prison (the city’s local jail) had a capacity
of 8,000 and typically held more than 6,000. (By comparison, New York City,
with a population of 8.4 million, has a jail population of 11,408.) The jail
was heavily damaged and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
agreed to pay most of the costs of constructing a new one. The sheriff
proposed a new jail of 5,400 beds, despite the drop in the city’s post-storm
population to 370,000.a
Vera’s final report to the city in 2007 looked at ways to reduce the jail population and to create more options for both pretrial defendants and those
sentenced.b Its top two recommendations: address the long wait time from
arrest and booking to arraignment—then averaging 64 days—and create a
pretrial screening process, based on an objective assessment of individual
risk, on which judges would base their release or detention decisions.
Vera established an office in  New Orleans to work with city officials (the
Mayor’s Office, the district attorney, the Orleans Public Defender, the
courts, the city council, the New Orleans Police Department, and others),
civic institutions, and organizations with deep roots in the communities
most affected by the criminal justice system to develop and implement
these and other changes. By 2011, a working group of city officials staffed
by Vera had succeeded in reducing the average time before arraignment
from 64 days to 10.5 days. Another working group helped the court implement a system of vertical case allotment that makes much more efficient
use of resources for the public defender and prosecutor offices. And, today, the police in New Orleans issue a far higher percentage of summons
in lieu of arrest than ever before.
In 2012, with support from many of these agencies and community organizations, Vera developed a comprehensive pretrial services system for the
city that includes: universal screening; interviews with defendants; investigation of information prior to the first court appearance; the use of a risk
assessment instrument to guide release decisions; the ability to supervise
defendants; and a court-date reminder system to help defendants meet
their obligations. Finally, as the city nears completion of its new jail, the
mayor’s office has committed to a smaller jail of 1,438 beds.



Vera’s experience in post-Katrina New Orleans demonstrates that reform
is possible but requires thorough data analysis, collaborative and productive relationships with community leaders and elected officials, and
early positive outcomes demonstrating enhanced justice, efficiency, and
public safety.
Katy Reckdahl, “Orleans Parish Prison Size Recommendation Issued,” The Times Picayune
November 19, 2010.
Vera Institute of Justice, A Report Submitted to the Criminal Justice Committee of the New
Orleans City Council (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2007).

Once a person has been arrested, there is a presumption that the person will be
released pending the outcome of his or her case, unless the individual poses a

danger to persons or property or seems likely to flee.87 In some jurisdictions, police commanders have the authority to release people directly from the station
house using a bail schedule. In most places, however, the bail or release decision
is made by a judge, magistrate, or bail commissioner. These officers of the court
have considerable discretion in evaluating the person’s circumstances and making decisions about release. They can set conditions or require assurances, such
as bail, to facilitate release whenever possible.88 The presumption that defendants should be released unless they present a clear danger or pose a flight risk
to avoid prosecution is rooted in the principle that people are innocent until
proven guilty and should be treated as such. Actual pretrial release practices,
however, are at odds with this fundamental principle, as illustrated by the fact
that today six out of 10 people in jail are detained pretrial.89
In 1990, most felony defendants who were freed from jail pending the resolution of their cases were released on non-financial conditions (comparable
national data on misdemeanor defendants are not available).90 Nearly 20 years
later, in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available), those released on their
own recognizance (also referred to as ROR) made up only 23 percent of all felony
defendants released pretrial.91 While an additional 15 percent were released on
other types of non-financial bail, the remaining 61 percent of defendants were
required to post financial bail, either by providing the whole or a portion of the
total amount or equivalent collateral, or by hiring a bail bondsman to post the
sum in the form of a private surety bond for a non-refundable fee.92 Among 2009
felony cases, private surety bonds accounted for four out of five releases that involved money and close to half of all releases.93 In addition to requiring bail more
frequently, judges also increased bail amounts. The average bail amount in felony
cases increased 43 percent (in constant dollar values) between 1992 and 2009,
from $38,800 to $55,400.94 As a result of these factors, more and more defendants
remain in jail simply because they cannot pay their way out.



Financial and non-financial release conditions
Felony defendants who were freed from jail pending the resolution of their cases
were more likely to have been released on recognizance or other non-financial
conditions in 1990 than in 2009 and were more likely to have been released on
private bonds or other financial conditions in 2009 than in 1990.
















In the years since Vera launched The Manhattan Bail Project in 1961—the nation’s first experiment with pretrial services—numerous studies have pointed
to the same, highly reliable indicators associated with success or failure on release during the pretrial period (i.e., whether or not defendants stay out of trouble or show up to court when required).95 In particular, community ties through
family and work are strong predictors of success, while a record of prior convictions, especially felonies, a history of juvenile arrests, and a history of failure
to appear in court are associated with failure.96 Even for those with some risk
of failure, the chance of success can be improved and the risk mitigated with
additional support and supervision in the community. Noticeably missing from
either list is the financial means to pay bail, which is not a strong predictor of
pretrial success (defined as remaining arrest-free during the pretrial period and
appearing at scheduled court dates).97 Indeed, as bail amounts increased, pretrial failure rates remained steady at about 30 percent.98
Putting this research into practice is within the reach of most jurisdictions.99
Using these risk factors—and any others chosen by the court—the court or
pretrial services agency administers the assessments. These typically involve
gathering information on the defendant’s criminal history as well as requesting
personal information (e.g., length of residence at current address, current employment status, etc.) from the defendant and verifying it through phone calls.



The foundation of good criminal justice and correctional practices is the administration of a validated risk or risk and needs
assessment tool to defendants and offenders. Risk assessment instruments
measure the likelihood that a person will reoffend if or when released
into the community. Needs assessments identify a person’s criminogenic
needs—that is, personal deficits and circumstances known to predict criminal activity if not changed.
Today’s assessment tools measure static (those things that can’t be
changed, such as age, criminal history, etc.) and dynamic (those that can,
such as drug addiction, anti-social peers, etc.) risk factors, criminogenic
needs, and strengths or protective factors present in a person’s behavior,
life, or history. There are a variety of assessment tools available for different
purposes. Some are proprietary while others are available at no cost. Whatever tool is used in whatever context, states and counties must validate
them using data from their own populations.
Assessment tools are used to some degree in all states and in many counties
at a number of decision points in the criminal justice process and in a
variety of settings. Judges and releasing authorities use information from
assessment tools to guide decisions regarding pretrial release or detention
and release on parole; corrections agencies use them for placement within
correctional facilities, assignment to supervision level or to specialized
caseloads, and for recommendations regarding conditions of release.
Since the best tools evaluate the person’s dynamic or changeable risk
factors and needs, they should be re-administered routinely to determine
whether current supervision or custody levels and programming are still
A 2012 survey conducted by Vera found that a majority of community supervision agencies and releasing authorities routinely utilize assessment
tools. Responses from 72 agencies across 41 states indicated that 82 percent of respondents regularly assessed both risk and need. While these
self-reported numbers may be inflated, the responses do show correctional agency awareness of the importance of assessments.
Adapted from Peggy McGarry et al., The Potential of Community Corrections to Improve Safety
and Reduce Incarceration (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2013), p. 16.

Each factor of the collected information is assigned a numerical score weighted
to its relevance to pretrial failure. The greater the association of the factor with
pretrial failure, the higher the score assigned to it.100



What’s keeping them in?
In this view of 2013 New York City jail data, more than 50% of jail inmates held
until case disposition remained in jail because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500
or less. Most of these were misdemeanor cases.
Low bail = $2,500 or less.
low bail

or Violation,
low bail

Felony, high
or no bail

Misdemeanor or
Violation, high bail

Money, or the
lack thereof, is
now the most
important factor
in determining
whether someone is
held in jail pretrial.

Despite the predictive accuracy of risk assessments, few of the more than
3,000 court systems in the United States rely on these tools to make decisions
about pretrial release. Some jurisdictions have implemented bail schedules
in the interest of standardizing bail amounts. These link bail amounts to the
severity of the initial charge, with criminal charge serving as a proxy for risk of
re-arrest and flight, and the bail amount meant to mitigate that risk.101 Unfortunately, the severity of the initial charge(s)—a decision entirely within the
discretion of the prosecutor—has not been shown to be a good predictor of
public safety or appearance in court. And this practice can lead to some serious unintended consequences for both individuals and public safety: low-risk
defendants who cannot afford to post bail linger in jail, while some high-risk
defendants are released because they can afford a large bail amount.102
Money, or the lack thereof, is now the most important factor in determining
whether someone is held in jail pretrial. Almost everyone is offered monetary
bail, but the majority of defendants cannot raise the money quickly or, in some
cases, at all. Many who cannot make bail initially will be released at some point
pending trial. However, 38 percent of felony defendants will spend the entirety of their pretrial periods in jail.103 Yet, only one in ten of these defendants is
detained because he or she is denied bail. The rest simply cannot afford the bail
amount the judge sets.104 For example, in New York City in 2013, 54 percent of
jail inmates held until their cases had been disposed remained in jail because
they could not afford bail of $2,500 or less—with 31 percent of the non-felony
defendants held on bond amounts of $500 or less.105


Risk assessment. Kentucky has a single
statewide agency that assesses all defendants using a locally validated risk
assessment instrument. In recent years,
the court has released 70 percent of all defendants pretrial, with only four percent requiring bail.a Outcomes for people released without monetary bail in
Kentucky are far better than for those released nationally with such bail. In
Kentucky, just eight percent of defendants at liberty in the community were
rearrested during the pretrial period and 10 percent missed a court date.b
Among people released on bail nationwide, 16 percent were rearrested and
17 percent missed a court date.c
Early bail hearings. A growing number of jurisdictions are moving to hold
most bail hearings within 24 hours of arrest—a move that is crucial given
recent research that shows long-term outcomes are considerably worse for
defendants held in jail longer than 24 hours, even if they are later released.d
There are two ways to achieve this: holding bail hearings within 24 hours of
arrest and authorizing pretrial services agencies to release defendants assessed as low risk. In Delaware, magistrates work around the clock to review
cases and make initial bail determinations (in part by using a risk assessment
instrument) within the first 24 hours of arrest.e In Connecticut, the pretrial
services agency assesses and releases low-risk defendants at their discretion,
reporting an 11 percent failure to appear rate among those released.f
Pretrial supervision. Developing the capacity to monitor and assist defendants during the pretrial period makes it possible for judges and other
court officers who make release and detention decisions to release higher-risk people who would otherwise be detained pending trial. The work
with defendants typically involves establishing specific parameters for their
behavior during the pretrial period and linking them with service providers in the community to help them address longstanding problems and
remind them about upcoming court dates.g Washington, DC’s Pretrial Services Agency (DCPTS) has a very robust release and supervision program:
85 percent of defendants are released on ROR or with conditions supervised by DCPTS—and of that 85 percent, in 2012, just 11 percent were
rearrested while released, and 11 percent failed to appear.h
In 2006, Cocinino County, Arizona found that about 23 percent of the jail
population were defendants who were detained after failing to appear at
scheduled court dates. The county tested several court reminder systems for
defendants who received citations in the field. The failure to appear rate was
reduced from 25 percent in the control group to six percent in the reminder



