Complexity regarding the perception of severity when categorizing offenses as “violent” and “non violent”

Felonies that are categorized as nonviolent are often considered to pose significantly less danger to society than violent felonies, but there is an increasingly important need to make some key caveats regarding this concept. This is especially true regarding prison/sentencing reform legislation.

What does the word violence really mean?

Off face value, violence simply means the the infliction of physical harm on another. Violence seems to most often be used as a way to describe acts that directly result in physical harm to another, but why not consider certain nefarious acts that indirectly cause physical harm to another to be violent or just as serious as offenses that are categorized as violent? There appears to be an overly simplistic way of reasoning that can degrade public saftey.


The severity of burglary is particularly easy to misinterpret off face value. The definition of burglary may slightly vary among different jurisdictions, but we will go with the standard definition for the sake of simplicity.

The unlawful entering of a structure, dwelling, or conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein.

Whether the perpetrator has reason to believe that another person may likely be in the structure they are burglarizing is a significant factor. For instance, burglarizing a 9AM – 9PM grocery store at 3AM is almost guaranteed to not have another person inside that structure. On the other hand, burglarizing a house or apartment is significantly more likely to have inhabitants at any part of the day. Furthermore, possessing a weapon while burglarizing a home or apartment or using force to break into them is even more of an aggravating factor.

False Imprisonment

Another interesting case. If someone in some way or another restricts someones movement, they can technically say that they didn’t physically harm the victim. This is another case of some action that indirectly causes physical harm and/or extreme emotional distress.

Some other notable felonies that fall within this grey area of severity are

  • Inciting a riot
  • Hoax bomb reports
  • Extortion/harassment that involve threats of death or bodily harm.

Simply put, buzzy wording like “nonviolent felonies” may have a tendency to cause people to merely picture crimes like fraud, shoplifting, drug possession, etc. It is imperative that the serious felonies mentioned above are not muffled by extremely simplistic thinking when discussing criminal justice/prison sentencing reform.