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San Francisco nixes criminal labels such as 'felon' and 'inmate,' replacing them with more 'person- first' terms

The city has sanitized its word choices regarding the criminal justice system

Giles Clarke/Getty Images

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors says terms such as "felon" and "inmate" are a dehumanizing way of referring to individuals with a criminal record, and have adopted a new set of guidelines requiring the use of alternative, "person-first" labels.

What are the details?

The resolution approved by all members present last month states that "dehumanizing language like 'prisoner, 'convict,' inmate,' or 'felon' only serve to obstruct and separate from society and make the institutionalization of racism and supremacy appear normal."

Several new descriptive terms were provided to "serve as models of appropriate use of person-first language." For instance, instead of referring to an individual as an "inmate," one should use the term, "currently incarcerated person." Rather than call someone a "juvenile offender," the person should be described as a "young person impacted by the justice system."

The term "illegal alien" was also scrubbed, and replaced by "person" or "individual." An "addict" or "substance abuser" will now be called a "person with a history of substance abuse."

Supervisor Matt Haney explained the measure to the San Francisco Chronicle, saying, "We don't want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done. We want them ultimately to become contributing citizens, and referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from."

According to the Chronicle, "the district attorney's office is already on board." But the resolution is nonbinding, and Mayor London Breed did not sign off on it because, according to her spokesperson, she "doesn't implement policies based on nonbinding resolutions."

Anything else?

Fox News reported that San Francisco's adoption of the new guidelines comes "as the city reels from one of the highest crime rates in the country and staggering inequality exemplified by pervasive homelessness alongside Silicon Valley wealth."

The outlet said the "sanitized" language is "unlikely to do much to address the crime problem," and suggested the new descriptors could cause more confusion.




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