group when the caller spoke directly to the defendant, 15 percent when a
message was left with another person, and 21 percent when a message was
left on an answering service.i In this and other areas, research shows that
tailoring release conditions to a defendant’s circumstances both facilitates
release and increases success during the pretrial period.j
Tara Boh Klute and Mark Heyerly, Report on Impact of House Bill 463: Outcomes, Challenges and
Recommendations (Frankfurt, KY: Pretrial Services, Administrative Office of the Courts, 2012).
Brian A. Reaves, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009-Statistical Tables (Washington,
DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, 2013)
Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Research Summary: Pretrial Criminal Justice Research (New York,
NY: Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013).
Alan Davis, Legal Memorandum No.11-294 (Georgetown, DE: Delaware Justice of the Peace
Courts, 2011).
See State of Connecticut, Judicial Branch, Adult Services Bail Intake/Assessment Procedures 4.1
(Connecticut: Court Support Services Division, 2013); James Carrollo, bail regional manager, Adult
Probation and Bail Services, Connecticut Court Support Services Division, telephone interview by
Vera, on April 8, 2014).
Donna Makowiecki and Thomas J. Wolf, “Enter...Stage Left...U.S. Pretrial Services,” Federal Probation 71, no. 2 (2007): 7-9; see also William Henry, “The Pretrial Services Act: 25 Years Later,” Federal
Probation 71, no. 2 (2007): 16.
Pretrial Services Agency of the District of Columbia, Congressional Budget Justification and
Performance Budget Request, Fiscal Year 2014 (April 2013), 7.
Marie VanNostrand, Kenneth Rose, and Kimberly Weibrecht, State of the Science of Pretrial Release
Recommendations and Supervision (Washington, DC: Pretrial Justice Institute, 2011), 17-19.
Ibid., pp. 27-29.

Judges need not rely
on bail. There are
other options for the
safe release of many
more defendants
either on their own
recognizance or with
the aid of special
conditions and

As this illustrates, bail amounts are not set in relation to an individual’s ability to
pay. This fact hurts some groups more than others, given socio-economic disparities in the United States.106 A recent study shows that although black men are
detained pretrial at higher rates than white men or black or white women, bail
amounts are not set higher for them.107 Rather, as stated above, black men appear
to be caught in a cycle of disadvantage: incarcerated at higher rates and, therefore,
more likely to be unemployed and/or in debt, they have more trouble posting bail.
When out-of-reach bail amounts are combined with overloaded courts, a
situation arises in which defendants can spend more time in jail pretrial than
the longest sentence they could receive if convicted.108 These cases, in particular, turn our ideals about justice upside down. Sentenced to “time served” and
released, the system punishes these individuals while they are presumed to be
innocent, and then releases them once they are found guilty.
Building on the broad discretion judges have in deciding whether or not to release someone pretrial and the sizeable body of evidence about how to set release
conditions, judges need not rely on bail. There are other options for the safe release
of many more defendants either on their own recognizance or with the aid of
special conditions and supervision. These options, deployed under the umbrella
term of pretrial services, require jurisdictions to develop the capacity to conduct
formal risk assessments, to speed the time from arrest to initial bail hearing, and to
invest in pretrial supervision resources to enable the non-financial release of those
deemed too high a risk for ROR. Most important, the success of pretrial services
depends on the trust of and appropriate use by the court or its designees.





Released from custody



• Release with:
> Non-Financial
> Pretrial
> Financial

• Referral to


• Release on

• Decline to

Detained in jail, sentenced to custody,
or revoked back to custody for violation


• Cite & Release

• Referral to
Services or




• Referral to: 
> Diversion
> ProblemSolving Court

 ismiss Charge









• Release with: 
> Non-Financial
> Pretrial
> Financial

• Release on








Diversion and release opportunities during the typical criminal case trajectory

Given the large proportion of defendants detained pending the resolution of
their cases, the speed—or lack thereof—at which cases are processed through
the courts has a direct impact on jail populations. When defendants are detained throughout the process, the duration of the case equals the number of
days, weeks, or months a defendant is held in jail. Even when a defendant is
released at some point prior to being adjudicated, delays earlier in the process
extend his or her time behind bars. A large sample of defendants in Los Angeles
County, all accused of felony crimes and all detained pretrial, spent 53 days on
average in jail by the time their cases were resolved.109 More than 25 percent of
the people in jail pretrial had stays longer than 80 days, with more than 800
defendants spending in excess of 200 days in jail until case resolution.110
Unlike previous decision points that focus on a moment in time, the processing of a case encompasses the entire adjudication process, from a person’s initial

Lack of readiness,
logistical challenges,
and the tactical
use of delays
are particularly
instructive to
examine in the
context of their
impact on jail

appearance in court through disposition and sentencing. A slow pace is most evident in the official delays that occur at different points in the process. Postponements or continuances occur routinely, despite laws meant to guarantee a speedy
trial. 111 In larger jurisdictions, with high-volume court dockets, the sheer number
of cases coupled with the routine use of postponements can cause chronic case
backlogs that leave people waiting in jail for months, sometimes years, even
when the case is ultimately dismissed.112 A recent analysis of New Jersey’s jail
population, for example, revealed that nearly half of all pending cases, mostly
involving defendants detained pretrial, were in backlog status.113
Cases can be postponed or continued for any number of reasons, and literally
everyone involved in the adjudication of a case—courts and potentially also juries and witnesses, pretrial services, prosecutors and defense attorneys, police,
and jail administrators—can either initiate or indirectly cause a postponement.
Of all the possible causes, three broad categories—lack of readiness, logistical
challenges, and the tactical use of delays—are particularly instructive to examine in the context of their impact on jail populations.
Lack of readiness on both sides of a case is a leading reason for delays, and
may be in part a result of an overburdened court system flooded by huge misdemeanor case loads.114 A study of 54 misdemeanor marijuana cases scheduled
to go to trial in the Bronx revealed that the district attorney requested adjournments in 80 percent of cases because the prosecutor was not ready to proceed—
meaning they were not ready on 75 of 89 trial dates.115
Aside from the complexities of an actual trial—and very few cases go to
trial—the processing of a criminal case includes many stages and events, all of
which require coordination among different agencies and individuals.116 This
is a logistical challenge under the best circumstances and a morass under the
worst. Complicated plea or sentencing negotiations; defendants who fail to
show up in court for hearings because of miscommunication between the court



Time limits with real consequences. Overcrowded conditions in the Bernalillo County Jail caused primarily by a
backlog of roughly 3,000 cases, many involving defendants
held pretrial, compelled the New Mexico Supreme Court
to announce new rules aimed at limiting court delays.a Under the new rules, which
take effect in February 2015, all criminal cases will be assigned to one of three tracks
according to the complexity of the case and must adhere to a specific timeline.b The
clock starts at arraignment and a postponement requires the presiding judge to issue
a written finding of good cause. The rules are also designed to prevent postponing
trials to accommodate prolonged plea bargaining as well as last-minute pleas filed
on the eve of a trial. Importantly, both sides in a case will be subject to sanctions and
fines for failing to meet the established deadlines, and the supreme court will also be
tracking which judges are allowing cases to fall behind the timetables.
Special backlog courts. Some jurisdictions, including both Bronx County, New York,
and Bernalillo County, New Mexico, have recently enlisted the services of judges from
other counties or hired new judges to oversee special court dockets designed to clear
backlogged cases. In the Bronx, cases that are more than two years old receive priority
and judges assigned to these cases are mandated to either bring the case to trial or
compel the two sides to reach a plea agreement.c
Case consolidation. To address the inherent inefficiencies and delays that happen
when a person has open cases in more than one court—cases that may range in nature and severity from traffic violations to felonies—officials in Orange County, California adopted a policy to “package” cases. Under the policy, a single justice center
becomes the physical locus and administrative body for resolving all open cases
countywide that involve a particular defendant.d Implementing the policy required
updating and consolidating separate court databases to enable easy searches and
access to all related files. Case consolidation not only speeds case processing, reducing stays in jail pretrial, it also generates more accurate information for jail administrators about a person’s expected length of stay.
Mike Gallagher, “New Rule Aims To Unclog Courts, Cut Jail Population,” Albuquerque Journal, November 13,
2014,; for recommendations to
reduce jail overcrowding in Bernalillo County, see Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Reform Commission, Preliminary Report to Interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, September 2014 at
James McKinley, “Bronx Courts Make Gains in Reducing Court Backlogs,” The New York Times, December
11, 2013; New York State Unified Court System (NY Courts), “State Court System Reports Dramatic Cut in
Bronx Felony Case Inventory, Announces Plan to Slash the Borough’s Misdemeanor Backlog and Names
New Bronx Appointment,” press release (New York: NY Courts, December 11, 2013),
Cherie Garofalo, The Impact of Coordinating Multiple Criminal Cases in the Multiple Court Sites of the
Orange County Superior Court (Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, Institute for Court
Management, 2011).



and jail; problems producing witnesses or evidence; and scheduling conflicts,
especially involving defendants that have pending cases in more than one
court, are among the many logistical problems that commonly occur. Misdemeanor courts are also often training grounds for young prosecutors and defense attorneys, and their cases typically take longer to resolve than they might
if more seasoned attorneys were handling them.117
Both sides in a criminal case may use postponements for tactical purposes.
Prosecutors might delay a case in an attempt to pressure a defendant to plead
guilty, especially if the person is held in jail and prolonging the case will extend
his or her time behind bars.118 On their part, defenders believe that some delays
may benefit their clients, since the quality of the prosecution’s evidence usually
degrades with time. In particular, delays can make it harder for prosecutors to
maintain contact with key witnesses and may also have a negative effect on
the credibility of witness testimony because memories fade over time.119
Delays in case processing come at great cost to the counties and municipalities

holding defendants pretrial; to the agencies involved as cases drag on with multiple court appearances and conferences; to victims for whom justice is delayed;
and to the detained people and their families in severed ties, lost wages, accumulated debt, and other burdens commonly associated with an extended stay in jail.
Recognizing that greater efficiencies in case processing benefit everyone, jurisdictions have made efforts to significantly reduce delays and clear case backlogs.

