State lawmakers, an international organization and a non-profit all advocate to change the negative labeling of incarcerated people as “felons and inmates” to less harmful terms that are not tied to slavery and white supremacy.
“We need to give people back the wholeness they deserve,” said Sheila Stubbs, a Wisconsin state representative. She added that it’s important to give those who are in jail and former offenders a “sense of belonging” in the community by referring to them as people rather than inmates,”
Dane County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Kalvin Barrett “hopes the language change will help humanize incarcerated people and reduce recidivism,” as reported in The Wisconsin State Journal, Police 1in August 2021.
A legacy of dehumanization characterizes mass criminalization and incarceration, according to People First, non-profit aimed at changing how incarcerated people are viewed by the public. Labels that dehumanize incarcerated people affect their self-image and public perception as they return to society.
Eddie Ellis of the Nu Leadership Policy Group told People First, “If we cannot persuade you to refer to us, and think of us, as people, then all other efforts at reform and change are seriously compromised.”
Words like “felon” and “inmate” diminish support for formerly incarcerated people, as well as the opportunities that could make them safe and free, according to People First.
BMC International Health and Human Rights, a n a dvocacy organization aimed at changing the narrative, says that stereotyping contributes to acts of discrimination and exclusion from social services, which in turn affects health and overall well-being.
Language can help change how the incarcerated view themselves and how society views them, says the The Wisconsin State Journal.
BMC added that incarcerated people are the community that they come from and return to. Formerly incarcerated people have a greater need for mental health services than the general public. However, stigma as well as discrimination impacts access to these services.
BMC advocates respectful language to reduce harm and suffering, to foster constructive and humanizing labels, to engage people and respect their preferences, cultivating self-awareness.
“If you mislabel someone it can be traumatic and abusive, that’s why I prefer neutral labels,” said Tony Tafoya an incarcerated person at SQ.