The Language Polarity of Incarceration

C.R. Pattison
8 min readMay 28, 2020
Photo by Guido Coppa on Unsplash

The language of Pre-incarceration

The United States has one of the most varied systems of incarceration in the world, with more than 51 Types of incarceration systems in the nation that all reasonably independent of each other. The united states have 50 different state prison systems and one vastly complicated central federal prison system. In these systems, we house the most significant number of people compared to any other country, with around a million of people bounded by a system that is structured and run by language and more definitely words. The language that we use and see in incarceration changes we The way look at the policies of punishment and rehabilitation and the success of the people who experience incarceration. The language of imprisonment is vast, but can easily be broken down into three parts. These parts are the language of the statutory and regulatory structure. The words that people are experiencing incarceration use amongst each other. The language we use to describe the system and the people who have experienced incarceration.

The first type of language that affects people experiencing or about to be experiencing incarceration is the language that got them there in the first place the language of the laws more specific statutory regulations. Statutory requirements are drafted and enacted by the legislative branch of government, i.e., federal laws made by congress and state laws made by the state “congress” or legislators, then enforced by law enforcement and then finally brought the courts and then this final stage of statutory requirement. When it hits the trial phase (if the case ever goes to trial, I’ll talk more about that later) is where we see the first problem of the language of the law, punishment, and incarceration starts. Its where the written statutory requirement meets the real-world situation of the alleged crime and to see if the real-world situation equates the written language in the legislative document. The problem arises when those two meet because the statutory law may not and does not always encompass the criteria of the statutory requirement has to interpret further the statute than they usually have to, which can cause issues.

In the book by Lawrence m. Solan called “the language of statutory law and its interpretation” the difference we have in judge thinking could break down into interpretalists and intentionalists. Intentionalists are of thinking that they should look at laws by their language. The author’s communicative intent and interpretalists believe the ordinary meaning of the law should interpret the rules. This language means the word can say precisely what the legal definition means, where murder is only murder, the crime being the unlawful killing of a “human being,” and only the unlawful killing of a human being. Compared to an intentionalist who could decide that murder can be translated further. In the case keeler v superior court, Mr keeler was charged with the death of his ex-wife’s fetus no at the time the statue only said “the unlawful killing of a human being.” It said nothing about a viable embryo, and an intentionalist’s stance would be even tho the law doesn’t state a viable fetus the concept. The author intends to deter or punish the act of killing of innocence, and also though it’s not Stated, they would argue it is implied.

The intentionalist’s problem is that their viewpoint is that even though the law does not meet the criteria for the term. It should be accepted to understand the word because of it’s inherited knowledge; it is, their interpretation of laws arises the concept coined as Dworkin’s fallacy by Michael s Green. In “Dworkin’s Fallacy or What the philosophy of language cant teaches about the law.”. in this text, Dworkin pleases the intentional view in the aspect language equates legal definition. Which it may not, to explain this better, the Dworkin Fallacy believe that everyone can agree on criteria and if not, then it assumed. Take word that Michael green uses: the word bachelor, the term means an unmarried male, this but you would not call the pope a bachelor or nor would you call 5-year-old boys bachelors, but the intentionalist believe that is a given does not need to be said. Because in statutory law, we have to define them by their specific criterium. Because “Criteria in a cluster are still identified, not through empirical inquiry into the world, but by reflection on our knowledge of the meaning of a word.” According to Dworkin. This difference in the thought about the language of the law can make the decision that affects these defendants’ livelihood like a gambler shot at roulette. So the outcome of the actual perception or categorization of reasoning of how they deem them criminal. A standard of how to interpret law would help how justice describes people who are caught up in the system.

The Language of Post-incarceration

The final series of linguistical struggle that people who have experienced incarceration is in the re-entry phase. It is not the language of prison policy nor the language from communities of confinement, but rather the expression of outward peoples, and their use of detrimental caricatures to describe the people returning to a healthy society. Like what is the definition of criminals in US society? Is it some who commits crimes or who have committed crimes? What about “‘the crimes of everyday life,’ those offenses which: are committed by those who think of themselves as respectable citizens, and who would reject the labels of ‘criminals’ and ‘crime’ for themselves and their actions. Politicians refer to them as the ‘law-abiding majority in this country,’” (VICTIMS’ VERSUS ‘OFFENDERS’ IN BRITISH POLITICAL DISCOURSE: THE CONSTRUCTION OF A FALSE DICHOTOMY). This architecture of ‘law-abiding’ citizens and the dangerous others only cements the fear and disbeliefs about crime and the criminal actions of communities and the globalization of those communities. “The globalization era has seen a growth in the number of actions deemed to be criminal.” (VICTIMS’ VERSUS ‘OFFENDERS’ IN BRITISH POLITICAL DISCOURSE: THE CONSTRUCTION OF A FALSE DICHOTOMY)