A criminal case comes to its conclusion at the point of disposition and sentencing. This can occur at arraignment or any point thereafter. In most cases,
defendants plead or are found guilty by a court, have their case dismissed, or
are found not guilty. Since 94 to 97 percent of criminal convictions are reached
through a negotiated plea, much of the decision-making power in disposition
remains with the prosecutor, who can leverage the initial charge decision and
the amount of money bail requested to bring a case more quickly to a close
with a plea deal.120 Particularly for defendants on low-level charges—who have
been detained pretrial due to an inability to pay bail, a lack of pretrial diversion
options, or an inability to qualify for those options that are available—a guilty
plea may, paradoxically, be the fastest way to get out of jail.121
Even at the point of disposition, there are options that allow for the release
of people from custody without their having to accept a permanent guilty plea,
which can have lasting collateral consequences for employment, housing, immigration status, and access to public benefits. Alternative resolutions such as
conditional discharge, deferred prosecution, or adjournment in contemplation
of dismissal provide for release conditioned by continuing lawful behavior with
ongoing supervision and, in some cases, other requirements like participation
in a treatment program or community service. If the conditions of the discharge
or adjournment are met, the case will be dismissed. Some problem-solving
courts will require that participants enter a guilty plea in order to participate,



Problem-solving courts. Lawmakers in Indiana recently authorized the
use of problem-solving courts as a condition of a misdemeanor sentence.
Even a county sheriff can refer someone to a problem-solving court.a Indiana is among a growing number of states and localities that are investing in problem-solving courts. These courts tend to focus on groups of people with distinct
needs—substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of
participation in combat, and a history of prostitution—and aim to hold people accountable while
also addressing their needs. They can be a way for individuals to wipe the slate clean, since success
typically guarantees that prosecutors will vacate a guilty plea, if filed, and dismiss the charges.
As of 2013, approximately 2,800 drug courts and more than 300 mental health courts were operating in jurisdictions across the country, with other types of problem-solving courts in development.b
While many of these courts are limited to misdemeanor cases, many others, such as one in Baltimore,
specifically handle felony drug cases, or other felony cases where the defendant has a substance use
disorder, through referrals from the district attorney’s office.c Equally innovative, Michigan passed
laws in 2013 that provide a framework for counties to establish and run mental health courts and
explicitly allow participation by people who have previously participated in a similar program.d
Pretrial diversion. Some states are expanding their post-charge diversion programs so that more defendants can participate. In 2013, for example, New Jersey’s conditional dismissal program in the state’s
misdemeanor court expanded to defendants charged with non-drug misdemeanor crimes, such as trespassing and shoplifting.e Similarly, in the same year, the Alabama legislature authorized district attorneys
to establish pretrial diversion programs in their jurisdictions open to defendants charged with misdemeanors, traffic offenses, property crimes, most drug crimes, and other offenses within prescribed limits.f
Finally, understanding that most behavior change is slow and subject to setbacks, Colorado passed a
law in 2013 allowing judges to impose additional conditions rather than pull individuals out of the state’s
deferred judgment program following any violation of program terms in order to enhance the likelihood
of eventual success by participants in the program.g
Indiana HB 1016 (2013).
For information on drug courts, see National Institute of Justice, “Drug Courts,”
Pages/welcome.aspx. For information on mental health courts, see Council of State Governments Justice Center, “Mental Health
Courts,” and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, “Adult
Mental Health Treatment Court Database,” For information on
newly created problem-solving courts, see Ram Subramanian and Rebecka Moreno, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State
Sentencing and Corrections Trends (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2014) 19-21.
See Juliette Mackin et al., Baltimore City Circuit Court Adult Drug Treatment Court and Felony Diversion Initiative: Outcome and
Cost Evaluation Final Report, (Portland, OR: NPS Research, 2009).
Michigan HB 4694 (2013). This law was tie-barred with three other enacted bills—HB 4695, HB 4696 and HB 4697— all of which deal
with more detailed aspects of mental health court operations, procedures, and requirements.
New Jersey A 3598. NJ has two diversion programs, the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI) and the Conditional Discharge
Program (CDP), both of which result in the dismissal of charges upon successful completion. PTI only applies to felonies, and CDP
only applies to misdemeanors and (now) petty offenses. Upon successful completion of the program, charges are dismissed and
individuals can apply to have their records expunged six months after dismissal.
Alabama HB 494 (2013). This law applies only to district attorneys operating in the absence of a local act. Additional laws were
passed in 2013 granting the authority to establish discretionary pretrial diversion programs to any governing body of a municipality generally (HB 648) as well as specifically to Huntsville (HB 452), Geneva County (HB 495), Irondale (HB 638), Fultondale (HB
644), Hoover (HB 645), St. Clair County (HB 649), and Alabaster (SB 467).
Colorado SB 250 (2013).




with sentencing deferred pending completion of programming and conditions.
Successful participants will have those pleas vacated and charges either dismissed or reduced, or will be given a non-custodial sentence.
For those whose cases are not dismissed or deferred pending dismissal in
some manner, a guilty plea or finding can lead to a custodial sentence in state
prison or jail, a period of confinement in a residential community corrections
or treatment facility, a sentence of probation supervision, or a split sentence
of confinement followed by a period of community supervision. Those who
have already served time in jail pre-disposition may receive a sentence of
time served: for low-level cases, time served may actually exceed the custodial
sentence they could have received if convicted of the offense. Those ultimately
serving time in jails will primarily be lower-level felons and misdemeanants,
serving sentences on average of less than one year.
As the overall size of the jail population has risen, so too has the number
of people held in jails post-conviction—despite the fact that the sentenced

population has been steadily declining as a percentage of the jail population
since the 1990s. In 1990, sentenced inmates represented 48.5 percent of the
population.122 By 2000, it had declined to 44 percent, and by 2013, the sentenced
population was 38 percent of the total jail population.123 This decline does not
mean that fewer people are receiving custodial jail sentences, particularly in
light of the concurrent rise in the number of sentenced felons serving lengthy
sentences in state prisons. It is simply that the number of people held in jails
pretrial has been rising at a faster rate, and these people are staying for longer
periods of time. As noted above, some of those pretrial days will count towards
time served but will not later be captured statistically as post-conviction time.
In light of decades of mass incarceration and the myriad collateral consequences that can beset a person with a criminal record, many jurisdictions are
now moving to resolve more cases in ways that hold people accountable without using incarceration as punishment or burdening them with a criminal conviction.124 Building on lessons learned from the first generation of alternatives
to incarceration, including problem-solving courts and post-charge diversion
programs, jurisdictions are working to create clear and focused eligibility criteria and use validated risk and needs assessment tools to better match people
with programs.125 They are also trying to improve success rates and address one
of the most persistent challenges—finding ways to respond effectively to noncompliant participants instead of punishing bad behavior with jail time.126



Prior to the late 1990s, jail reentry and jail discharge
planning were virtually unheard of, and few jails
provided services to support people as they left
custody. However, in the past decade, jails have
begun to implement new service models with the aim of reducing recidivism. While they are an important innovation, jail reentry services typically
have inadequate funding and programming, and most are swamped by the
extent of the demand.
In collaboration with the New York City Department of Correction (DOC),
Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program developed and validated
(for men) a low-cost and easy-to-implement tool—called the Service Priority
Indicator (SPI)—that jail officials could use to identify those who would benefit most from access to the system’s limited discharge planning resources.a
Using existing data recorded in the DOC’s jail management database, researchers identified four risk factors for recidivism—age at jail admission, current charge, number of prior DOC admissions, and recent DOC admissions—
and assigned a score to each based on the strength of its correlation with
readmission to DOC custody. The scores, which range from zero to seven,
were then grouped into four service priority levels, equivalent to having low,
medium, high, or very high risk of readmission, with those at the greatest risk
of recidivism also identified as very high priority for receiving discharge planning services. Vera’s research also found that those identified by the SPI as
having a very high service priority tended to stay in jail longer and were more
likely to be released upon completion of their sentences—offering a window
of opportunity to provide jail-to-community reentry services.
Qing Wei and Jim Parsons, Using Administrative Data to Prioritize Jail Reentry Services: Findings
from the comprehensive Transition Planning Project (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2012).

There are several ways in which sentenced offenders come under community
supervision. They can be directly sentenced to probation, their sentence can be
split between terms of incarceration and probation, or part of their custodial
sentence can be served in the community on parole at the discretion of the
paroling authorities.
Community supervision usually entails the adherence to certain conditions set
by the judge if on probation, or the paroling authority if on parole. In addition, the
supervising agency or agent can set the type and intensity of programming and
other rules, such as the number of required office visits. People who fail to follow
their conditions face sanctions, including revocation to prison or jail.



A term of
supervision can be
of great benefit to
the person and his
or her family, reduce
the likelihood of
future incarceration,
and make a positive
contribution to
public safety.

Although in some jurisdictions the conditions or rules of supervision are
guided by risk and needs assessments, in practice many do not conduct thorough assessments and end up applying a generic set of requirements for all
people on supervision. In the case of low-risk offenders, this can actually increase their risk of failure.127
Positive activities like school, work, and religious participation can be impeded by unnecessarily restrictive terms of supervision and obligations, including
restrictions on movement, having a driver’s license suspended, curfews, frequent reporting, and mandatory programming that does not reduce risk.128 In
some jurisdictions, a violation as minor as missing a scheduled appointment
can result in an immediate return to jail; and when a former prisoner or probationer is accused of violating the terms of his or her conditional release, he or
she is often sent to jail to await the adjudication of the suspected violation.
However, when the person on supervision and the supervising officer
thoughtfully incorporate the results of a risk and needs assessment into the
terms of supervision and needed services and supports are available, then a
term of community supervision can be of great benefit to the person and his
or her family, reduce the likelihood of future incarceration, and make a positive
contribution to public safety.129

Community supervision: calibrating conditions to risk. The most important change needed to improve supervision and reduce recidivism is
the adoption and careful implementation of a validated risk and needs
assessment tool at the time of release from jail, when a person is placed on
probation, and at regular intervals throughout the supervision term. While
growing numbers of states have mandated that state agencies use such
tools and their results to guide supervision, their use on the local level
needs to be more widely adopted.a
Jurisdictions interested in instituting or expanding supervision options for
low-risk offenders might look to Georgia, which recently implemented an
automated reporting system for the roughly 80,000 low-risk probationers
under supervision.b The call-in system triggers further scrutiny from the supervising officer if a probationer provides a non-standard response to a series of questions. Georgia, which has approximately 820 probation officers,
has been able to allocate more resources to the 25,000 medium- and highrisk probationers under supervision by using this system, thus increasing
public safety and improving supervision quality. The system also reduced
the cost of supervising low-risk offenders from $1.68 to $0.45 per day.c



