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Founded in 1961, the Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization in the United States. Based primarily in New York City, Vera also has offices in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Vera joins research, analysis, and expert assistance in order to plan, implement, and evaluate solutions to weaknesses in systems that deliver justice, such as courts, law enforcement, immigration, and social services. The Institute typically works in partnership with local, state, or national officials, and is active across the United States and around the world.
The Vera Institute of Justice was founded in New York City in 1961 by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer and magazine editor Herb Sturz. Schweitzer and Sturz considered the bail system used by the city at the time to be unjust, as it granted release based largely on income. Working with criminal justice leaders, they explored the problem, developed a solution, and rigorously tested it. Within a few years, they had demonstrated that New Yorkers too poor to afford bail but with strong ties to their communities could be released and still show up for trial. Eventually, the model devised by Vera was adopted in many municipalities across the United States and led to the Bail Reform Act of 1966, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. was the most significant reform of the bail system in America since 1789.
In 1966, the Vera Institute of Justice received assistance from the Ford Foundation to turn the foundation into a private nonprofit organization. The Ford Foundation continues to support the Vera Institute, alongside Atlantic Philanthropies, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Institute. Vera is also aligned with an international group of criminal justice think tanks known as Altus. Vera's annual operating budget is approximately $25 million. About 66% of its funding comes from work with governments, while the remaining amount is supplied through agencies and other donors.
The Vera Institute of Justice organized the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, to study issues relating to prison violence and abuse. The commission was co-chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, John Joseph Gibbons. On June 8, 2006, the commission released its report to Congress, recommending more attention be given to address problems of violence, insufficient mental health treatment, and health care in prisons. At a broader level, the commission criticized U.S. policy towards incarceration as costly and ineffective.
Although Vera's core mission has not changed in the 50 years since its inception, its projects and focus have evolved in concert with the needs of the people and government agencies it serves. One clear manifestation of this evolution has been Vera's history of spinning off some of its demonstration projects into separate nonprofit organizations. Of the dozens of demonstration projects Vera's initiated, 14 have become separate, autonomous entities--called "spin-offs"--with combined revenues of more than $200 million. Some of the more prominent of these spin-offs are Housing and Services Inc., Job Path, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Safe Horizon, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and New York City Criminal Justice Agency.