San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted last month to adopt more “person-first” language when referring to convicted criminals and those addicted to drugs.
The resolution claims words like “felon,” “inmate,” “convict” and “prisoner” are terms that “only serve to obstruct and separate people from society and make the institutionalization of racism and supremacy appear normal.”
“Inaccurate information, unfounded assumptions, generalizations, and other negative predispositions associated with justice-involved individuals create societal stigmas, attitudinal barriers, and continued negative stereotypes that affect access to employment, housing, healthcare, professional licensing, travel, support services, and other integral aspects of community life,” it adds.
As a result, the board resolved to use more “people-first language” that “promotes positive, sound, and unbiased communication and diminishes categorization and segmentation for people with a criminal record, such that an individual is not defined solely or primarily by a criminal record, arrest, or other contacts with the criminal justice system.”
So what exactly does this all mean?
The resolution provided several examples as a guide.
For one thing, the board wants to replace the words the words “felon” and “offender” with “formerly incarcerated person,” “returning resident” or “justice involved.”
The “person-first” replacements for “parolee” and “probationer” would be “person on parole” or “person under supervision.”
Rather than “drug offender,” the resolution says to use “person convicted of a drug offense.”
“A person convicted of a violent/serious offense” should replace “violent offender” or “serious offender,” the resolution says.
Other “person-first” language includes “person with a felony conviction“; “young person with justice system involvement” or “young person impacted by the justice system” rather than “juvenile delinquent” or “juvenile offender”; and “person with a history of substance use” instead of “addict” or “substance abuser.”
The resolution is non-binding, meaning that it’s essentially encouraging city agencies to use this type of language rather than forcing them to do so.
“We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done,” Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Chronicle. Ten supervisors, including Haney, voted to approve the resolution.
“Referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from,” Haney continued.
The district attorney’s office has signaled support for the resolution, though the mayor’s office has not signed off on it.
Mayor London Breed “doesn’t implement policies based on nonbinding resolutions, but she is always happy to work with the board on issues around equity and criminal justice reform,” spokesman Jeff Cretan told the Chronicle.
It’s unclear what kind of effect the new resolution will have on crime. The Chronicle reported last year that San Francisco was the No. 1 city in America when it came to property crime.
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