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Wisconsin sheriff says those in jail will be called ‘residents,’ not ‘inmates’

Wisconsin sheriff says inmates will be called ‘residents’ and ‘those in our care’ to maintain the ‘dignity’ of criminals while in jail

  • On Monday, Staff at the Dane County Jail in Madison said they will no longer refer to those in jail as ‘inmates’ and will instead address them as ‘residents’ 
  • Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said he arrived at the decision over his last nearly 100 days as sheriff
  • ‘This proactive approach to our criminal justice reform is going to allow us to move towards a 21st-century policing mindset,’ Barrett said
  • Barrett said the change in language is a ‘small step’ to reduce those barriers, and hopefully help reduce recidivism 


Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett (pictured) said staff at the Dane County Jail in Madison will no longer refer to those in jail as ‘inmates’

A Wisconsin prison will now refer to its offenders as  ‘residents’ to ‘humanize and respect’ them. 

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said staff at the Dane County Jail in Madison will no longer refer to those in jail as ‘inmates’ and will instead address them as ‘residents’ or ‘those within our care,’ the sheriff announced Monday. 

After speaking with sheriff’s deputies and other staff members, in addition to those incarcerated, Barrett said he arrived at the decision over his last nearly 100 days as sheriff.  

‘As we serve, we want to maintain dignity and respect for all who are involved in our criminal justice system,’ Barrett said. ‘We will no longer refer to our incarcerated community members as ‘inmates’. Their new title will be ‘resident(s)’ or ‘those within our care.’

Barrett said he met with a group of formerly incarcerated individuals at the nonprofit Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, who told him being referred to as ‘inmates’ or ‘convicts’ increases stigma against them and creates challenges while transitioning back into society.

After speaking with sheriff's deputies and other staff members at the Dane County Jail, in addition to those incarcerated, Barrett said he arrived at the decision over his last nearly 100 days as sheriff

After speaking with sheriff’s deputies and other staff members at the Dane County Jail, in addition to those incarcerated, Barrett said he arrived at the decision over his last nearly 100 days as sheriff

Barrett said the change in language is a ‘small step’ to reduce those barriers, and hopefully help reduce recidivism. 

In addition to altering the language for those incarcerated, officers will also refer to themselves as ‘peace officers’ instead of law enforcement. 

‘The title we go by and how we view ourselves matters how we carry out the duties of our position,’ Barrett said. ‘When I mean peace officer, I mean that is exactly what my goal, my philosophy and my vision, is, we are there to keep the peace.’ 

There is no formal rule enforcing language change, and staff won’t be penalized if they continue to say ‘inmate.’ However, Barrett and jail leadership will continue to work on normalizing referring to inmates as ‘residents,’ and said the county is working towards making the change an official policy.   

In making the decision, Barrett was joined by other community leaders, including Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher and Public Protection and Judiciary Committee Chair Maureen McCarville.

Dane County Board member and state Rep. Shelia Stubbs said it’s crucial to give those in jail and former offenders ‘a sense of belonging’ in the community, and referring to them in a way that emphasizes how they are people too, not just inmates, helps with that.

‘We need to give people back the wholeness they deserve,’ she said.

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