This Essay proposes “purpose-focused sentencing” as a means of remedying the over-incarceration of blacks, thereby combatting attitudes about crime and black criminality, and in turn, affecting how police see and treat blacks. The goal is to reduce the racial disparity in incarceration, not solely through an overall lessened reliance on prisons and jails, but also by assessing and identifying appropriate sentences to fulfill criminal justice purposes. Once those purposes - deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution - are identified and assessed, there will not be room to justify disparities in sentencing attributable only to the race of the defendant. All sentences, regardless of the peculiarities of an individual defendant, must be tailored to a specific result, rather than imposed at the whim of a particular judge or in accordance with legislation that has no basis in an identified sentencing goal. As a result, we will see prisons and jails being used much more exclusively (to the extent that incarceration is used at all) for violent, repeat felons, which statistics tell us are not where our racial disparities lie today. When punishment is more closely aligned with what the offender has done, and what our goals of punishments are given that behavior, we can begin to combat the stereotype that the dangerous criminal is most likely black.
Once sentencing no longer feeds into the heightened public view of blacks as criminals, the spillover effect will be that the new wave of police officers will not see blacks this way either. And if they do, society certainly will not view this biased police violence against blacks as reasonable. This Essay offers a solution that will take years, if not generations, to implement; and it will perhaps take even longer for it to completely transform the face of policing. However, the proposal is a longterm approach that will immediately begin to move criminal justice in the right direction and encourage honest conversations about what we are trying to do in our system and how our current methods of punishment are only perpetuating racial injustice.