person-first language, language usage and terminology, structural violence, peace studies, criminal justice system, stigmatization, linguistic anthropology and cultural analysis


Language is power. Word choice and terminology, especially those referring to people, are expressions of societal norms and institutional power. Dehumanizing crime-first terms and labels are abundant and common in criminal justice contexts despite being protested by system-involved individuals and activists. Instead, many advocate for person-first terms wherein identifying language emphasizes an individual’s humanity. With a peace-focused anthropological framework, this paper presents the case for person-first language in criminal justice contexts. It is evident that adopting first-person language usage regarding the criminal justice system is necessary after analyzing and considering the multiple sources, such as the voices of those who have been justice-involved and other communities that have adopted person-first language principles. However, while language can demonstrate and inspire progressive change, terminology alone cannot remedy the institutional harms of the criminal justice system. While person-first language should replace crime-first terms in the common vernacular of the United States, the criminal justice system will remain unjust without systemic change.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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