New York scraps word ‘inmate’ in state law

FILE- The Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York has amended several state laws to remove the word “inmate” and replace it with “incarcerated person” to refer to people serving prison time. 

The changes, signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, are intended to reduce the stigma of being in jail. Prison reform advocates have said the term “inmate” has a dehumanizing effect. Prisoners say it can feel degrading when jail guards refer to them as inmates, especially in front of their families during in-person visits. 


Republicans ridiculed the measure as coddling criminals. 

“Parading around a bill that removes the word ‘inmate’ from legal materials at a time when crime in New York continues to spike at an alarming rate shows you a lot about how misguided the Democrats’ agenda is,” said Assemblymember Chris Tague, a Republican from Schoharie. 

A similar measure to replace the word “inmate” in a slew of other state laws was signed in 2021 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Making changes to help people who have committed crimes, though, carries some political risks this election year. 

Hochul’s opponent in the governor’s race, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, has made fear of crime a central issue of his campaign. Violent crime rates have increased across the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hochul said social justice and safety can go hand-in-hand. 

“By treating all New Yorkers with dignity and respect, we can improve public safety while ensuring New Yorkers have a fair shot at a second chance,” she said in a statement.