New York, NY – New York City Department of Correction (DOC) officers have been banned from calling inmates anything other than “persons” or “individuals,” according to a directive from the DOC chief.
DOC Chief of Department Hazel Jennings issued the directive on Tuesday, the New York Post reported.
Chief Jennings declared that previously-used slang terms like “bodies” and “packages” were “unprofessional, demeaning and from this point prohibited,” according to the directive.
Instead, DOC employees must only refer to inmates as “persons” or “individuals,” the New York Post reported.
“This notification reinforces existing policy and advances our goal of creating a culture of mutual respect,” DOC spokesperson Peter Thorne told the New York Daily News. “It is part of our ongoing commitment to remaking our jails into national models for modern correctional practice.”
But the abrupt rule change also has the potential to cause communication problems inside the facilities.
“It’s BS that you can’t call them ‘perps’,” a DOC source told the New York Post. “Now if you say on the radio you have five persons, does that mean inmates, visitors, construction workers, counselors, etc. It is confusing.”
The source said the move was just further evidence of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “plan to coddle criminals.”
“Inmates get treated better than us [correction officers],” the source added.
Chief Jennings’ rule change came as the New York City Council has been poring over proposed legislation aimed at establishing better living accommodations for the city’s inmate population.
Manhattan Councilman Keith Powers authored the proposed “bill of rights” for inmates and presented it for the council’s consideration earlier in October, the New York Post reported.
Under the proposed legislation, DOC personnel would be required to address inmates by their preferred pronouns.
Powers’ also mentioned Chief Jennings’ latest directive in his “bill of rights.”
“This is a small but encouraging step to humanize individuals in custody," he told the New York Daily News. "The policy reflects legislation I introduced this month that would require incarcerated individuals be called by their names - we are talking about people here.”
Inmates would be given 24-hour “call buttons” so they could summon corrections officers to their cells whenever they wanted, the New York Post reported.
Powers’ legislation further called for cells to be equipped with internet access, kitchenettes, and windows to let natural light in, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Cells would also be constructed of “aesthetically appealing materials, such as wood, fabric, ceramics and plastic… deprioritize[ing] the use of metal,” the New York Post reported.
Inmates would be allowed to decorate their own cells under the proposed legislation.
“What’s concerning to us is this apparent emphasis from the City Council on increasing congeniality, rather than addressing the jail violence, which even the administration reports has risen significantly over the past year,” Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen told the New York Post.
Husamudeen called Chief Jennings’ directive “redundant” and argued that employees already address inmates by their actual names.
The city is in the process of considering a proposal to shut down Rikers Island and to swap it out for four new, smaller incarceration facilities scattered among the boroughs.
The project is expected to cost $9 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The council’s vote in that matter has been scheduled for Oct. 17, the New York Post reported.
This latest move falls on the heels of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s human rights commission’s ban on using the words “illegal alien” or threatening to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to report someone.