Dane County, WI – Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett announced a “change in philosophy” for his law enforcement agency at a press conference on Monday morning.
Sheriff Barrett said that Dane County Sheriff’s Office personnel will stop using the word “inmate” and will instead refer to incarcerated individuals as “residents” or “those within our care,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The sheriff said that he had made the decision after talking with inmates in the county’s detention facilities, as well as deputies and other sheriff’s department staff, during his first 100 days in office.
“I view this change in name as a way to humanize those who are within our care,” he told reporters at a press conference held outside the Public Safety Building jail on Aug. 16.
Sheriff Barrett said he had been educated on the subject by members of Nehemiah, a local organization that helps convicts re-enter communities when they are released from jail or prison, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The sheriff said he met with a group of former inmates who explained to him that being called “inmates” or “convicts” increased the stigma against them.
He said they told him it worsened the barriers the formerly incarcerated faced when they were released, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Sheriff Barrett acknowledged that the change was only a “small step” but said he hoped it would help reduce recidivism.
He said that the terminology used could help change both how incarcerated people see themselves and how they are perceived by the communities they are returning to, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The sheriff said that for now, there was no formal rule about using “resident” versus “inmate” and employees wouldn’t be punished if they didn’t use the recommended words.
However, he said the county was working on making the change an official policy, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
In the meantime, Sheriff Barrett said he and the jail leadership would work to normalize calling inmates “residents.”
The sheriff was surrounded by community leaders when he made the announcement, including Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher and Public Protection and Judiciary Committee Chair Maureen McCarville, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Wisconsin State Representative and Dane County State Supervisor Shelia Stubbs said she thought it was important to give those incarcerated and former offenders “a sense of belonging” by calling them people instead of inmates.
“We need to give people back the wholeness they deserve,” Stubbs said.