DOC memo: We're no longer calling inmates "prisoners", "convicts" or "offenders"

(AP File Photo/Andrew Selsky)

They were once prisoners, inmates or offenders. Now, the nearly 19,000 residents of Washington’s 12 state prisons will be referred to another way.

Those serving time in prison will no longer be referred to as “offenders” or “convicts,” according to a memo from the leader of the Department of Corrections. If they’re in a class behind bars, they’ll be called “students.” If they’re in the prison infirmary, they’ll be called “patients.” And, spokesman Jeremy Barclay said, if no other moniker applies, they’ll be called “incarcerated persons.”

“Secretary of Corrections Richard Morgan has put out a memo to staff requesting the alternation of vocabulary,” said Barclay. Secretary Morgan is trying to remove negative connotations when referring to those who are or have been imprisoned—as well as their families.

“When they enter a facility to visit their loved ones, they’re referred to as ‘offender families,’ instead of a family just coming to visit a loved one,” Barclay added.

And perhaps just as important, Barclay says, it’s about the self-image of a person who’s behind bars who is most likely to be released someday.

Barclay says Washington isn’t alone in this. Prisoners in other states like Pennsylvania and those in federal penitentiaries are being referred to more kindly now because studies show words do matter—and what you call someone can not only define who he is now, but who he’ll be in the future as well.

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