Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inmate or Prisoner?

Hardly a topic that grips the nation, but one that drives prison managers in circles - should prisoners be called 'inmates' or 'prisoners'?

Of course, the one is a subset of the other. 'Inmates' are merely residents in any institution and we are undeniably in that definition. But a 'prisoner' is a particular type of resident, being held against their will and in conditions of powerlessness. This is not the same as being a patient in hospital, a resident in a care home, or a school boarder.

I prefer 'prisoner', though if we're on familiar terms feel free to call me a 'con'. I've been called worse.


  1. I do not feel comfortable with inmate as this reminds me of people held in the old mental asylums. Many of them were held against their will. I do not like the word con either as this derives I presume from convict and somehow to me seems derogatory. Detainee cannot be used at this is now for political prisoners. I suppose technically prisoner is better in terms of the definition of the word as it relates to being under arrest or detained in a prison.

    You have me thinking now as I do not always keep up to date with the changing use of words. I know I used to be a user of services provided by the State but I am now a customer. I suppose this usage is to place the relationship on a more equal footing and to strengthen the view that I pay for the service through taxation. Not sure the message has got through to all providers though.

    I will use prisoner as I believe the definition is one who is in police custody or confined in a prison. It cannot be misinterpretated.

  2. Well, prison seems like a dehumanising process and I would venture that the dehumanization started quite some time before they ended up at the prison gates, so surely rehabilitation must involve re-humanization. For that reason I would suggest that prisoners are referred to by name.

  3. I have been reading your thought provoking and educational blog for some weeks and have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for your headspace and candour.
    As one of the very few empowered and articulate residential care service users, I have experienced a considerable empathy with many aspects of your situation.
    Suffice it to say that I disagree with your assumption. Care home residents are incarcerated against their will and there is a power imbalance. The reality is many residents, myself included, are in residential care due to lack of choice. We don't know if or when we will be able to get out; nearly all residents only escape feet first. Many have no voice and those of us who do are routinely victimised for it. The primary difference being that we are supposed to be grateful for our incarceration and disempowering treatment (without wanting to minimise the horrendous situation of being in prison and its blatant and more insidious effects.)
    All power to your elbow in your fight against oppression.