The US Justice Department is planning to stop using the terms “convict” and “felon” to refer to people who have been convicted of crimes. To that end, staff members at the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs recently received a memo specifically directing them “to consider how the language we use affects re-entry success.”
The hope is that by no longer using these potentially negative terms to describe individuals who’ve pleaded guilty to crimes or who’ve been found guilty of committing crimes, it will be easier for those people to reintegrate into society after having completed their prison sentences.
Karol Mason, the assistant attorney general, recently wrote a guest article for The Washington Post in which she laid out the reasoning behind the federal government’s decision to eschew the potentially “disparaging labels” of “convict” and “felon.” Mason said that convicted criminals in the U.S. often have a difficult time getting access to housing or finding jobs because they are viewed in a negative light.
There is a belief among many in the government that recidivism rates are on the rise because people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States face numerous barriers to societal re-entry after serving their sentences and being released from prison. US officials think that changing the way we describe convicts and felons will go a long way toward removing some of these barriers. Mason noted that the government has a duty “to reduce not only the physical but also the psychological barriers to reintegration.”
Across the United States, several states and local municipalities have also sought to ease the burdens on convicted criminals. For example, Philadelphia has previously required city workers to stop referring to individuals released from jail or prison as “felons” or “convicts”; instead, these people are officially called “returning citizens.” The belief is that using negative terms to describe convicted criminals can stigmatize them and make it far more difficult for them to re-enter society after release from incarceration.
To learn more, check out the Washington Times article, “Justice Department Program to No Longer Use ‘Disparaging’ Terms ‘Felons’ and ‘Convicts.’”
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