So can this be a fair title to describe someone for continuity even if they no longer participate in criminal activity? This the issue that people who formerly experience incarceration usually deal with, the use of language, words, and titles that might not or mostly not accurately define them. This issue comes from our community perception of criminality, our understanding of societal evil it mostly comes from the media, news, and politics. The press molds communities’ knowledge of crime is grossly inaccurate, shows like CSI, Law & order we get a concept called the CSI effect. “This problem could create a bias and cause a juror to more likely acquit without the presence of forensic evidence, or more likely to convict based on a misinterpretation of forensic evidence.” (The “CSI Effect” and Its Potential Impact on Juror Decisions John Alldredge San Jose State University) this sense of theatrical sway is detrimental to society because it only gives the viewer a slice of the actual elements of criminality. The thought that the conviction of someone is based on substantial evidence is often not the case. In the majority of cases, the person usually can be forced into a plea deal given the often unfair advantage that the prosecutor has over the defense and nothing about the actual innocence of the individual or even the criminality of the alleged offender. On top of that, the federal government spends billions of dollars to support its criminal justice framework. Still, most of that is spent on the police, prosecution, and the running of prisons and very little on the defense of the accused, according to a study done by prison policy.

So to add on this, the second and third way the community gets this slightly dramatized version of criminality is from “The Media.”. The news and politics through the language that is used in those prospective mediums, because of this unfair time spending that was mention earlier, only amplify it since prosecutors are getting more money than the other side they have more resources. They have more time to give a favorable news presence compared to the overworked defense. A prosecutor can almost provide a press release conference whenever it is perfect for them because they have whole investigation divisions. In contrast, the case usually has only a single attorney or a small group of private independent contracted investigators. This free time is insurmountably influential on the public’s opinion of criminality in the article “To achieve wide-ranging criminal justice reform, we need to overhaul how we think and talk about social justice and crime” in business insider “Research has shown that typical coverage of crime appeals to people who already tend to favor punitive approaches, or to people who favor clear storylines with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.” this bad vs good does make the stories about crime in the media a lot more concise but leaves a false impression on the community, especially when that the people who have experience re-enter society These false impressions bring along problematic language an often dehumanizing language, this language using words that portrayed by the media as fix adversarial caricatures like victims vs “felons” or convicts and it does away with common sense or rational thought but replaces reasonable public perception with “populist sensibilities and gut instinct” According to (‘VICTIMS’ VERSUS ‘OFFENDERS’ IN BRITISH POLITICAL DISCOURSE: THE CONSTRUCTION OF A FALSE DICHOTOMY)

Often the public uses nonperson first language to describe people who experience incarceration like Felon, Convict, and ex-con. This language does not look at the individual as a whole, and individuals should not be described only by one experience or by a single aspect of their identity. The public should person-first language: an incarcerated person or person with a felony conviction, an expression like this humanizes the individual that helps lower the stigma help the person who has had an unfortunate experience with the criminal justice system, and the help of the person who has been incarcerated. “The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends in its 2013 style guide that language must not discriminate against, stereotype, or demean people based on their age, physical or intellectual impairments, ethnicity, gender, sex, or sexual orientation.” “However, it does not address specifically problematic terminology used to describe people involved in the criminal justice system.” (Words matter: a call for humanizing and respectful language to describe people who experience incarceration) in this small study, the national library of medicine and health has concluded that the language that we use can dramatically affect the health of the people who have experienced incarceration. They go further by saying: “The language used to describe incarcerated people, their life experience, behaviors, health risk factors, and medical conditions can, therefore, play an important role in supporting or undermining their health,” according to the National library study. The organization also said in the survey that wellbeing and access to many all health services is usually hampered by the use of outed and dehumanizing terminology to describe the person in the justice system, especially prison and jails due to proposition 47 in California. This use of language change by the public health officials and policymakers can “positively influence media narratives, public opinion, and, above all, ensure that policy changes are inclusive of this priority population.”. in conclusion, the use of human and respectful language towards people who experience incarceration. It can lessen the negative impact the experience has on their lives and possibly some health benefits according to the national library study. The use of this same language can better help the overall goal to understand better and support the people who had involvement with this unfortunate experience.



C.R. Pattison

Bay Area-based writer and content creator. Focusing on media and politics