Labeling Violence

31 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020

Date Written: July 31, 2020


In recent years, federal and state-level criminal justice reforms have softened the punitive responses to crime that defined the quarter-century from 1980–2005. The main beneficiaries of these reforms have been non-violent criminals, who are increasingly eligible for pre- and post-charge diversion, expungement, early release from custody and early discharge from community supervision. For those convicted of violent offenses, not much has changed: sentences remain long; opportunities for release remain few; and conditions of post-release supervision are tightly enforced, leading to high rates of return to prison. The justification for a harsh response to violent crime is that such crime inflicts significant harm and represents a dramatic deviation from standards of acceptable behavior. In fact, “violent” behavior—that is, behavior that is intended to cause, or does in fact cause, physical injury to another person—is hardly anomalous. Across the life-course, and particularly in youth and young adulthood, such behaviors frequently occur among a broad spectrum of the population and rarely lead to criminal conviction. This Article explores why only some behavior is labeled violent, and what implications this fact has for sentencing and correctional management of people convicted of violent crimes, and for the broader management of the criminal justice system.

Keywords: criminal justice, criminal justice reform, violence

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Klingele, Cecelia M., Labeling Violence (July 31, 2020). Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1601, Marquette Law Review, Vol. 103, No. 3, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Cecelia M. Klingele (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-890-3258 (Phone)

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