Scotland

Scottish government renames 'offender' as 'person with conviction'

prison

People released from Scottish prisons will no longer be referred to as "offenders", under Scottish government plans.

The new National Strategy for Criminal Justice said they should be referred to as a "person with convictions" or "person with an offending history".

The government said the change underlined the "power of language" to affect behaviour.

Critics said it risked suggesting that ministers did not take crime seriously.

In the government's national strategy, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said ministers were "adopting a preventative approach, not only to reduce crime and the number of future victims of crime, but to help to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society where people's life chances were improved."

'Shift attitudes'

The document goes on to state that: "after people have been released from custody or completed community sentences, it is vital that we support them to reintegrate into society.

"We must be aware of the power of language to facilitate or inhibit this process."

It added: "Defining people as 'offenders' for the rest of their lives, will not help to change their behaviours, or shift attitudes within wider society.

"We encourage partners to use the term: person with convictions or person with an offending history, while also taking care to use language that is sensitive to victims of crime. "

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Reoffending rates in Scotland fell to a 17-year low in May this year

Pete White, the chief executive of Positive Prison, Positive Futures, said the stigma associated with the 'offender' label was significant.

He told Radio Scotland's Stephen Jardine programme: "The justice system is set up so that people are punished for breaking the law and once the punishment is complete, do they have to carry that label with them forever?

"Thirty-eight percent of the adult male population in Scotland has got at least one conviction and 9% of women.

"If we're going to do something, even just one small thing, to reduce offending in Scotland, then if we can help people to realise that they can move forward and are not always going to be stuck in the past, then that's a thing that we can all do."

'Neutral word'

However, former probation officer Mike Nellis, who is now emeritus professor of criminal and community justice at the University of Strathclyde, said the move risked back-firing on the government.

He said: "This is a well-intentioned move to expunge the word offender from the vocabulary of reintegration, but it could back-fire terribly on the government because there are lots of people out there in society and in the tabloid press who use much worse words like, 'villain', 'thug' or 'crook'.

"The word offender is a descriptive neutral word that does not imply bad character. It means that a person has offend against the law. It is a useful word.

"It opens the way for people to mock the government and suggest that they are not taking crime seriously."

"To speak of an offender does not preclude them being thought of as a person. What the government seems to be saying is that by using the word 'offender', it precludes them from being people of potential. This is not the case and the important point that must be made."

The strategy has been published after reconviction rates for offenders in Scotland fell to their lowest level for 17 years in May this year.

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