People in prison in New York will no longer be referred to as "inmates" in state law under a measure approved Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The bill approved by the governor addresses what has been a growing concern for criminal justice advocates in the state: The use of the word "inmate" can have a dehumanizing effect for the people incarcerated.
The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Jeff Aubry and Sen. Gustavo Rivera, replaces "inmate" with "incarcerated individual" or "incarcerated individuals." It also comes as New York over the last decade has reassessed the role of prisons.
"Penological terms such as felon, inmate, prisoner, offender, and convict have long been noted by many impacted by the criminal legal system as dehumanizing, degrading, and as importing the idea that incarcerated people should be permanently demonized and stigmatized," the bill's sponsors wrote. "Such words are often used to discriminate against people who are or have been involved in the criminal legal system."
The state has closed multiple prisons over the last several years amid a falling prison population. At the same time, state lawmakers have moved to place limits on solitary confinement, which advocates have said is a form of torture.
Still, criminal justice reform advocates have called on officials to go further as the spread of COVID-19 has led to calls for even more people to be released from prison due to how easily the virus can spread in close congregate settings like prisons and jails.