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Vera Institute of Justice was initially the initiative by Louis Schweitzer and Herb Stutz known as the Manhattan Bail Project found in 1961 and tackling the injustice of a bail system in New York City. Today, Vera Institute of Justice is working on more than five dozen projects that aim to unravel the impediments to human dignity and justice, while changing the lives of individuals. More than half a century after the Manhattan Bail Project, Vera embraces new tools—like the power of mining big data to unearth injustice, the potential of competitions to seek out the most motivated leaders, and the importance of communications to engage with our ideas.
Vera's mission is to urgently build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. It works in partnership with local, state, and national government officials to create change from within.
Persistent fiscal challenges in the United States have spurred greater scrutiny of government spending. States’ corrections expenditures are receiving considerable attention. Yet the true taxpayer cost of prison reaches far beyond these numbers. State corrections budgets often fail to reflect certain costs — such as employee benefits, capital costs, in-prison education services, or hospital care for inmates — covered by other government agencies. Additionally, the cost of underfunded contributions for corrections employees’ pension and retiree health care plans must be included in a comprehensive accounting of prison costs. In partnership with the Pew Center on the States, Vera developed a tool to calculate these costs and create a more holistic view of what taxpayers are paying to maintain these systems.
Vera calculated the total cost of prisons by analyzing expenses funded through all state and federal revenue sources in the fiscal year 2010. Vera collected prison costs, in corrections departments and beyond, through a survey of the departments of corrections in all 50 states. Vera then used publicly available data on the costs of underfunded contributions to pensions and retiree health care and on indirect costs to state administrative agencies. Analysts estimated the costs of contributions to pensions and retiree health care for states that could not provide these amounts.