Implementing graduated responses in community supervision. More
and more jurisdictions are relying on graduated responses and sanctions
to respond to people who violate the conditions of their release or to
reward the accomplishments of those who are making marked improvements in compliance.d Agencies have developed grids that match types
of rule-breaking with particular punishments that increase in severity depending on the number of times a person has broken a particular rule or
the number of rules broken at any one time and have created an array of
rewards or recognition according to the level or length of compliance and
achievement (securing a GED, for example). In a number of jurisdictions,
such as Oregon and Kansas, technical revocations went down after implementing such policies.e
Implementing other evidence-based practices. A critical piece of evidence-based practice is determining the level of supervision and the intensity of programming and interventions needed—through the use of validated risk and needs assessments—and then applying the results across
populations in order to ensure that the appropriate resources are available.
Once risk and needs are identified, only programs and strategies that have
been proven to work should be employed in addressing those risks and
needs. For example, research has amply demonstrated the effectiveness of
motivational interviewing and the use of options like cognitive-behavioral
treatment, which have been adopted in many jurisdictions.f There are still
many agencies, however, that have yet to integrate these and other practices into their supervision.
Making basic reentry tools available to everyone leaving confinement.
While challenged with high inmate turnover and heterogeneous populations, jails are nonetheless well-situated for reentry efforts. They typically
are located near the communities to which people in jail will return, making
outreach efforts easy to accomplish. Using a risk and needs assessment
instrument, jail reentry staff can work with community providers to develop
reentry plans for people leaving jail that target specific needs.g Jurisdictions such as Douglas County in Kansas and Davidson County in Tennessee
have introduced case planning and evidence-based programming in jail,
and have developed networks of reentry providers that meet people while
they are still in jail, work with them to build their case plans, and meet them
on release day to assist with the transition home.h
Allowing debt payment plans. Professionals who supervise people in the
community, pretrial or post-conviction, understand the heavy burden of
criminal justice debt—which often drives many people back to jail—but
they lack the authority to adjust payments or provide relief in other ways.
Efforts to implement reforms in this area can face considerable resistance,
since fines and fees help to fund courts, pretrial services, jails, and com-



munity supervision. In jurisdictions where budgets are especially tight, the
pressure to collect fees in full can be great.i Despite these challenges, some
jurisdictions are making efforts to reduce criminal justice debt burdens.
Community supervision agencies in South Carolina have the authority to
restructure payment plans, stretching a person’s criminal justice debt over
more years as a way to reduce monthly payments.j Washington State allows judges to waive the interest people have accrued on debt to the criminal justice system that is not restitution, where people show that the payment of the accrued interest will cause hardship for them and their family,
or if they have made a good faith effort to pay.k Maine allows community
service in lieu of cash payments, and Ohio, West Virginia, and New York
allow for modified child support payments following a period of incarceration.l Even where such options exist, however, people may not know about
them or be able to navigate the court process to take advantage of these
rights—especially those who do not have a supervision agent in the community from whom they can seek advice and assistance.
Nancy LaVigne, et al, Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report (Washington, DC:
The Urban Institute, 2014).
J. Ginn, Georgia Probation Program Lets Some Offenders Phone It In, (New York, NY: Council of
State Governments, 2014), at
For example see Peggy McGarry et al., The Potential of Community Corrections to Improve
Safety and Reduce Incarceration (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, July 2013), 18-19; and
Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Juliene James, Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of State 2011
Sentencing Trends (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2012), 14-15.
See for example, Oregon Department of Corrections, The Effectiveness of Community-Based
Sanctions in Reducing Recidivism (Salem, OR: Oregon Department of Corrections, 2002), 25-27;
and Kansas Department of Corrections, Kansas Behavior Response/Adjustment Grid,
See, for example, Steve Aos, Evidence-based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and
What Does Not (Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute of Public Policy, 2006); and Janeen
Buck Willison, et al., Process and Systems Change Evaluation Findings from the Transition from
Jail to Community Initiative (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2008).
See Jim Parsons, “Addressing the Unique Challenges of Jail Reentry,” in Offender Reentry, edited by M. Crow and J. Ortiz Smykla (Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2014), 105-123;
and Amy Solomon et al., Life after Lockup, (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2008).
Willison, et al., 2008.
American Civil Liberties Union, In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors Prisons, (New
York, NY: American Civil Liberties Union, 2010), 25, 50 and 55; Council on State Governments,
Repaying Debts, (Washington, DC: Council of State Governments and the Bureau of Justice
Assistance, 2007), 33; A. Bannon, M. Nagrecha, and R. Diller, Criminal Justice Debt: a Barrier to
Reentry (New York, NY: Brennan Center for Justice, 2010), 30-31.
South Carolina SB 1154 (2010).
Washington SB 5423 (2011). This excludes restitution.
West Virginia HB 4521 (2012); New York AB 8178 (2009); Maine HP 1032 (2013).



With or without formal supervision, people who have experienced lengthy
jail or prison stays need basic reentry support.130 Most immediate, people being
released from incarceration need valid identification cards—necessary to gain
them access to any benefits to which they may be entitled such as Medicaid—
and assistance with opening a bank account and applying for housing and job
opportunities. If those being released have chronic medical conditions, providing them with medications and referrals to medical care in the community are
fundamental to their functioning. Permanent housing, avenues to education,
and long-term employment come next. At the state level, corrections officials
are making significant efforts to address these reentry needs upon release, but
assistance at the local jail level is far more scarce.
While many factors can diminish a person’s chances of successfully reentering the community, debt is one of the most toxic. Criminal justice fines and fees
follow people from jail and prison back into the community and, combined
with other financial burdens, can become a major barrier to finding and maintaining employment, housing, family relationships, community ties, and stable
mental and physical health—the very conditions known to support success. In
some jurisdictions, non-payment of fines and fees results in immediate arrest
and additional jail time.131 There are accounts of people who deliberately skip
supervision appointments or miss court dates because they cannot pay their
fines, setting in motion a process that eventually will lead them back to jail.132
When fines and fees loom large, some people may actually choose to return to
jail rather than face their debts.133
To end the cycling of people in and out of jail, jurisdictions are taking steps to
improve community supervision by better matching conditions of release to
assessed risk and relying on graduated responses to rule-breaking in place of
automatic jail time. Some jurisdictions have also made progress in developing
jail reentry resources, and a few jurisdictions are tackling through legislation the
issue of debt and the barriers it creates for people trying to get back on their feet.



Jails matter. Yet against a national backdrop of declining crime rates, most of
the debate about incarceration in recent years has focused on prisons. A significant body of research shows that our reliance on incarceration as a primary
crime control policy has had only a marginal impact on public safety. As a
result, there is an emerging consensus that it has not been worth the fiscal and
human costs. The role that local jails play in this story has not, until recently,
garnered similar attention or analyses. That is starting to change and the new
focus could not be timelier. With nearly 12 million annual admissions—almost
19 times those to state and federal prisons—jails have an impact that is both
far-reaching and profound.
While jails serve an important function in local justice systems—primarily to
hold people who are deemed, by reliable means, unlikely to appear in court or

The misuse of jails
is neither inevitable
nor irreversible.


likely to reoffend if released while their cases are processed—this is no longer
exclusively what jails are or whom they hold. With so many people cycling
through them—some many times over—jurisdictions need to ensure that jails,
while doing their part to keep the public secure, take seriously their responsibility to treat those in their custody with dignity, in settings that are safe, healthy,
and able to help people return quickly to their communities or adjust to serving
their sentences elsewhere. As this report has documented, this is not necessarily what jails do today.
The misuse of jails is neither inevitable nor irreversible. But to chart a different course will take leadership and vision. No single decision or decision
maker in a local justice system determines who fills the local jail. While some
jurisdictions have made strides in developing, implementing, and evaluating
off-ramps from the path that leads to the jailhouse door, change at one point
in the system will have limited impact if other key actors and policies pull in
the opposite direction. To both scale back and improve how jails are used in a
sustainable way, localities must engage all justice system actors in collaborative
study and action. Only in this way can jurisdictions hope to make the systemic
changes needed to stem the tide of people entering jails and to shorten the stay
for those admitted.




1	 For the number of jail jurisdictions, see Todd D. Minton and Daniela
Golinelli, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013 - Statistical Tables (Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2014), 1; for the average daily jail population in 2013
see Minton and Golinelli, 2014, 6; for population data from the 2010
census see U.S. Census Bureau, State and Country Quickfacts – Detroit,
and U.S. Census Bureau, State and Country Quickfacts – San Francisco,
2	 For the 2013 jail admissions data see, Minton and Golinelli, 2014, 4;
for population data from the 2010 census see U.S. Census Bureau,
State and Country Quickfacts – Los Angeles, California,; and U.S.
Census Bureau, State and Country Quickfacts – New York, New York, For annual
admissions to state and federal prisons, see E. Ann Carson, Prisoners
in 2013 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014).
3	 For comparison incarceration rates, see International Centre for Prison
Studies, “World Prison Brief,”
4	 Although not explicitly articulated in the Constitution, the presumption
of innocence is regarded as a crucial element of the constitutional right
to due process under the law and “a basic component of a fair trial under
our system of criminal justice.” See Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 503
(1976). The primary import of this presumption today is the allocation
of the burden of proof in criminal trials. See Bell v. Wolfish 441 U.S. 520,
533 (1979). According to this legal doctrine, prosecutors are required to
prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. See Coffin v. United States, 156
U.S. 432, 460 (1895) and Kentucky v. Whorton, 441 U.S. 786, 790 (1979)
(Stewart, J., dissenting). At common law, the presumption of innocence
had a wider meaning. It also protected defendants during the time
between charge and conviction, ensuring that most individuals would
remain at liberty prior to trial and that those individuals unable to make
bail and held in pretrial detention were not there to be punished, but
merely held in safe and humane custody in order to return them to court
for trial. See William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England,
Vol. IV, 297 (1765). Regarding the protections the presumption has
historically implied during the pretrial period, until relatively recently U.S.
law largely conformed with the common law, since bail was presumed
in all non-capital cases. See Judiciary Act of 1798, 1 Stat. 73 §33 (1798).
With statutory changes between the 1960s and 1980s, however, public
safety considerations are now taken when judges make pretrial release
and detention decisions. See Bail Reform Act 1966 and Bail Reform
Act 1984. For defendants held in jail prior to trial—whether for failure
to post bail or due to a potential risk posed to the community—the
presumption continues to protect against the consideration of pretrial
detention as evidence of guilt. See Wolfish, 441 U.S. at 533. For reports
on jail conditions of confinement, see for example, Roy L. Austin, deputy
assistant attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights
Division, to George Touart, interim county administrator, and Sheriff
David Morgan, Escambia County, Pensacola, FL, Re: Investigation of
the Escambia County Jail, May 22, 2013; Grace Chung Becker, acting
assistant attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights
Division, and Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States attorney, Northern
District of Illinois, to Todd H. Stroger, president, Cook County Board, and
Thomas Dart, sheriff, Cook County, Chicago, IL, Re: Cook County Jail,
Chicago, IL, July 11, 2008; Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general,
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, to Marlin N. Gusman,
criminal sheriff, Orleans Parish, New Orleans, LA, Re: Orleans Parish
Prison System, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 11, 2009; Jocelyn
Samuels, acting assistant attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice,
Civil Rights Division, and Preet Bharara, United States attorney, Southern
District of New York, to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Joseph
Ponte, NYC Department of Correction, and Zachary Carter, Corporation
Counsel of the City of New York, New York, Re: CRIPA Investigation
of the New York City Department of Correction Jails on Rikers Island,
August 4, 2014; and Jonathan Smith, chief, U.S. Department of Justice,



Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and André Birotte, Jr.,
United States Attorney, Central District of California, to Anthony Peck,
deputy county counsel, Monterey Park, CA, and Stephanie Jo Reagan,
principal deputy county counsel, Los Angeles County Department of
Mental Health, Los Angeles, CA, Re: Mental Health Care and Suicide
Prevention Practices at Los Angeles County Jails, June 4, 2014.
5	 Doris J. James, Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, (Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2004), 3.
6	 19,903 of 43,456 cases that resulted in jail time were for misdemeanors
or less. See New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Annual Report 2013
(New York: New York City Criminal Justice Agency, 2014), 30.
7	 Traffic and vehicular charges made up 26 percent (161,000) of all charges.
See Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding
Reduction Project (Los Angeles, CA: Vera Institute of Justice, 2011),
xv. This study was done prior to the enactment of the Public Safety
Realignment Act (AB 109) of 2011 which transferred a large number of
convicted felony offenders in state prison or on parole to the authority
of California’s 58 counties. For recent research on the impact of AB 109
on jail populations, see Magnus Lofstrom and Steven Raphael, Impact of
Realignment on County Jail Populations (San Francisco, CA: Public Policy
Institute of California, 2013).
8	 For example, at least 29 states have taken steps to reform mandatory
penalties since 2000, and many more in the last few years have taken steps
to expand community-based sentencing options, such as drug treatment
probation programs targeting high-risk, previously prison-bound drugaddicted offenders or reclassifying offenses by creating more gradation in
felony levels per type of criminal offense or lowering low-level crimes from
felonies to misdemeanors. For more information regarding recent state
sentencing and corrections reforms, see for example, Adrienne Austin,
Criminal Justice Trends: Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy,
2001-2010 (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2010); Lauren-Brooke
Eisen and Juliene James, Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of
State 2011 Sentencing Trends (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice,
2012); Ram Subramanian and Ruth Delaney, Playbook for Change? States
Reconsider Mandatory Sentences (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice,
2014); Ram Subramanian and Rebecka Moreno, Drug War Détente? A
Review of State-level Drug Law Reform (New York, NY: Vera Institute of
Justice, 2014); and Ram Subramanian and Rebecka Moreno, Recalibrating
Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends (New
York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2014). Also see Alison Lawrence, Trends
in Sentencing and Corrections: State Legislation (Washington, DC: National
Conference of State Legislatures, 2013); Nicole D. Porter, The State of
Sentencing 2013: Developments in Policy and Practice (Washington,
DC: The Sentencing Project, 2014); and Nicole D. Porter, The State of
Sentencing 2012: Developments in Policy and Practice (Washington, DC:
The Sentencing Project, 2013).
9	 For information about the impact of the fiscal crisis and low crime rates
on sentencing and corrections, see Ram Subramanian and Rebecca
Tublitz, Realigning Justice Resources: A Review of Population and
Spending Shifts in Prison and Community Corrections (New York, NY:
Vera Institute of Justice, 2012), 20. Also see Alison Shames and Michael
Woodruff, The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting A New
Course (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2010), 4.
10	 For results of public opinion polls which show that most Americans
support alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenses, see Pew
Center on the States, Public Opinion on Sentencing and Corrections
Policy in America (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitible Trusts, 2012),
also see Jill Mizell, An Overview of Public Opinion and Discourse
on Criminal Justice Issues (New York, NY: The Opportunity Agenda,
2014), 19-22. For research demonstrating that community-based drug
treatment programs, for example, are more effective than incarceration
for drug offenders, see S. Aos et al., Washington’s Drug Offender
Sentencing Alternative: An Evaluation Of Benefits And Costs (Olympia,
WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2005); M. Finigan et
al., The Impact of a Mature Drug Court over 10 Years of Operation:

Recidivism and Costs (Portland, Oregon: NPC Research, Inc., 2007); S. B.
Rossman et al., The Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation: The Impact
of Drug Courts (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center,
2011); and E.L. Sevigny, B.K. Fuleihan, and F.V. Ferdik, “Do drug courts
reduce the use of incarceration?: A meta-analysis,” Journal of Criminal
Justice, 41, no.6 (2013): 416-425. For research that demonstrates that
community-based sanctions are more effective than incarceration for
certain types of offenders more generally, see for example, Christopher
T. Lowenkamp and Edward J. Latessa, “Understanding the Risk Principle:
How and Why Correctional Interventions Harm Low-Risk Offenders,”
Topics in Community Corrections (Washington, DC: National Institute of
Corrections, 2004).
11	 For 1983 admissions, see Craig A. Perkins, James J. Stephan, and Allen
J. Beck, Jails and Jail Inmates 1993-94, (Washington, DC: US Department
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995),
13. For 2013 admissions, see Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p.4.
12	 David E. Olson and Koert Huddle, “An Examination of Admissions,
Discharges & the Population of the Cook County Jail, 2012”, Social
Justice, Paper 16 (2013),
13	 Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System,
Action Plan (City of New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio, 2014), 6, http://nyc.
14	 For 1983 jail population, see Allen J. Beck, Profile of Jail Inmates 1989,
(Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991), 3. For 2013 jail population, see Minton
and Golinelli, 2014, p.6.
15	 For 1993 rate, see Perkins, Stephan, and Beck, 1995, p. 2. For 2007 rate,
see Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p.6.
16	 Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p.6.
17	 Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics - UCR Data Online, The violent crime rate decreased from 758
to 387 and the property crime rate decreased from 5,140 to 2,859.
18	 Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of
America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011); Don
Stemen, Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime
(New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2007). Also see J. Travis, B.
Western, and S. Redburn, eds. The Growth of Incarceration in the United
States: Exploring Causes and Consequence (Washington, DC: National
Research Council, 2014).
19	 For drug arrest rates, see Howard N. Snyder and Joseph MulakoWangota, Arrest Data Analysis Tool, (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2013), selecting Drug Abuse Violation—Total at,
(accessed Nov. 29, 2014). For 1983 and 1989 drug jailing rates, see Beck,
1991, p.11; for later drug jailing rates, see Doris J. James, Profile of Jail
Inmates, 2002 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of
Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004).
20	 Authors’ approximations based on data from Beck, 1991, p. 7; and
Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p. 6. To approximate length of stay (LOS)
from aggregate annual admissions (ADM) and average daily populations
(ADP), we used the formula LOS = ADP/(ADM/365). The numbers are
intended to illustrate the trend more than precise estimates.
21	 The percentage is a weighted average for those with and without mental
illness who abused drugs or alcohol from Doris J. James and Lauren
Glaze, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates (Washington,
DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2006), 5-6.
22	 Caroline Wolf Harlow, Education and Correctional Populations
(Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003), 2.

and Bureau of the Census, “U.S. Census QuickFacts,” Using racial
breakdowns of jail populations and U.S. Census figures from 2010, we
determined that African Americans are jailed at a rate of 751 per 100,000
and whites are jailed at a rate of 168 per 100,000.
24	 Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p. 7; and Bureau of the Census, “U.S. Census
QuickFacts” at
25	 Authors’ calculations based on New York City Independent Budget
Office, NYC’s Jail Population: Who’s There and Why? (New York: New
York City Independent Budget Office, 2012),; and Bureau of the Census, “U.S. Census QuickFacts,” The population of
the Rikers Island jail is 57 percent black, 33 percent Latino, and 7 percent
white. The population of New York City is 22 percent black, 29 percent
Latino, and 33 percent white.
26	 J. Blecher, “Are jails replacing the mental health system for the homeless
mentally ill?,” Community Mental Health Journal 24, no. 3 (1988): 185-95;
D. Shenson, N. Dubler, and D. Michaels, “Jails and prisons: The new
asylums?,” American Journal of Public Health 80, no. 6 (1990): 655-694.
For history of the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill generally,
see Bernard E. Harcourt, Reducing Mass Incarceration: Lessons from
the Deinstitutionalization of Mental Hospitals in the 1960s (Chicago:
University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 335,
2011). Also see Richard G. Frank and Sherry A. Glied, Better But Not
Well: Mental Health Policy in the United States since 1950 (Baltimore,
MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
27	 Henry J. Steadman, F.C. Osher, et al., “Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness
Among Jail Inmates,” Psychiatric Services 60, no. 6, (June, 2009): 761;
and although women still make up a relatively small proportion of the jail
population—14 percent in 2013— their share has been steadily increasing,
up from 11 percent since 2000, Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p. 7.
28	 James and Glaze, 2006, p. 1. Symptoms of a mental disorder were based
on criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). For a general discussion of mental
illness in jails, see Travis, Western, and Redburn, 2014.
29	 H. Richard Lamb and Linda Weinberger, “The Shift of Psychiatric
Inpatient Care From Hospitals to Jails and Prisons,” Journal of the
American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online 33, no. 4 (2005):
529, 531. Also see H. Richard Lamb, Linda Weinberger, and Walter
DeCuir, “The Police and Mental Health,” Psychiatric Services 53, Issue
10 (2002): 1266, 1269 at
30	 James and Glaze, 2006, p. 9.
31	 David H. Cloud, Ernest Drucker, Angela Browne, and Jim Parsons, “Public
Health and Solitary Confinement in the United States,” American Journal
of Public Health.
32	 Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding
Reduction Project (Los Angeles, CA: Vera Institute of Justice, 2011), xix.
33	 For 1982 expenditures, see Tracey Kyckelhahn, Justice Expenditures
and Employment, FY 1982-2007 (Washington, DC: Department of
Justice, 2011), 6; for 2011 expenditures, see Tracey Kyckelhahn, Local
Government Corrections Expenditures, FY 2005–2011, (Washington, DC:
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013), 1-4, 7. The
2011 report shows local expenditures on corrections as $7,068 million in
1982 (in 2007 dollars) and the 2013 report shows local expenditures on
corrections to be $26,400 million in 2011 (in 2011 dollars). When both
figures are adjusted to constant 2011 dollars, the increase is about 235
34	 A. L. Solomon, Life after lockup: Improving reentry from jail to the
community (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center,
2008), 15-24.

