Op-Ed: In New York, “Inmate” is a 6-Letter Word That Better Not Be Used or Else

Inmate
A 2021 article reported, “People in prison in New York will no longer be referred to as “inmates” in state law under a measure approved Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The bill approved by the governor addresses what has been a growing concern for criminal justice advocates in the state: The use of the word “inmate” can have a dehumanizing effect for the people incarcerated.” File photo: Joa Souza, Shutter Stock, licensed.

PORTSMOUTH, OH – Folks, several years ago, I worked part-time at two minimum security prisons as an educator for inmates before the Pell grants were terminated. I really don’t think the inmates care if this word is changed. 

What is the definition of the word “inmate?” 

Noun. A resident of a dwelling that houses a number of occupants, especially a person confined to an institution, such as a prison or hospital.

Do men and women in prison (Oh, I meant to say men and women confined to correctional rehabilitation centers) have an issue with being called “inmates?” Did Senator Gustavo Rivera or Governor Kathy Hochul bother to ask them?  


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Hold on, instead of “men and women,” I meant to say “persons.” So, I really meant to say: Do persons confined to correctional institutions have an issue with being called “inmates?” 

Wait a second. I used the word “confined.” Do I need to use the word “detained” instead?  

I’m so confused.  

A lady (Oh, I meant to say a woman. Ah, I meant to say a person. Argh, I meant to say a human.) tweeted: Just a reminder that “Inmate” is a barbaric term. People are still people. “Incarcerated Person” or “Resident” is a more human term to address. It’s seems small, but respectful terminology starts Justice and Incarceration Reformation.

I’ll bet the most used word in prison starts with the letter “F.” 

A 2021, article on Spectrum News reported, “People in prison in New York will no longer be referred to as “inmates” in state law under a measure approved Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The bill approved by the governor addresses what has been a growing concern for criminal justice advocates in the state: The use of the word “inmate” can have a dehumanizing effect for the people incarcerated.”  

Hmmm. Was Cuomo peering into his own future?  

New York Senator Gustavo Rivera called it “another concrete step our state is taking to make our criminal justice system one that focuses on rehabilitation rather than relying solely on punishment,” and NY Gov. Kathy Hochul agreed and signed. 

Senate Bill S3332, 2021-2022 Legislative Session. “An act to amend the civil service law, the election law, the executive law, the public officers law, the state finance law, the tax law, the workers’ compensation law, the labor law, the transportation law, the vehicle and traffic law, the environmental conservation law, the public buildings law, the public health law, the general municipal law, the county law, the education law, the mental hygiene law, the retirement and social security law, the social services law, the general business law, the penal law, the correction law, the criminal procedure law, the surrogate’s court procedure act, the New York city criminal court act, the court of claims act, the civil practice law and rules, the civil rights law…in relation to replacing all instances of the words inmate or inmates with the words incarcerated individual or incarcerated individuals.” 

Folks that’s a lot of amending to do. Who’s in charge of amending all those documents?  

Why “incarcerated persons?” How about “rehabbing individuals” or “reforming people” or “people of residence” or  “confined indweller” or “transitioning humans?”  

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before “incarcerated persons” will carry a stigma, so another word change will be substituted.  

And what about the word “criminal” in criminal justice system? Should that be changed to wrongdoers’ justice system? We don’t want child murderers or child rapists offended or people that commit aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, auto theft, arson, embezzling, illegal drug dealing, organized crime, etc.  

Wow, words can be so offensive. New York needs to hire word-police to stop the word crimes. 


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