Today’s Bad Word: Ex-Offender

Definition: A person with a criminal record or history.

My Beef? The term flies in the face of best messaging practice: never repeat a negative frame. While this may be a legal definition and used widely even among advocacy groups, semantically this term is counter productive. Any word that begins with “ex” already suggests something unwanted, excised, something we want to be rid of and away from. “Offender” feels both personal and vague, somehow. Obtaining work, housing, health care and re-establishing social networks are critically important for men and women trying to rebuild their lives and families after incarceration. This is already an uphill battle, so repeating negative terminology that only reminds the listener of a crime cannot help.

“Ex-offender” does not leave one feeling as though the issue(s) is over and done. It reduces a person’s humanity by defining them as though they were only that one negative element.

Suggested replacements: Re-entering adults or re-integrating adults; Justice-served individuals; Men/women rejoining communities

And a shout-out: There are advocacy groups all around the country, such as the excellent Fortune Society and Women’s Prison Association that facilitate new opportunities for people who need a second chance to realize their potential.