23	 Authors’ calculations based on Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p. 2;



35	 Kyckelhahn, 2013, p. 4.
36	 State funds and other sources of revenue, including fines and fees, may
cover a small percentage of operating costs. Barbara Krauth and Karin
Stayton, Fees Paid by Jail Inmates: Fee Categories, Revenues, and
Management Perspectives in a Sample of U.S. Jails (Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, 2005), 2-4, 6-7,
15-17, 36-38, 40-41.
37	 Christopher Lowenkamp, Marie VanNostrand, and Alexander M.
Holsinger, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention (New York, NY: The
Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013), 11. Lowenkamp et al.’s
research in this area does not explore the causes of these negative
outcomes. One, as yet untested, hypothesis could be that detained
low- and moderate-risk individuals suffer the same over-programming
consequences as low- and moderate-risk probationers and parolees who
recidivate at higher rates when they receive overly-intensive supervision
as compared to those who receive supervision matched to their assessed
risk. For research on assessed risk and intervention level, see D.A.
Andrews and James Bonta, The psychology of criminal conduct (Albany,
NY: Lexis Nexis/Anderson Pub. Research, 2010) on the negative impact
of high-intensity supervision and interventions with low- and medium-low
risk probationers and parolees.
38	 See Lowenkamp, VanNostrand, and Holsinger, 2013, p. 10-11; John
S. Goldkamp, Two Classes of Accused: A study of Bail and Detention
in American Justice (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Pub. Co., 1979); and
Malcolm Feeley, The Process is the Punishment: Handling Cases in a
Lower Criminal Court, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1979). For
a comprehensive review of current research, see Jeffrey David Manns,
Liberty Takings: a Framework for Com[p]ensating Pretrial Detainees
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law School, John M. Olin Center for Law,
Economics, and Business, 2005); and The Pretrial Justice Institute,
Rational and Transparent Bail Decision Making: Moving From a CashBased to a Risk-Based Process, (Washington, DC, Pretrial Justice
Institute/MacArthur Foundation 2012).
39	 Goldkamp, 1979; Feeley, 1979; and Manns, 2005.
40	 For racial breakdowns of jail populations, see Minton and Golinelli, 2014,
p. 6. For racial breakdowns of the general population, see U.S. Census
41	 For the example of New York City, see Jeffrey Fagan and Garth Davies,
“Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New
York City,” Fordham Urban Law Journal 28, no.2 (2000): 457-464.
42	 Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Incorporating Racial Equity into
Criminal Justice Reform (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2014),
43	 For research demonstrating that schools in minority neighborhoods are
more likely to have law enforcement officers on site, see Aaron Kupchik
and Geoff Ward “Race, Poverty, and Exclusionary School Security: An
Empirical Analysis of US Elementary, Middle, and High Schools,” Youth
Violence and Juvenile Justice 12, no. 4 (2013): 332-354; and Allison
Ann Payne and Kelly Welch, “Modeling the Effects of Racial Threat on
Punitive and Restorative School Discipline Practices,” Criminology 48, no.
4 (2010): 1019-1062.
44	 For information about stop and frisk practices in New York, see Jennifer
Fratello, Andres Rengifo, and Jennifer Trone, Coming of Age in the Era of
Stop and Frisk (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2013).
45	 Mauer and Ghandnoosh, 2014, pp. 6-7.
46	 Robert Brame, Shawn Bushway, Ray Paternoster, Michael Turner,
“Demographic Patterns of Cumulative Arrest Prevalence by Ages 18 and
23,”Crime and Delinquency, 60(3), (2014), 1.
47	 Tina Frierburger and Carly Hilinski. “The Impact of Race, Gender, and
Age on the Pretrial Decision,” Criminal Justice Review 35(3), (2010), 330.



48	 American Civil Liberties Union, Racial Disparities in Sentencing: Hearing
on Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States.
(Washington, DC: American Civil Liberties Union, 2014), 1-3.
49	 Barbara Krauth and Karin Stayton, pp. 7-35.
50	 These fees include medical visits (including pharmacy prescriptions,
eye care, and dental), telephone use, per diem/pay to stay, booking,
photocopying, barber/hair care, bonding, escort/transportation, notary,
laundry, check-processing, detoxification at intake, substance abuse
testing, substance abuse treatment, weekend programs, electronic
monitoring, community service, GED testing, jail industries/jobs
programs, work release, vocational aptitude testing, and day reporting.
See Krauth and Stayton, 2005, pp. 7-35.
51	 See American Civil Liberties Union, In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s
New Debtors Prisons (New York, NY: American Civil Liberties Union,
2010), 6-8; and Council on State Governments, Repaying Debts
(Washington, DC: Council of State Governments and the Bureau of
Justice Assistance, 2007), 7-8. Also see, A. Bannon, M. Nagrecha, and R.
Diller, Criminal Justice Debt: a Barrier to Reentry (New York, NY: Brennan
Center for Justice, 2010), 7-10.
52	 Bannon, Nagrecha, and Diller, 2010, p.10.
53	 Council on State Governments, Repaying Debts (Washington, DC:
Council of State Governments and the Bureau of Justice Assistance,
2007), 2.
54	 In addition, more and more employers are conducting criminal
background checks as part of their hiring processes. Some surveys
suggest that 90 percent of employers conduct such checks, and they are
not always limited to convictions. NELP found that in one survey, over 90
percent of employers reported requiring criminal background checks as
a part of hiring decisions. They may also inquire about previous arrests
or criminal charges, regardless of the outcome. See Michelle Natividad
Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, 65 Million Need not Apply: The Case
for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment (Washington,
DC: The National Employment Law Project, 2011), 1.
55	 Bannon, Nagrecha, and Diller, 2010, p.13.
56	 See American Civil Liberties Union, 2010, p. 5; Council on State
Governments, 2007 p. 3; Bannon, Nagrecha, and Diller, 2010, pp. 19-26;
Douglass Evans, The Debt Penalty—Exposing the Financial Barriers to
Offender Reintegration (New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center,
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 2014), 1.
57	 Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 668-69 (1983).
58	 Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on
Economic Mobility (Washington, DC: the Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010), 11.
59	 When an individual enrolled in Medicaid is detained, the majority of
states terminate Medicaid benefits, despite federal guidance that
allows for the suspension of Medicaid for individuals involved in the
criminal justice system whose eligibility for the program is not linked
to Supplemental Security Income. See Anita Cardwell and Meaghan
Gilmore, County Jails and the Affordable Care Act: Enrolling Eligible
Individuals in Health Coverage (Washington, DC: National Association of
Counties, 2012), 3.
60	 Each federal program has different eligibility criteria in relation to prison
or jail stays. See Social Security Administration, What Prisoners Need to
Know (Washington, DC: Social Security Administration, 2010),;
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Incarcerated Veterans,” .

61	 See Corrinne A. Carey, No second chance: People with criminal records
denied access to public housing (New York, NY: Human Rights Watch,
2004), 3,; and
Stephen Metraux, Caterina Roman, and Richard Cho, “Incarceration and
Homelessness,” (Washington DC: National Symposium on Homelessness
Research, 2007), 9.
62	 A survey found that 63 percent of homeless formerly incarcerated
people in Baltimore, MD surveyed had owned or rented a home prior to
incarceration, but only 29 percent owned or rented a home after release.
The survey does not distinguish between jail and prison, but notes that
41 percent of respondents were incarcerated for a year or less. See
Center for Poverty Solutions, Barriers to Stability: Homelessness and
Incarceration’s Revolving Door in Baltimore City (Baltimore, MD: Open
Society Foundations, 2003), 14-15.
63	 See Greg A. Greenbergand and Richard Rosenheck, “Jail Incarceration,
Homelessness, and Mental Health: A National Study,” Psychiatric
Services 59, no. 2 (2008): 170-177; National Association of Counties,
Corporation for Supportive Housing, Supportive Housing for JusticeInvolved Frequent Users of County Public Systems (Washington, DC.:
National Association of Counties, 2013), 3.
64	 More than half (53 percent) of female jail inmates reported having a
current medical problem, compared to about a third (35 percent) of male
jail inmates. See Laura M. Maruschak, Medical Problems of Jail Inmates,
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
2006), 1,
65	 See Richard G Frank and Sherry A. Glied, Better But Not Well: Mental
Health Policy in the United States since 1950 (Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 2006); Kathleen N. Ly et al., “The increasing
burden of mortality from viral hepatitis in the United States between
1999 and 2007,” Annals of Internal Medicine 156, no. 4 (2012): 271-278;
Jessica R. MacNeil, Mark N. Lobato, and Marisa Moore, “An unanswered
health disparity: tuberculosis among correctional inmates, 1993 through
2003,” American Journal of Public Health 95 no. 10 (2005): 1800;
Marushka L. Silveira, 2006, p. 1.
66	 Nicholas Freudenberg, “Jails, prisons, and the health of urban
populations: A review of the impact of the correctional system on
community health” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York
Academy of Medicine 78, no. 2 (2011): 214–235.
67	 Dora M. Dumont et al., “Public health and the epidemic of incarceration,”
Annual Review of Public Health 33 (2012): 331-333; Andrew P. Wilper et
al., “The health and health care of US prisoners: results of a nationwide
survey,” American Journal of Public Health 99, no. 4 (2009): 666-672; Sasha
Abramsky and Jamie Fellner, Ill-Equipped: US Prisons and Offenders with
Mental Illness (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003), 16, 22, 40.
68	 Nicholas Freudenberg, Jessie Daniels, Martha Crum, Tiffany Perkins,
and Beth E. Richie, “Coming Home From Jail: The Social and Health
Consequences of Community Reentry for Women, Male Adolescents, and
Their Families and Communities,” American Journal of Public Health. 95
(2005): 1725.
69	 In 2005, 79 percent of women in jail were mothers, with nearly 250,000
children between them. See Susan McCampbell, The Gender-Responsive
Strategies Project: Jail Applications (Washington, DC: National Institute
of Corrections, US Department of Justice, 2005), 2, 4.
70	 Steve Christian, Children of Incarcerated Parents (Washington, DC:
National Council of State Legislatures, 2009), 5.
71	 Todd Clear’s research looks at the impact of incarceration on communities,
including high rates of community members in both jail and prison. Todd R.
Clear, “The Effects of High Imprisonment Rates on Communities,” Crime
and Justice 37, no. 1 (2008): 97-132, 114-117. Also see Andrew Petteruti
and Nastassia Walsh, Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion
and Effective Public Safety Strategies (Washington DC: Justice Policy
Institute, 2008), 18-20; and Nancy G. La Vigne, Pamela Lachman, Shebani
Rao, Andrea Matthews. Stop and Frisk: Balancing Crime Control with
Community Relations (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2014): 20-21.

