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At state prisons, a vocabulary spat


A subtle change in the state prisons is afoot, workers there say: Inmates are no longer “inmates.” They’re “offenders.”
“Why soften it? Why try and be nicey-nicey and make it anything less than what it is?” said Michael H. LaDue, the president of the local Council 82, which represents lieutenant corrections officers at Watertown Correctional Facility.
A spokesman for the department said that the complaint was much ado about nothing.
“The commissioner is well aware of the level of seriousness as it relates to the types of individuals that are incarcerated in the state’s prisons,” said Peter K. Cutler. “It’s his prerogative to refer to them however he chooses, especially recognizing the fact that he’s been working in the system for 30 years. Whether he calls them offenders, inmates, convicts, whatever term anybody wants to consider, he knows as well as anybody, better than most, the types of individuals that are incarcerated within our facilities.”
Mr. Cutler said that Commissioner Brian Fischer has no issued any edicts requiring that the folks behind bars be called “offenders” rather than “inmates.”
Mr. LaDue doesn’t buy that. He said in a letter to Mr. Fischer that since a July hearing on prison closures, the word “offender” has been creeping into the Department of Corrections’ vocabulary, including in signage at offices in Albany.
“I have been recently contacted by many concerned members and have personally noticed what appears to be a concerted effort on the behalf of DOCCS executive staff to soften and desensitize the nature of our primary function: the protection of society from duly convicted and sentenced felons placed in our custody by the judicial system,” Mr. LaDue wrote on Sept. 9.
Mr. LaDue said that the term is just plain wrong. “Offenders” are probationers or those with youthful status who haven’t made “the big league” of state incarceratio, he said. “Inmates” are criminals who land behind bars in state prison.
“I ask you please do not continue to trample on the dignity of your dedicated, professional staff by employing this terminology change, this softening — inmates are inmates, period,” he wrote.
The Corrections Department doesn’t see it that way.
“The commissioner has the right to refer to them as he chooses,” Mr. Cutler said. “He’s someone who’s experienced. His background in corrections is unassailable. Mr. LaDue is entitled to his opinion.”

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