Who would you be more apt to hire—a “convicted felon” or a “justice-involved person”?
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is betting you would go with the second choice—which is why they have introduced gentle, non-judgmental language to describe hardened criminals and drug offenders. The goal of their nonbinding resolution is to change people’s “racist” views about those who commit crimes—including rapists, pedophile, and murderers, apparently.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, from now on a convicted felon or an offender released from custody will be known as a “formerly incarcerated person,” or a “justice-involved” person or just a “returning resident.”
A juvenile “delinquent” will now be called a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.”
And drug addicts or substance abusers, meanwhile, will become “a person with a history of substance use.”
One of the objectives of the resolution is to avoid “inaccurate information” reportedly, but the new language seems purposefully misleading. A “justice-involved” person sounds like it could be someone who works in the justice system. Similarly, a “young person with justice system involvement” could well be a teenager who interned in a law office.
Not to mention, every person on earth—including toddlers and cloistered nuns—could be described as people “with a history of substance use.” From the moment we’re born, human beings come into contact with an endless variety of substances, so the description means nothing.
But misleading the public is virtuous if your intentions are pure, apparently.
“We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done,” Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We want them ultimately to become contributing citizens, and referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from.”
The nonbinding resolution introducing the convoluted language passed last month, the Chronicle reports.
According to the resolution, 1 of 5 California residents has a criminal record, and words like “prisoner,” “convict,” “inmate” or “felon” “only serve to obstruct and separate people from society and make the institutionalization of racism and supremacy appear normal,” the resolution states.
“Inaccurate information, unfounded assumptions, generalizations and other negative predispositions associated with justice-involved individuals create societal stigmas, attitudinal barriers and continued negative stereotypes,” it continues.
“We want them ultimately to become contributing citizens, and referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from,” Haney said.
The resolution doesn’t offer any new terms for the victims of crimes, nor has the board apparently given much thought to law-abiding residents who could be caught unawares and put into dangerous situations because of the vague language.
But if used faithfully, San Francisco’s newspeak could lead to some interesting conversations, the Chronicle notes.
For instance, a crime victim could at some point in the future be described as “a person who has come in contact with a returning resident who was involved with the justice system and who is currently under supervision with a history of substance use.”
Sounds like they could be best friends.