72	 Todd R. Clear, Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes
disadvantaged neighborhoods worse (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
73	 James Austin and Michael Jacobson, How New York City Reduced Mass
Incarceration: A Model for Change? (New York, NY: Vera Institute of
Justice, 2013), 25.
74	 State laws allow citation and release primarily in response to traffic
violations, infractions, low-level misdemeanors, and sometimes low-level
felonies. Louisiana, Oregon, and New York, for example, offer this for
some felonies. Both state laws and departmental policies range widely
in terms of presuming or allowing this practice. There are states and/or
municipalities, for example, that list specific crimes for which a citation
is the presumed response, absent mitigating circumstances, while
others provide no guidance at all. See National Conference of State
Legislatures, Citation in Lieu of Arrest (2013)
75	 Ibid. With varying degrees of formality, officers consider an array of
factors, including whether the suspect seems to pose a danger to
persons or property and the person’s criminal record, including any
outstanding warrants; whether or not the suspect and any family
members reside locally and the suspect’s employment status and
other possible ties to the community as indicators of the likelihood
that the person will appear in court; and whether the suspect is under
the influence of drugs or alcohol or appears to be mentally ill. See for
example, Mary T. Phillips, The Past, Present , and Possible Future of Desk
Appearance Tickets in New York City, (New York: New York City Criminal
Justice Agency, 2014). In some small jurisdictions, the police may also
require the person to post a small amount of bail to create an incentive
for the person to appear in court for arraignment.
76	 The practice of “for-profit” or “quota” policing can result in unlawful
stops, summonses, and arrests. Quotas are requirements that an officer
issue a certain number of violations within a specific timeframe and are
sometimes imposed to accrue court fines and fees from defendants to
help reduce budgetary deficits in cities or counties. See for example,
New York Civil Liberties Union report “NYCLU Lawsuit Challenges
Primitive Quota System in Bronx Precinct” (New York, NY: New York
Civil Liberties Union, 2012), While it still remains
a practice in some jurisdictions, there has been much investigation and
litigation in jurisdictions across the United States, including in Georgia,
New Jersey, Illinois, and New York, regarding the illegality of violations
and ticket quotas. See for example, Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge
1 v City of Camden, Civ. No 10-1502 (D.N.J. Sep. 26, 2013); Plaintiff’s
Complaint, Craig Matthews v City of New York, Raymond Kelly, 12
Civ.1354 (S.D.N.Y. filed Feb. 23, 2012).
77	 For research on civil forfeiture, see Marian R. Williams, Jefferson E. Holcomb,
Tomislav V. Kovandzic, and Scott Bullock, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of
Civil Asset Forfeiture (Washington, DC: Institute for Justice, March 2010);
J. Worrall, and T. Kovandzic, “Is Policing For Profit? Answers from Asset
Forfeiture” Criminology and Public Policy 7 (2008): 219-244; and John L.
Worrall, “Addicted to the Drug War: The Role of Civil Asset Forfeiture
as Budgetary Necessity in Contemporary Law Enforcement” Journal of
Criminal Justice 29 (2001): 171–187. For an example of press coverage
about Missouri, see Radley Balko, “How Municipalities in St. Louis County,
MO., Profit From Poverty,” Washington Post, September 3, 2014.
78	 Authors’ calculation from Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail Inmates 1984
(Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
1986), 2; and Snyder and Mulako-Wangota, 2013. In 1983 there were
11.7 million arrests and 6 million jail admissions.
79	 Authors’ calculation from Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p. 4; and Snyder
and Mulako-Wangota, 2013. In 2012 there were 12.2 million arrests and
11.6 million jail admissions.
80	 For the analysis of 17 state courts, see Robert LaFountain et al.,
Examining the Work of State Courts: An Analysis of 2010 State Court
Caseloads (Washington DC: National Center for State Courts, 2012),
24. For the analysis of misdemeanor arrests in New York City, see Preeti



Chauhan et al., Trends in Misdemeanor Arrests in New York (New York:
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2014).
81	 The arrest rate for drug crimes peaked in 2006. See Howard N. Snyder
and Joseph Mulako-Wangota, Bureau of Justice Statistics. With
underlying data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program,
U.S. drug arrest estimates were generated using the Arrest Data Analysis
Tool at
82	 The U.S. Constitution affords defendants adversarial safeguards in
criminal proceedings including a timely judicial determination of probable
cause as a pre-requisite to detention under the Fourth Amendment.
See Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 114 (1975). Similarly, under the
Sixth Amendment the Court found that there must be a reasonable
time between arrest and arraignment. See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S.
514, 530-31 (1972). These holdings have been codified under Federal
Rule of Criminal Procedure 5.1, which states that a person arrested in
the United States must be presented “without unnecessary delay” to
a magistrate or judge. See Fed. Rules Cr. Proc. Rule 5, 18 U.S.C.A.,
FRCRP Rule 5. The Supreme Court subsequently found that in order to
satisfy Gerstein’s promptness requirement, a jurisdiction that chooses to
combine probable cause determinations with other pretrial proceedings
must do so as soon as is reasonably feasible, but no later than 48 hours
after arrest. See County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 56
(1991). States that combine “probable cause determinations” with initial
court appearances have interpreted “unnecessary delay” to mean no
more than 48 hours. See Pen C §825; CCP §§134-135; Govt C §§6700,
6706; People v Lee 3 CA3d 514, 521 (1970). Despite the Supreme
Court’s 48 hour mandate, many jurisdictions provide a 72-hour window
for arraignment. Typically state statutes do not permit law enforcement
to detain a person for more than 72 hours before arraignment and others
comport with the Supreme Court mandate of 48 hours and some even
fewer. For example, in New York and Washington, DC, statute requires
24 hours and in California legislature interprets “unnecessary delay” as
no more than 48 hours, not including holidays. See Kimyetta R. Robinson,
From Arrest to Appeal: A Guide to Criminal Cases in The New York State
Courts (New York, NY: The Fund for Modern Courts, 2005), 12; also see
Washington, DC Super. Ct. R. Crim. P. 5(c).—a defendant has the right to
an immediate probable cause determination; Pen C §825; CCP §§134135; Govt C §§6700, 6706. People v Lee 3 CA3d 51 (1970). However,
while courts have found that unreasonable pre-arraignment detention is
unconstitutional, there is no remedy for the violation.
83	See Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 364 (1978), “In our system,
so long as prosecutor has probable cause to believe that the accused
committed offense defined by statute, decision whether to prosecute,
and what charge to file or bring before a grand jury, and generally
rests entirely in his discretion.” However, “a prosecutor should remain
free before trial to exercise the broad discretion entrusted to him
to determine the extent of the societal interest in prosecution.” See
U.S. v. Goodwin, 457 U.S. 368 (1982). Also see, for example, Hassan
v Magistrates Court, 191 N.Y.S. 2nd 238, 243 (Sup. Ct. 1959), “Just
because a crime has been committed, it does not follow that there
must necessarily be a prosecution for it lies with the district attorney to
determine whether the acts which may fall within the literal letter of the
law should as a matter of public policy not be prosecuted.” Additionally,
recognizing the prosecution’s broad enforcement and discretionary
power, the American Bar Association created a rule in its Model Rules
for Professional Responsibility to guide prosecutors’ duties. See Model
Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.8 (2005).
84	 For examples of recent state reforms that expand deferred prosecution
programs out of concern about collateral consequences of criminal
convictions see Ram Subramanian and Rebecka Moreno, Relief in Sight?
States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 20092014 (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2014).
85	 For information on the history of risk assessment in criminal justice, see
D.A. Andrews, James Bonta, and J. Stephen Wormith, “The Recent Past
and Near Future of Risk and/or Need Assessment,” Crime & Delinquency
52, no. 1 (2006): 7-27.



86	 National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, Promising Practices
in Pretrial Diversion (Washington, DC: National Association of Pretrial
Services Agencies, 2010).
87	 Broadly, bail refers to conditions put upon an accused person to
ensure that, if released from custody, he or she reappears for trial. See
Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1, 4 (1951) (“The right to release before trial is
conditioned upon the accused’s giving adequate assurance that he will
stand trial and submit to sentence if found guilty.”) While the Eighth
Amendment prohibits excessive bail, the Constitution does not create
an absolute right to bail. See United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739,
754-55 (1987). Presently, there is a presumption towards releasing people
pending trial. However, if an individual is deemed to pose a safety risk
or flight risk, then pretrial detention is allowed. See Salerno, 418 U.S. at
751 (Government’s interest in public safety can outweigh an individual’s
liberty interest.) The decision whether or not to release a defendant is
usually made first at arraignment or another initial court appearance, and
can be revisited multiple times during the movement of a case through
the courts.
88	 For example, under Federal bail law, see 18 U.S.C. § 3142, as amended
in 1984, courts can deal with an individual charged with a crime pending
trial in several ways. If a judicial officer can determine that the individual
doesn’t pose a safety or flight risk, the individual should be released
upon his or her own recognizance, or after promising to pay money for
failure to appear: see § 3142(b). Second, if the judicial officer feels more
safeguards are necessary to ensure either the individual’s reappearance
or to ensure the safety of the community, the court can impose further
conditions (for example, compliance with a curfew, electronic monitoring,
or prohibitions on firearm possession): see § 3142(c). Determinations for
either outcome are made by considering the nature of the offense, the
weight of evidence against the individual, the history and character of
the individual, and whether the individual poses a significant risk to the
community: see § 3142(g). Alternatively, an individual may be temporarily
detained in order to facilitate the revocation of any other conditional
release he or she may be under—for example, if the individual is on
probation, parole, or awaiting trial for another offense: see § 3142(d).
However, temporary detainment is only triggered if an individual poses a
flight or safety risk: see § 3142(d)(2). Finally, only some individuals can be
detained until trial. Those charged with crimes of violence, certain drug
offenses, certain repeat offenses, and offenses carrying maximum life
sentences trigger the ability for the court to hold a hearing to determine
whether indefinite detention is warranted: see § 3142(f). Additionally,
individuals whose pose a significant flight risk or are likely to obstruct
justice or threaten witnesses are also eligible for indefinite detention.
Ibid. Typically, at the hearing, the government must show, by clear and
convincing evidence, that no conditions of release can reasonably assure
the safety of the community. However, certain charges—including certain
drug offenses, certain acts of terrorism, and many offenses involving a
minor victim—carry a presumption of detention that the defendant must
rebut: see § 3142(e). At the state level, bail laws vary. For an overview of
differences among state bail laws, see Pretrial Justice Institute’s “Matrix
of Bail Laws,”
89	 Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p.1.
90	 Pheny Z. Smith, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 1990
(Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice,
1993), 8; and Brian A. Reaves, Felony Defendants in Large Urban
Counties, 2009-Statistical Tables (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Department of Justice, 2013), 1.
91	 Reaves, 2013, p.15.
92	Ibid.
93	 Ibid. A surety bond is an agreement between the court and a third
person (the surety) to pay a certain amount if the defendant named in the
agreement fails to appear in court. The bond may be secured, requiring
an actual payment of the sum or some portion of it in court pending the
appearance of the defendant, or unsecured, requiring only the promise
to pay if the defendant doesn’t appear. Private surety agents, known as
bail bondsmen, charge a nonrefundable fee in exchange for paying or

