Gatekeepers: The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration

Vera Institute of Justice LogoPolice in America arrest millions of people each year, and the likelihood that arrest will lead to jail incarceration has increased steadily: for every 100 arrests police officers made in 2016, there were 99 jail admissions, up from 70 jail admissions for every 100 arrests in 1994. Ending mass incarceration and repairing its extensive collateral consequences thus must begin by focusing on the front end of the system: police work.

Recognizing the roughly 18,000 police agencies around the country as gatekeepers of the system, this report from the Vera Institute of Justice explores the factors driving mass enforcement, particularly of low-level offenses; what police agencies could do instead with the right community investment, national and local leadership, and officer training, incentives, and support; and policies that could shift the policing paradigm away from the reflexive use of enforcement, which unnecessarily criminalizes people and leads directly to the jailhouse door. The report also explores how mental illness, substance addiction, homelessness, and poverty are frequently the subtexts of encounters with police—in which police are the default first responders to social issues that they are neither trained for nor equipped to properly handle.