How We Define Violent Crime in America Shapes Who Gets Punished for It—And Who Doesn’t

(This op-ed was first published in TIME on April 7, 2021.)

Professor David Sklansky Endorses Federal Prison Sentencing Reform
Professor David Sklansky

The recent, horrific mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder came in the wake of nationwide spikes in the rates of homicides and domestic assaults, trends that had already prompted calls in many states for renewed law enforcement efforts on “violent crime.” Maryland legislators, for example, have proposed clamping down on parole for “violent offenders.” Local officials in CaliforniaIllinoisIndianaMississippi, and Oklahoma have pushed for new measures against violent crime. And officials in New York and Philadelphia have faced criticism for not doing enough about the problem.

In responding to these calls to action, we need to take care to avoid past mistakes—in particular, the false belief that “violent crime” is a clear and neutral category for identifying the worst offenses and the most dangerous offenders. It isn’t.

(Continue reading the op-ed on TIME’s page here.)

David Alan Sklansky is a law professor at Stanford, a former federal prosecutor, and the author of “A Pattern of Violence: How the Law Classifies Crimes and What It Means for Justice” (Belknap Press, 2021).