promising to pay the amount necessary to get someone out of jail. They
may also require some kind of collateral from the defendant that will be
forfeited if he or she fails to show up for court dates. Some states, most
recently Kentucky, have outlawed private for-profit sureties.
94	 Reaves, 2013, p. 19; Brian A. Reaves and Paul Smith, Felony Defendants
in Large Urban Counties, 1992 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Department of Justice, 1995), 20. The 1992 mean bail ($25,400)
is shown in 2009 dollars.
95	 See Marion Katsive, New Areas for Bail Reform: A Report on the
Manhattan Bail Reevaluation Project (New York, NY: Vera Institute of
Justice, 1968). See generally Kristin Bechtel, Christopher T. Lowenkamp
and Alex Holsinger, “Identifying the Predictors of Pretrial Failure: A
Meta-Analysis” Federal Probation 75, no. 2 (2011).
96	 Bechtel, Lowenkamp, and Holsinger, 2011, pp.1-2.
97	 Melissa Neal, Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Using
Money for Bail (Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute, 2012), 3-4, 21-22.
98	 Reaves, 2013, pp. 15, 20.
99	 Donna Makowiecki and Thomas Wolf, “Enter...Stage Left...U.S. Pretrial
Services,” Federal Probation 71, no. 2: 7-9; also see William Henry, “The
Pretrial Services Act: 25 Years Later,” Federal Probation 71, no. 2 (2007): 16.
100	 Bechtel, Lowenkamp and Holsinger, 2011.
101	 For example, see the Los Angeles County 2011 Felony Bail Schedule,
Misdemeanors.pdf; and see Pretrial Justice Institute, Rational and
Transparent Bail Decisions: Moving from a Cash-based to a Risk-based
Process (Washington, DC: Pretrial Justice Institute, 2012) 18-42; Michael
R. Jones, Unsecured Bonds: The As Effective and Most Efficient Pretrial
Option (Washington, DC: Pretrial Justice Institute, 2013).
102	 Timothy Schnacke, Money as a Criminal Justice Stakeholder: The Judge’s
Decision to Release or Detain a Defendant Pretrial (Washington, DC:
National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice, 2014) 30-39.
103	 Reaves, 2013, p. 15.
104	Ibid.
105	 13,352 felony defendants (including remands) and 10,868 non-felony
defendants were not released prior to disposition. 3,407 non-felony
defendants with bonds of $500 or less were not released prior to
disposition. See New York Criminal Justice Agency, New York Criminal
Justice Agency Annual Report (New York: Criminal Justice Agency,
2013), 30.
106	 Frierburger and Hilinski, 2010, p. 330.
107	Ibid.
108	 Jamie Fellner, The Price of Freedom: Bail and Pretrial Detention of Low
Income Nonfelony Defendants in New York City (New York, NY: Human
Rights Watch, 2010), 27-30.
109	 Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding
Reduction Project, 68.
110	Ibid.
111	 The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that in
“all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
speedy trial.” This same protection is also embodied in the Fourteen
Amendment’s due process clause. In 1974, the Speedy Trial Act 18
U.S.C. §§ 3161-3174— later amended in 1979— set forth time limits for
completing federal prosecutions providing for dismissal of the criminal
action if there are delays without good cause. Each state has its own
speedy trial provision, embodied in legislation, court rulings, or both.

112	 A recent New Yorker essay tells the story of one young man who
spent three years in jail, missing both his junior and senior years in
high school and insisting on his innocence, before the Bronx district
attorney dismissed the charges against him. See Jennifer Gonnerman,
“Before the Law: A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts
took the next three years of his life,” The New Yorker, October 6, 2014.
According to a New York Times investigation, he is just one of many
defendants whose cases are stalled in the Bronx courts. See William
Glaberson, “Faltering Courts Mired in Delays,” The New York Times,
April 13, 2013, Also see William
Glabeerson’s four-part report, “Justice Denied: Inside the Bronx’s
Dysfunctional Court System,” The New York Times, April 13, 14, 15 and
30, 2013.
113	 Marie VanNostrand, New Jersey Jail Population Analysis: Identifying
Opportunities to Safely and Responsibly Reduce Jail Population
(Trenton, NJ: Drug Policy Alliance, 2013), 14.
114	 See note 80. Also, see Jenny Roberts, “Crashing the Misdemeanor
System,” Washington and Lee Law Review 70 (2013) and Jenny Roberts,
“Why Misdemeanors Matter: Defining Effective Advocacy in Lower
Criminal Courts,” U.C. Davis Law Review 45 (2011).
115	 The Bronx Defenders Fundamental Fairness Project, No Day in Court:
Marijuana Possession Cases and the Failure of the Bronx Criminal
Courts (Bronx, NY: The Bronx Defenders, 2013).
116	 After arraignment, for example, a criminal case will typically include a
preliminary meeting between the two sides to see whether the case can
be resolved short of having a trial. For felonies, in some jurisdictions a
grand jury will be convened to examine the evidence and determine
whether charges should be brought. There will also likely be pretrial
hearings, some which will deal with procedural or constitutional issues
related to the evidence procured by law enforcement and depending
on the outcome, a judge may decide to alter course. The judge may
require more information, another hearing, may bind the case over
on different charges, or reduce or dismiss the charges. If convicted,
there is usually a gap in time between conviction and sentencing, in
part because the sentencing judge may require a report about the
defendant to inform the sentencing decision—a report that is typically
put together by the court’s probation department Sometimes the victim
and character witnesses might be called to the judge in determining an
appropriate sentence.
117	 Vera Institute of Justice, Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding
Reduction Project (2011), 71.
118	 See note 121. Also, ibid, p. 70.
119	 See William Glaberson for example, “For 3 Years After Killing, Evidence
Fades as a Suspect Sits in Jail,” The New York Times April 15, 2013
120	 More than 97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state
convictions are the result of guilty pleas. See Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online, Table
and S. Rosenmerkel, M. Durose, and D. Farole, Felony Sentences
in State Courts, 2006–Statistical Tables (Washington, DC: Bureau
of Justice Statistics, 2009), 1; also see Lindsey Devers, Plea and
Charge Bargaining: Research Summary (Washington, DC: Bureau of
Justice Assistance, 2011), 1. For a brief discussion on the relative
power prosecutors have in plea bargaining see Rodney J. Uphoff,
“The Criminal Defense Lawyer As Effective Negotiator: A Systemic
Approach” Clinical Law Review 2 (1995): 73, 88-89 & n. 63 (1992).
121	 See for example People v. Llovet, N.Y.LJ., Apr. 24, 1998 (Kings
Cty. Crim. Ct.) which found that “many of the pleas of guilty to
misdemeanors were by defendants who could achieve their freedom
only by pleading guilty. (Plead guilty and get out, maintain your
innocence and remain incarcerated in lieu of bail.) Thus if all defendants
had the economic wherewithal to make bail, it is clear that many



fewer…would plead guilty to misdemeanors.” Also see Gerard E.
Lynch, “Our Administrative System of Criminal Justice,” Fordham Law
Review 66 (1998): 2117, 2146 (“Pleading guilty at the first opportunity in
exchange for a sentence of ‘time [already] served’ is often an offer that
cannot be refused.”)
122	 James J. Stephan and Louis W. Jankowski, Jail Inmates, 1990,
(Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991), 2.

131	 American Civil Liberties Union, 2010, p. 73; and Bannon, Nagrecha, and
Diller, 2010, p. 11. See also Alexes Harris, Heather Evans, and Katherine
Beckett, “Drawing blood from stones: Legal debt and social inequality
in the contemporary United States,” American Journal of Sociology, 115
no. 6 (2014): 1782-1785; and Douglas Evans, Douglas, The Debt Penalty
— Exposing the Financial Barriers to Offender Reintegration (New York,
NY: Research & Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
City University of New York, 2014), 8-9.

123	 Minton and Golinelli, 2014, p.7.

132	 American Civil Liberties Union, 2010, p. 22. Bannon, Nagrecha, and
Diller, 2010, p. 24.

124	 See Subramanian and Moreno, 2014, p. 11.

133	 Ibid, p. 23.

125	 For a discussion of treatment matching and dosage strategies that
incorporate criminogenic risk and needs assessments, see April
Pattavina and Faye S. Taxman, Simulation strategies to reduce
recidivism: Risk need responsivity (RNR) modeling for the criminal
justice system (New York, NY: Springer, 2013).
126	 These strategies have not been without criticism. Advocates for healthbased approaches to addiction argue that drug courts have made the
criminal justice system more punitive toward addiction by penalizing
relapse with incarceration and dropping from programs those who
are not able to abstain from drug use for a sufficient period of time
as determined by a judge. See Drug Policy Alliance, Drug Courts Are
Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Center Approach to Drug Use (New
York, NY: Drug Policy Alliance, 2011), 16. Critics have also pointed
to a phenomenon known as ‘net widening,’ which refers to “wellmeaning police officers and prosecutors arrest[ing] and charg[ing]
more offenders under the assumption that something worthwhile could
happen to such offenders once they were in the penal system and
eligible for drug court rehabilitation,” Joel Gross, “The Effects of NetWidening on Minority and Indigent Drug Offenders: A Critique of Drug
Courts,” University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender
and Class 10 (2010): 161, 167. They note that many of those individuals
are low-level offenders—often with no criminal record and no record
of addiction—who might have otherwise not been brought into the
system. See Eric Miller, “Drug Courts and Judicial Interventionism,”Ohio
State Law Journal 65 (2004): 1483, 1569. Mental health advocates have
put forth similar arguments regarding mental health courts. See, e.g.,
Susan Stefan & Bruce J. Winick, “A Dialogue on Mental Health Courts,”
Psychology, Public Policy & Law 11 (2005): 507.
127	 Christopher T. Lowenkamp and Edward J. Latessa, “Understanding the
Risk Principle: How and Why Correctional Interventions Can Harm LowRisk Offenders,” Topics in Community Corrections, Annual Issue (2004).
128	 See Peggy McGarry et al., The Potential of Community Corrections to
Improve Safety and Reduce Incarceration (New York, NY: Vera Institute
of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, July 2013), 12. See
also, Lowenkamp and Latessa, 2004.
129	 McGarry et al., 2013, pp. 15-19.
130	 For information about jail reentry challenges, see Talia Sandwick et al.,
Making The Transition: Rethinking Jail Reentry in Los Angeles County
(New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2013); Amy L. Solomon et
al., Life After Lockup: Improving Reentry from Jail to the Community
(Washington, DC: Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, 2008); Jim
Parsons, “Addressing the Unique Challenges of Jail Reentry” in
Offender Reentry: Rethinking Criminology and Criminal Justice, edited
by Matthew S. Crow and John Ortiz Smykla (Burlington, MA: Jones &
Bartlett Learning, 2014).



The authors would like to thank Jennifer Trone for her deft assistance in the
writing of this report. A special thank you to Sean Addie, Vedan Anthony-North,
Christina Dominguez, Sophie Gebreselassie, Christine Herrman, Kaitlin Kall,
Maia Spotts, and Elizabeth Swavola for their research and other support.
We would especially like to thank Patricia Connelly for her invaluable
assistance in the planning and editing of this report; Carl Ferrero for creating
the charts, graphs, and infographics; and Mary Crowley and Daniel Wilhelm for
their insight and guidance throughout the project.
We would like to thank Laurie Garduque, Patrick Griffin, and Soledad McGrath
of the MacArthur Foundation for their support throughout the development of
this report.
This report was created with support from the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation as part of its Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, which
seeks to address over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about
and uses jails. Core to the Challenge is a competition designed to support efforts
to improve local criminal justice systems in jurisdictions across the country that
are working to safely reduce over-reliance on jails, with a particular focus on
addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities
of color. More information is available at

© Vera Institute of Justice 2015. All rights reserved. An electronic version of this report is posted on Vera’s website
Cover photograph © Ed Kashi/VII
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and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.
For more information, visit
For more information about this report, contact Ram Subramanian, director of publications, Center on Sentencing and Corrections,

Suggested Citation
Ram Subramanian et al. Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jail in America.
New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2015.

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