In which Josie Duffy-Rice gives us the human side of supposed “violent offenders” and how that label impacts who benefits from criminal justice reform and who doesn’t.
Reform advocates have spent years trying to get the public to pay attention to the injustices of America’s merciless criminal justice system. The good news is it seems to be working, albeit slowly and fitfully, with public perception shifting across the political spectrum. There’s a long way to go—we still imprison more people than any other country in the world and the system is full of inhumanities—but there have been some important, if tiny, triumphs.
But even these minor victories have costs. To make justice reform digestible, we’ve had to draw black-and-white lines that obscure the shades of gray. Take, for example, the binary split between nonviolent and violent offenders. Because nonviolent offenders are much more sympathetic, they’ve received almost all the reform attention. Any mercy the system has demonstrated has gone almost exclusively to those we can safely lump into this nonthreatening category, a group we’ve separated rhetorically from the “violent” types who are generally considered beyond redemption or mercy.