The Office of Justice is Changing Its Language Regarding Formerly Incarcerated People, Shouldn't You?
Date:  05-06-2016

Terms such as convict, felon, offender, and inmate can be replaced with less stigmatizing words
On August 4, 2014 Reentry Central posted an article from the late Eddy Ellis entitled “An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language,” which read in part

“One of our first initiatives is to respond to the negative public perception about our population as expressed in the language and concepts used to describe us. When we are not called mad dogs, animals, predators, offenders and other derogatory terms, we are referred to as inmates, convicts, prisoners and felons. All terms devoid of humanness which identify us as “things” rather than as people. These terms are accepted as the “official” language of the media, law enforcement, prison industrial complex and public policy agencies. However, they are no longer acceptable for us and we are asking people to stop using them.”

On October 22, 2014 Reentry Central followed up with a similar article, , “The Importance of Using Humanizing Language When Referring to People Who Use Drugs,” by the Drug policy Alliance. The DPA suggests

  • Instead of “drug offender” try “person arrested for drugs” or “person convicted of a drug law violation.”

  • Instead of “ex-con” try “formerly incarcerated person.”

  • Instead of “drug injector” try “person who injects drugs.”

  • Instead of “drug user” and “drug dealer” try “person who uses drugs” or “person who sells drugs.”

    This is not a novel concept. The Safer Foundation's emails contain the following added message:

    "Many articles refer to people with criminal records as "ex-offenders" or "offenders". While we appreciate all the positive press these issues receive, we are working to use other terms to describe our clients that do not carry such negative connotations. These terms include "people with criminal records" or "people reentering society."

    Now the Justice Department’s Office of Justice is changing its language and is hoping other agencies and organizations will follow suit. Read Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason’s announcement in the Washington Post about how her office will eliminate stigmatizing words when speaking about formerly incarcerated people or reintegrating citizens here.