People First: Changing the Way We Talk About those Touched by the Criminal Justice System
Urban Institute
April 12, 2016

“Language is powerful. When we talk about people who come into contact with the criminal justice system and refer to them as ‘offenders,’ ‘inmates,’ or ‘convicts,’ we cause these people’s offenses to linger long after they’ve paid their debt to society. Such labeling is both dehumanizing and stigmatizing, ascribing scarlet letters to people based on actions that arguably represent the worst days of their lives rather than who they are sons, sisters, parents, and community members.

“After considerable discussion and joint reflection, we at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center are now striving to use words that respect the dignity of all people. As researchers, our work presents a responsibility and an opportunity to influence how the field—and the public—thinks and talks about the populations affected by the policies and programs we study.”

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