Last week it was reported in these pages that the Obama Department of Justice had resolved to ban the terms juvenile delinquent and youth offender to refer to … well —juvenile delinquents and youth offenders. Instead, such individuals would now be known as “justice-involved youth.”
Now the DOJ has expanded the practice to adult lawbreakers. The agency will no longer call people felons or convicts after they are released from prison because it is too hard on them emotionally.
Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason wrote a piece in The Washington Post Wednesday saying that “many of the formerly incarcerated men, women, and young people I talk with say that no punishment is harsher than being permanently branded a ‘felon’ or ‘offender.’”
Mason said the decision is not to condone their behavior, but to use words to help them re-enter society.
In my role as head of the division of the Justice Department that funds and supports hundreds of reentry programs throughout the country, I have come to believe that we have a responsibility to reduce not only the physical but also the psychological barriers to reintegration. The labels we affix to those who have served time can drain their sense of self-worth and perpetuate a cycle of crime, the very thing reentry programs are designed to prevent. In an effort to solidify the principles of individual redemption and second chances that our society stands for, I recently issued an agency-wide policy directing our employees to consider how the language we use affects reentry success.
This new policy statement replaces unnecessarily disparaging labels with terms like “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated,” decoupling past actions from the person being described and anticipating the contributions we expect them to make when they return. We will be using the new terminology in speeches, solicitations, website content, and social media posts, and I am hopeful that other agencies and organizations will consider doing the same.
Mason deserves some credit for not choosing to call ex-cons justice-involved adults or something equally ludicrous, though it’s not immediately evident how the labels person who committed a crime and individual who was incarcerated are any less hurtful than “convicted felon.”
The move meantime is one of many steps the Obama administration has taken to help recently released offenders. President Barack Obama announced in 2015 federal agencies would no longer ask if people were felons in the early job application steps.
This report, by Casey Harper, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.