Letter: People who are incarcerated, not ‘inmates’

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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.


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10 thoughts on “Letter: People who are incarcerated, not ‘inmates’

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    These ladies are supreme examples of the kind of indoctrination your children are receiving in government screwls. Did they double major in Gender Studies too?

    • James

      If you want me to choose between what they think and what you seem to represent, I’d rather err on the side of better educated than your hysterical denouncement of modern education.

  2. James

    This is a distinction without meaning. Per Merriam Webster Dictionary:
    Definition of inmate:
    : any of a group occupying a single place of residence, especially : a person confined (as in a prison or hospital)

    Definition of incarcerated:
    : confined in a jail or prison

    We should be discussing things like how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

    • indy499

      Did you hack the account of the James who posted about better education? Spending more time studying arcane nonsense does not equate to better education.

      • James

        I’m the same. I think the distinction still isn’t worth making, but the pursuit of education — even “arcane nonsense” as you put it, is better than the wholesale contempt of education that (Un)Enlightened Enigma (and seemingly you) expressed. (My chide was sarcastic harking back to old debates about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin)

        Exploring seemingly random things and government funding for such things have given us things like the Internet, which was developed out of the curiosity of the possibility of easily transferring research papers between college campuses. People like you who sneer at educational pursuit YOU don’t find worthy are no doubt the cause of us missing so many other advances we don’t even know we may have missed.

  3. Jessica

    I think this is a fair and necessary change. There is an incredible amount of injustice in our “justice system”. Racial equity, elongated Pretrial detention (while considered innocent) and inconsistency in bail options. Just by changing the way we address these folks is a great start, the stigma associated is definitely damaging and makes it more likely that they will stay in the system YOU PAT FOR A THAT BY THE WAY. Well done, ladies.

    Jessica, Asheville

  4. Big Al

    Hilarious how the comments of children can spark such indignation and outrage.

    Or maybe the real children are the respondents. Hard to tell these days.

  5. Larry

    The article mentioned that this can start by using appropriate language to address them and treating them with respect. What do you we suggest we call the people who are incarcerated if not inmates?

    • Lauren

      “People who are or were currently incarcerated”

      People first before their circumstance.

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