Our addictions to carceral sentences take away people’s freedom, reduce safety through weakening communities, and disproportionately target Black people because our nation’s conceptions of who needs to be punished, deterred, or locked away are so tied to anti-Blackness. There is a better way. Vera’s February 2023 paper “A New Paradigm for Sentencing in the United States” puts forth new guidance about what it means for sentencing to “work,” freed from the weight of the previous rationales of retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation, which as practiced are unsupported by evidence and capable of such harm. The new guidance asks legislators devising sentences, prosecutors requesting them, judges setting them, and the public to whom these actors all answer to measure how well sentencing works by three measures: Does it privilege liberty? Does it make individuals and communities safer, according to rigorous, ongoing research about the nexus between carceral sentences and safety? Does it repair the harm caused by unlawful behavior, informed by what crime survivors need? This essay shares the rationale behind this suggested guidance, followed by recommendations as to how the guidance might play out in specific legislative proposals, and as a more aspirational North Star in which sentences to incarceration are strongly limited.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.