Sheriff: Jail 'inmates' will now be called 'residents' instead

Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said he hopes the language change will help humanize incarcerated people and reduce recidivism

By Emily Hamer
The Wisconsin State Journal

DANE COUNTY, Wis. — Marking a "change in philosophy" for the Dane County Sheriff's Office, staff will no longer refer to those in jail as inmates and will instead call them residents or "those within our care," the sheriff announced Monday.

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said he came to the decision after talking with those who are incarcerated, sheriff's deputies and other staff over his last nearly 100 days as sheriff.

"I view this change in name as a way to humanize those who are within our care," Barrett said at a press conference outside of the Public Safety Building jail.

Barrett said he met with a group of formerly incarcerated individuals who are part of a program at Nehemiah, a local organization that helps former offenders reenter the community. They told him that being called inmates or convicts increases stigma against them and worsens the barriers they face while transitioning back into society.

The language change is a "small step" to reduce those barriers, and hopefully help reduce recidivism, Barrett said. When asked how one word could help decrease recidivism, Barrett said the language can help change how incarcerated people view themselves and how society views them.

Barrett said there isn't a formal rule about the language, and staff won't be punished if they don't use it, but he and jail leadership are going to work on normalizing referring to inmates as residents. He said the county is working on making the change an official policy.

In announcing what the Sheriff's Office described as "a change in philosophy," Barrett was joined by other community leaders, including Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher and Public Protection and Judiciary Committee Chair Maureen McCarville.

State representative and Dane County Sup. Shelia Stubbs said it's important to give those who are in jail and former offenders "a sense of belonging" in the community by referring to them as people instead of inmates.


"We need to give people back the wholeness they deserve," she said.

Barrett declined to give an update on the ongoing $148 million jail consolidation project that is currently projected to go millions of dollars over budget. He has not taken a public stance on the project.

(c)2021 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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