As the discourse about criminal justice reform continues in American society, you’ll often hear politicians say they support releasing non-violent offenders while keeping violent offenders locked up. That’s fair, but considering how much they try to sell the general public on this idea, I only think it’s fair to tell you what they mean by “violent” crime.
Ever enter a dwelling that wasn’t yours? Congratulations, you can be charged and convicted as a violent offender in a dozen states. And let’s not hope that state is Minnesota and you like to smoke pot, because marijuana possession there (depending on how much) is also a violent crime. But let’s keep going, and you’ll be a regular Charles Manson in no time.
In my home state of North Carolina (go heels!), selling drugs within a 1000 feet of a school or playground and trafficking a stolen identity are both violent crimes. The amount of these “violent” inmates locked up in NC is not insignificant either. The Marshall Project came out with a report in July 2018 showing that 7,532 of 35,700 total NC prisoners were locked up for so-called violent crimes under NC’s habitual violent offender law.
Depending on where you are in the country, possession of a gun with bullets, purse snatching, embezzlement, and theft of drugs can also carry the violent crime label.
There are hundreds if not thousands of “violent” crimes like these on the books in all fifty states. But my goal is not to say there are not violent criminals. It’s to say that what the public considers violent and what the legal statutes consider violent are often two very different things.
So when politicians say they want to release only “non-violent” prisoners, what do they really mean?
They mean, “Nobody.”