As the saying goes, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Less than 100 days after taking office, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett announced that the Dane County Jail staff will stop referring to convicts as “inmates,” and will use the terms “residents” or “those who are in our care” instead.
According to a Fox News report, the sheriff made the announcement at a press conference outside the Public Safety Building in Madison, Wisc. Barrett said he decided to make the change after meeting with former convicts through the nonprofit Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, who said that being called “inmates” or “convicts” reinforced a stigma that hindered their ability to reenter society.
The nonprofit organization’s website states that their goal is to “reduce African American/white racial disparities” through the leadership development of African Americans and by expanding the “awareness of white professionals and community members of historic and current root causes and effects of racial disparities.”
Barrett explained the rationale behind the “change in philosophy.”
“I view this change in name as a way to humanize those who are within our care,” he said.
“This proactive approach to our criminal justice reform is going to allow us to move toward a 21st-century policing mindset in which we treat everyone within our community with dignity, respect and humanity,” Barrett continued.
Barrett said that the changes will be an initial step in implementing proactive and progressive policies.
“As your sheriff, I believe our philosophies, policies and practices should be proactive and not reactionary like many other areas of our criminal justice system,” Barrett said. “The Dane County Sheriff’s Office is a national leader in appropriate progressive reform, and many follow our lead.”
The sheriff also made other changes related to language, updating the sheriff’s office website from “the largest law enforcement organization in Dane County” to the “the largest peace officer organization in Dane County.”
Dane County Supervisor and former parole officer Sheila Stubbs supported the sheriff’s new policy to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment.
“Changing the name of inmate to resident gives them a sense of belonging. When we give them a place of belonging and we call them residents instead of inmate, or call them resident instead of offender, because they may have offended one person but it doesn’t mean they have offended everyone,” Stubbs said.
Barrett didn’t comment on the $148 million jail construction project that is due to surpass its budget by millions of dollars again, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.