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Cuomo signs bill ending use of 'inmate' in NY law

Auburn Correctional Facility.JPG (copy)

Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn. 

In New York law, incarcerated individuals will no longer be referred to as inmates. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed legislation that replaces the word "inmate" or "inmates" with "incarcerated individual" or "incarcerated individuals." The bill passed the state Assembly and Senate with bipartisan support in June. 

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who sponsored the bill in his chamber, recalled meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals when he was the ranking member on the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee. He said they told him, "I'm a person. I'm not an inmate. I'm not a convict. I'm not a prisoner." 

"That education actually led to this moment," Rivera said before the Senate passed the bill in June. "I want to thank each and every one of them for educating me on that subject." 

On the Vera Institute of Justice's Think Justice blog, Erica Bryant wrote in March that "convict," "felon" and "inmate" are outdated words and harmful to incarcerated individuals. She quotes Jerome Wright, a formerly incarcerated individual who is now an organizer for the #HALTSolitary Campaign in New York. Wright said that after being arrested, "the language begins to be totally derogatory, debasing and dehumanizing." 

The legislation introduced by Rivera and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry seeks to address that issue. The lawmakers wrote in the bill's justification that certain terms, including "inmate," suggest that "incarcerated people should be permanently demonized and stigmatized." They added that the words are used to "discriminate against people who are or have been involved in the criminal legal system." 

"Using terms such as 'incarcerated individual' recognizes the humanity of people and exemplifies the redeemable value of human beings," the legislators continued. "Trending studies have shown these terminologies have an inadvertent and adverse impact on individuals' employment, housing and other communal opportunities. This can impact one's transition from incarceration, potential for recidivism, and societal perception." 

Prior to the bill's passage and Cuomo's approval, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision was already using a variation of "incarcerated individual" in its public statements. DOCCS oversees New York's 50 state prisons that house more than 32,000 incarcerated individuals. 

The new law takes effect immediately. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at

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