Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Karol Mason, Fool?

The Washington Times reports that Karol Mason, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, has decided to eliminate the terms “felon” and “convict” from its vocabulary:

The Office of Justice Programs plans to substitute terminology such as “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated” in speeches and other communications as part of an effort to remove barriers that officials say hinder progress of those who re-enter society after completing their prison sentences.

“I have come to believe that we have a responsibility to reduce not only the physical but also the psychological barriers to reintegration,” Ms. Mason wrote Wednesday in a guest post for The Washington Post. “The labels we affix to those who have served time can drain their sense of self-worth and perpetuate a cycle of crime, the very thing reentry programs are designed to prevent.”

Here’s an excerpt from Mason’s WaPo post:

This new policy statement replaces unnecessarily disparaging labels with terms like “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated,” decoupling past actions from the person being described and anticipating the contributions we expect them to make when they return.  We will be using the new terminology in speeches, solicitations, website content, and social media posts, and I am hopeful that other agencies and organizations will consider doing the same.

According to its website, Mason’s Office of Justice Programs “works in partnership with the justice community to identify the most pressing crime-related challenges confronting the justice system and to provide information, training, coordination, and innovative strategies and approaches for addressing these challenges.”

Just wondering: Should we label Mason a fool? Or should we refer to her as a “person who, with a lot of forethought, did something really foolish”? If the latter phrase would “decouple” her from her past actions and “anticipat[e]” that she would make better “contributions” in the future, then I think that we’re better off sticking with “fool.”

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