Why Is the Word “Felon” Being Taken Out of Our Vocabulary?

“Every formerly incarcerated individual has the potential to achieve their dreams if they have the proper support.” – Daryl Atkinson, Forward Justice, North Carolina

Stigmatizing words and labels – the traditional language of incarceration – inflict unnecessary additional harms that our organization and other organizations in the justice-system reform space are devoted to end. Using words and phrases that define people by their potential and their possibilities – not solely on their past – helps provide psychological support to successful reentry.

At LINC, Inc., in our conversations, in our printed materials, and on our website, we advocate for language that supports inclusion, self-confidence, positive self-worth, and productive self-image. One of our organizational objectives is to use language that supports the humanity of each person as the forefront of their identity.

We provide programs and services for the justice-involved, not “services for felons.” We speak to empower and humanize. Words have the power to instigate change. We are looking to incorporate positive, empowering words to create a whole new way to talk about justice-system involved individuals, and lead the way to a new, enlightened language of incarceration.

What happens when you use person-centered language of incarceration?


  • Increased chances of successful employment, housing and family engagement
  • Increased chances to build stable and healthy lives
  • Increased compliance with laws, community norms, work expectations, rules/regulations, supervision terms, program requirements, treatment objectives, etc.

Out-dated Language

  • Felon
  • Convicted felon
  • Convict
  • Con
  • Ex-convict
  • Ex-con
  • Criminal
  • Juvie
  • Juvenile delinquent
  • Addict
  • Drug addict
  • Substance abuser
  • Services for felons
  • Jobs for felons
  • Employment for felons
  • Offender
  • Youth Offender
  • Parolee
felon convict justice-involved individual

Person-centered Language

  • People
  • Person
  • Individual
  • Person incarcerated
  • Person who has been formerly incarcerated
  • Person who is incarcerated
  • Justice-involved individual
  • Justice-involved person
  • Impacted person
  • Reentry services
  • Reentry programs
  • Returning citizen
  • Returning person
  • Person on parole
  • Person released from prison
  • Person on probation
  • People with substance use disorder