Critical Perspectives on Criminal Labeling
Terms like "offender," "inmate," or "felon" are common among the public, scholars, journalists, and criminal justice practitioners. However, such labels may have adverse consequences. How we refer to individuals under correctional supervision sets the tone for how individuals are viewed and treated by others.
My recent research stemming from my dissertation critically examines the impacts of such labels from the perspectives of those directly impacted. Using a gendered and intersectional lens, Shon Reed (Doctoral Student, University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and I assess the impacts of criminal labels. Through interview and focus group responses, four major themes emerged: stigmatization, internalization, dehumanization, and barriers to employment. Our manuscript was recently accepted for publication in Feminist Criminology.
Here is a quote by participant Chloe (pseudonym):
"It feels like [the correctional system] is taking who you are away and giving you this label that's not necessarily you. It's what you're doing, maybe. It's your acts, but it doesn't mean that that's who you are as a person. And it's hard to separate those two things."
In light of the potential negative impacts, I recommend the use of person-centered language as an alternative. These suggestions for alternatives were derived from ongoing dialogue with women and men who were formerly incarcerated. I'd like to thank my mentor Dr. Emily Salisbury for starting these conversations at the FreeHer conference in in September 2018. Here is a list of alternatives from the white paper I wrote with Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson for the Prisoner's Family Conference:
Boppre, B. & Reed, S. “I’m not a number, I’m a human being:” A Phenomenological Study of Women’s Responses to Criminal Labeling. (Forthcoming, Feminist Criminology)
Boppre, B., & Hart-Johnson, A. (2019). Using Person-Centered Language to Humanize Those Impacted by the Legal System. Dallas, TX: Prisoner’s Family Conference Advocacy in Action Coalition.