Barack Obama wanted to be a transforming figure in American history and there are few better ways to transform a society than to fundamentally alter the way people speak. During his last year in office there seems to be a pattern developing along these lines, particularly when it comes to how Americans talk about criminals and crime in general. The latest entry in this effort comes from the Department of Education, where Secretary John King sent out a “Dear Colleagues” letter to the nation’s colleges and universities encouraging them to stop referring to students and applicants with criminal records as… criminals. It’s such a disparaging term, isn’t it? In order to avoid the stigma that comes with breaking our laws, we should now call them justice-involved individuals. (Kyle Smith for the New York Post)
If this were some one-off glitch from an overly enthusiastic intern it could be passed off as little more than yet another funny story for bored political junkies, but as I said, this is clearly part of a pattern. The push for justice-involved individuals terminology comes on the heels of a decision at the Justice Department not to refer to people as “felons” or “convicts” because of the negative implications of those words. At the time, the author of that decision seemed a bit confused as to what should replace such terms and he suggested phrases along the lines of “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated.” Those were a bit too wordy, though. You need something shorter and crisper which rolls off the tongue. Now, justice-involved individuals isn’t really all that tight and the acronym is simply awful. (JIIs? How would you even pronounce that?) But hey.. it’s a start. I’m sure the creative team in the Oval Office can do better over the next seven months.
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