Criminal Terms

57 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2022 Last revised: 30 Aug 2022

Date Written: June 13, 2022


Core terms used by criminal legal academics bolster the criminal system and ward off radical critique. They do this by conveying implicit messages of three types: that the criminal system is generally accurate, that it is necessary, and that it is well-intentioned and moving in the right direction. While recent legal scholarship has identified other subtle ways in which we send pro-carceral messages, it has not focused on vocabulary. We thus fall behind other entities, which have recently announced vocabulary change, in recognition of the harm that such messages can do. We too have influence, not just through scholarly and public conversations, but through our framing of the system for our students, who will help determine its future. We must thus explore the possibility of, and obstacles to, change in our criminal terms.

Keywords: criminal system, language, bail, jail, prison, punishment, academia, abolition

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Anna, Criminal Terms (June 13, 2022). Minnesota Law Review, Forthcoming, Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 718, Available at SSRN: or

Anna Roberts (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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