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While we have to be aware that any word we choose has influence, no amount of Googling will reveal the magic word that brings justice into American prisons.
Rahsaan Thomas, an imprisoned journalist, has long fought to change the way outside media describe people in prison. One of his toughest crowds? His fellow reporters.
Of course not everyone means harm when they use prison labels. But that doesn’t make the language any less damaging.
Rethinking the words journalists use to talk about people who are currently or previously incarcerated.
Journalism is a discipline of clarity. That’s why we’ve solidified our policy about how we talk about people who are currently in or have previously been in prison and jail.
I didn’t always detest this term. But hearing officers use it as an insult reminded me to call incarcerated people — including myself — by our names.
As correctional officers, we are conditioned to call prisoners ‘inmates.’ But at Sing Sing, where I worked for 25 years, that was as bad as calling them a snitch.