Language Guidelines

Language is a powerful tool in shaping the culture and narrative in the field of higher education in prison, and in society as a whole. With this in mind, and drawing upon the rich history of work that has previously been engaged on this topic, we want to express our opposition to the usage of terms that are rooted in a history of violent and oppressive systems. Along with a vast majority of our community members, we share the view that terms such as “prisoner”, “inmate”, “offender”, “convict” and “felon” are stigmatizing, dehumanizing, discriminatory and continue to enact violence and do not acknowledge an individual’s full identity. We consider it standard practice to abstain from such language, unless you have experienced incarceration and choose to self-identify as such. 

Our efforts are guided by a practice of conscious communication and the use of person-centered language (e.g., person who is currently incarcerated, person with justice involvement, to name only a few). This statement is meant to express our stance and preference on the usage of language.

For anyone wishing to learn more about the various works that have been generated by colleagues across the country, many of whom are directly impacted by the prison system and have been leading voices in these efforts, please refer to these resources:

The Center for Nuleadership on Urban Solutions: An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language

The Fortune Society: Words Matter

The Marshall Project: The Language Project

The Osborne Association: Resources for Humanizing Language

Underground Scholars: Language Guide for Communicating About Those Involved in the Carceral System