Ian Acheson Ian Acheson

No, jail staff shouldn’t call prisoners ‘residents’

(Getty images)

What do you call someone in prison? An inmate? Prisoner? How about a ‘resident’? That’s how those locked up in Britain’s jails are now described by the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. Apart from the cringing absurdity of labelling people whom the state has detained as if they had voluntarily checked into the care home from hell, what does this tell us about the culture of the Prison Service? And why does it matter?

The Ministry of Justice has form for assaults on the English language. Recent guidance on offenders, still under a prison sentence but being supervised in the community, has cancelled this apparently dangerously oppressive label replacing it with ‘supervised individuals’. I suspect that members of the public might prefer probation officers to focus more on reversing our eye watering reconviction statistics: over 60 per cent of those sentenced to 12 months and under in custody go on to offend again.

Weeks after Khairi Saadallah left prison custody – where he mixed freely with an extremist Islamist preacher and then subsequently murdered three innocent people in a Reading park – the MoJ described its measures to counter extremism as ‘world leading’. Saadallah was, at the time of his rampage, apparently a ‘supervised individual’.

I didn’t come across any prisoners who complained about not being called ‘Men’ or ‘Residents’

An operational prison manager acquaintance reminds me of the time they were told off by senior managers for referring to ‘prisoners’ not ‘men’ on the jail landings. This manager was locking up transwomen at the time, which adds a certain piquancy to the Prison Service’s transgender policies that had allowed male bodied transexuals into female only prisons. One such prisoner, Karen White – described by a judge as a danger to women and children – went on to sexually assault two women while on remand.

My critics will say that language matters and that we should stop using labels that unfairly stigmatise people.

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