North Carolina has seen a dramatic increase in rural jail admissions. There has been a 191% increase in the total population of those incarcerated over the last 50 years in North Carolina, ranking third in the country in jail admissions.
In 2015, Buncombe County ranked fourth in the most annual jail admissions. While there are organizations that are helping address this growth and the population’s needs, they are not using appropriate language when referring to people who are incarcerated.
Websites used throughout Buncombe County’s judicial system refer to people who are currently incarcerated as “inmates.” This language is dehumanizing. When we are working to help this population, we must use appropriate language that sees them as people first. This will help members of the community view people who are incarcerated with humanity, removing the existing negative social construction of this population.
If we do not make a switch to person-first language, we are further stigmatizing people who are incarcerated. As a community, we should band together to support our vulnerable members, such as those who are currently incarcerated. This can start by using appropriate language to address them and treating them with respect.
— Brittany Bingham, Berkley Churchill and Ellen Kathrein
Western Carolina University MSW students
Editor’s note: We appreciate hearing from our readers. In our coverage, Xpress seeks to use language that reflects the humanity and circumstances of members of our community. When speaking of those confined at the Buncombe County jail, for example, we emphasize that the majority of those individuals are in custody awaiting trial and are therefore presumed innocent. Like many other news organizations, Xpress uses the The Associated Press Stylebook for guidance in matters of usage. The word “inmate,” the AP advises, is used to denote a person serving a sentence in a prison or a jail. “In jail or in custody awaiting trial are terms describing someone in that status,” the AP continues; it also notes that it plans to issue further guidance on the topic later this year.