Call to scrap 'offenders' term
Published 07/12/2010 | 09:06
People who break the law should no longer be branded offenders, a leading criminal justice campaigner has said.
Frances Crook, head of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the "insulting" term demeans individuals and hinders their rehabilitation.
Writing in Criminal Justice Matters, she said it has been "easy" for politicians to treat some sections of society as "other" and less than human.
She said: "Someone who commits an offence is not an offender, they are someone who has done something. The action does not define the whole person. They may also do good things and they will certainly fit into other categories that can offer a different definition like parent or friend. By insisting that the offence overcomes all other parts of the person we are condemning them to a sub-human category for whom there is no hope."
Earlier this year the UK Drugs Policy Commission said stigmatising words such as "junkie" are a big obstacle to recovery for drug users.
Researchers found the extreme prejudice linked to addiction prevents drug users from recovering and rejoining society.
Mrs Crook goes a step further and calls for people to talk about offenders differently in the same way the language of disability has been shaken up. She attacked the Labour government for creating a "whole industry" of services for offenders on which they have no say.
Research conducted for the Howard League found many prisoners said the first step to a crime-free life would be to lose the label of being an offender.
Professor Mike Nellis, of the University of Strathclyde, said "offender" became popular in the 1960s as an alternative to criminal, delinquent and lawbreaker. He said the word offender is "relatively neutral" and does not carry some of the highly emotive baggage of other terms.
Criminal Justice Matters is published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, an independent charity.