NJ could replace the word ‘detainee’ in state laws, pending review


New Jersey plans to replace the word “inmate” more than 1,000 times in all of its laws, in an effort to remove the stigma associated with it.

The New Jersey Law Review Commission has begun accepting public comment until May 16 on recommendations to replace the word “detainee” with “priority” terms such as “person” or “incarcerated person.” .

The issue was discussed at the recent regular committee meeting on Thursday after the launch of the project was presented at the February meeting.

After the comment period ended, the commission would submit a report to the Legislative Assembly, suggesting revisions.

This follows a similar decision in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in August 2021 replacing the word “detainee” with “incarcerated individual” or “incarcerated individuals.”

“The Commission’s recommended changes are designed to remove unnecessarily pejorative language from the NJ Penal Code,” John Kip Cornwell, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.

“The alternative language – ‘persons who are incarcerated’ – promotes dignity and respect while achieving the legislative objectives of the targeted provisions,” he continued.

Cornwell is a delegate attending on behalf of New Jersey Law Review Commissioner Kathleen M. Boozang, dean of Seton Hall Law.

Proposed swaps for “detained” (New Jersey Law Review Commission)

Proposed swaps for “detained” (New Jersey Law Review Commission)

Who is an inmate?

In New Jersey, there is no uniform definition of the term inmate.

The word refers to a person who has been sentenced to imprisonment or remanded or held in custody in a state prison or county correctional facility.

It could also mean a person held in a correctional facility or anyone who has been sentenced as an adult to a term of incarceration.

Not all those imprisoned have been tried and sentenced to imprisonment.

Some people are housed in county correctional facilities pending a decision on temporary release, or the trial or hearing of their case.

“A shift to person-centred language has begun in the criminal justice field, with advocates
recommending replacing terms labeled as “dehumanizing” and “stigmatizing” with those that emphasize an individual’s identity and capacity for growth,” according to the draft summary, published March 7.

The presence of the term “inmate” in more than 250 individual statutes “may warrant consideration for its elimination,” the summary continues.

“An incarcerated person is first and foremost a person, and when we call them people instead of ‘inmates,’ we recognize the humanity they retain,” said ACLU-NJ staff attorney Tess Borden, in a statement to New Jersey 101.5. “In a prison system that is too often dehumanizing and even inhumane, calling them people is a small but significant step towards reform.

A survey by The Marshall Project in 2015 found that “incarcerated person” was the preferred term, with 38% support, ahead of “prisoner” (23%) or “detainee” (10%) out of more than 200 responses.

Second, 30% of respondents selected “other” (“person in prison”, “male or female”, “person’s name”).

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