New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul, who is running to hold her unelected seat this November, has broken out the word games for New Yorkers yet again by demanding that criminals be instead referred to as “justice-involved individuals.” The language isn’t simply altered within a new piece of legislation, altering the language is part of the new law itself.
The law is in two parts, the first is “to promote greater fairness and restore dignity” for criminals, calling these individuals “justice-involved individuals,” and the second part is to require that prison inmates be referred to as “incarcerated individuals” from now on.
Hochul, who does not use the term “woman” when discussing laws on pregnancy and reproduction, has determined that the term “inmate” is “stigmatizing,” and should not appear in state law.
The language substantially takes the responsibility for the commission of their crimes off of them, and places it on the system which tried and punished them for it. The reduction in “stigma” that the law seeks to engender will, additionally, only be short lived. There is a social stigma involved with being an inmate, being incarcerated, being a “justice-involved individual,” and the new lingo of “incarcerated individual” will not change that. Changing the language to suit a trend does not change the implicit meaning behind the concept.
“Legislation (A.9273/S.8216) replaces instances of the word ‘inmate’ in state law with ‘incarcerated individual’. Individuals impacted by the criminal justice system have long noted that terms such as felon, inmate, prisoner, and convict dehumanize individuals and perpetuate the idea that incarcerated people should be permanently demonized and stigmatized.
“This language change within state law will reduce stigma against people involved in the criminal justice system and therefore eliminate barriers to opportunities that they face. Previous legislation covered all instances of state law but did not cover active pieces of legislation in 2021 that were signed into law and included the term ‘inmate’.”
Sponsors of the bill say that “language matters.” State Senator Gustavo Rivera said he is “proud” of the bill “to replace all references of the word inmate with incarcerated individual,” because “for too long, we as a society have thought of incarcerated individuals as less than people. The use of the word ‘inmate’ further dehumanizes and demoralizes them.”
“Penological terms such as felon, inmate, prisoner, offender, and convict dehumanize, degrade, and stigmatize people,” said Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry. “Using a term such as ‘incarcerated individual’ recognizes the humanity of people and exemplifies the redeemable value of human beings. This new law seeks to correct outdated terminology that adversely impacts an individual’s transition back into their community.”
To the end of promoting “greater fairness” and restoring “dignity,” the law opens up mandatory supervision times and rehabilitation programs to non-working hours, so those convicted of crimes and released on parole can have their working hours free, and attend mandatory programs within the criminal justice system on their own time.
For Hochul, this will “improve public safety.” Upon signing the law, she said “In New York, we’re doing everything in our power to show that justice and safety can go hand-in-hand. We can make our streets and communities safer by giving justice-involved individuals the chance to complete their rehabilitation program and work at the same time. By treating all New Yorkers with dignity and respect, we can improve public safety while ensuring New Yorkers have a fair shot at a second chance.”
This is not Hochul’s first foray into changing the language used to describe inmates within the criminal justice system. She has also declared that biological male “incarcerated individuals” who say they are women must be referred to that way, and provide with women’s underpants, if they would like that. That legislation has not yet been passed by Albany lawmakers.
However, a budget directive from Albany in January declared that “No employee of the department shall misgender any individual in the care or custody of the department by intentionally referring to someone, including but not limited to, a transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary or intersex person, using a word, pronoun or form of address that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.”
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