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New York Removes Term 'Inmate' in State Law to Reduce Stigma

Governor Kathy Hochul has signed legislation to replace the word with "incarcerated individual."

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State law in New York will now have to replace the term “inmate” with “incarcerated individual” regarding people involved in the criminal justice system.

This change comes from new legislation signed by Governor Kathy Hochul this week in an attempt to reduce the stigma against incarcerated individuals by “correcting outdated terminology, as stated in the press release.

Previous legislation regarding this switch was made by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2021, but that legislation covered “instances of state law” but not active pieces of legislation in 2021 that were signed into law that had the word “inmate.

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This legislation has been applauded by some of those in the New York State Assembly. In the release, Assembly member Jeffrion L. Aubry said, “Penological terms such as felon, inmate, prisoner, offender, and convict dehumanize, degrade, and stigmatize people.” He continued to say that “using ‘incarcerated individuals’ can have the ability to change how we view individuals who are incarcerated as it allows us recognize the humanity of people and exemplifies the redeemable value of human beings.”

This is not the first time legislation has been signed to change language that is being used. Just last month Governor Hochel signed a law that would replace the term “mentally retarded” and other variations of the outdated term to “people with intellectual or developmentally disabilities” in state laws.

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Michel DeGraff, a professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described to AP News why language and word choice matter saying, “word choice to describe certain individuals does matter. Especially when it comes to individuals who are vulnerable in any way.”

This legislation on changing the term “inmates” has also been applauded by New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “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,” Senator Rivera said. “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.”

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Governor Hochul also signed legislation that expands the hours parolees can attend community supervision programs to non-working hours; this, according to the governor’s office, would help them pursue opportunities like training, education, or help maintain their jobs.