DOC: Convicted criminals should no longer be called 'offenders'

OLYMPIA, Wash. — An offender is a person who commits an illegal act.

But the Washington State Department of Corrections says the word “offender” has a negative connotation, affecting inmates, those on supervision and their families.

So, it's out.

The word offender replaced inmate in the 2000s, and now, according to a memo, the word offender is being replaced.

Reporter Maria Guerrero met one man on DOC supervision to get his take on the change.

Jeff Clark isn't offended if you call him an offender.

“(It) doesn't bother me one bit. I've been on paper since (I was) 17 years old,” said Clark.

In a memo sent to the Washington State Department of Corrections staff and obtained by KIRO 7, Secretary Richard Morgan tells staff the DOC is phasing out the use of the word offender, telling them to "replace it with 'individuals' or other applicable terms such as 'student' or 'patient' where/when appropriate."

In the memo, Morgan, says, "This is an opportunity to help others define themselves not for their criminal behavior, but for their future role in their communities."

Business owner Gary Hunter has hired felons and agrees.

“If we think of ourselves as offenders, we may not continue on and look forward to think of ourselves as achievers,” said Hunter.

Clark has been out of prison for a year and is on active DOC supervision.

Clark: "They can call us whatever they want. I don't care.”

Guerrero: “that won't make you feel better?”

“It’s not going to change anything. Only way to change is yourself is changing what you want to do.”

The DOC might refer to him as a "student" for education he received while in prison.

"I went and did a program, culinary program, graduated from it, got a freakin’ line cook job, I've changed my whole ways,” said Clark.

DOC staff was told Tuesday to start dropping the word in their everyday dealings.

We asked how much dropping the word will cost.

The department's spokesman said documents will be modified as they are scheduled to be reviewed, but no signs need changing.

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