New York State Ditches the Word 'Inmates'

State amends laws to replace term with 'incarcerated person'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 12, 2022 8:06 AM CDT
New York State No Longer Has 'Inmates'
   (Getty/Rattankun Thongbun)

(Newser) – New York has amended several state laws to remove the word “inmate” and replace it with “incarcerated person” to refer to people serving prison time. The changes, signed into law this week by Gov. Kathy Hochul, are intended to reduce the stigma of being in jail, per the AP. Prison reform advocates have said the term “inmate” has a dehumanizing effect. Prisoners say it can feel degrading when jail guards refer to them as inmates, especially in front of their families during in-person visits.

  • In favor: "Language matters," said state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat who sponsored the bill. "This is another concrete step our state is taking to make our criminal justice system one that focuses on rehabilitation, rather than relying solely on punishment."
  • Opposed: Republicans ridiculed the measure as coddling criminals. "Parading around a bill that removes the word 'inmate' from legal materials at a time when crime in New York continues to spike at an alarming rate shows you a lot about how misguided the Democrats' agenda is," said Assembly member Chris Tague, a Republican from Schoharie.

The change is the latest in the state legislature's history of amending terms in state law that may be seen as outdated or offensive. Last month, Hochul signed legislation replacing the term "mentally retarded" with "developmentally disabled" in state law. In 2018, the legislature passed a law replacing all instances of the words "fireman" or "policeman" with gender-neutral terms like "firefighter" or "police officer" in official documents and laws.

(Read more New York state stories.)

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