Senators want to know why ‘offender’ is offensive

OLYMPIA — Five Republican state senators on Friday asked Corrections Secretary Dick Morgan to explain why he wants the agency to stop using the word “offender” when referring to those locked up behind bars.

In a letter, the senators contend Morgan needed to consult with lawmakers before initiating such a change because “offender” is a term written into state law.

They expressed concern the decision could “place the public safety at risk” as well as lives of prison employees who fail to “recall the politically correct designation for the offenders.” If Morgan acted on the basis of any “evidence-based studies,” they said they want to read them.

“It strikes us as Orwellian that the state would attempt to manipulate the psychology of a population simply by changing a term by which that population is referred,” the five senators wrote.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee which handles corrections issues, released the letter. Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, who serves on the committee, signed in support.

Morgan told agency employees in a memo Tuesday that “offender” would be replaced in policies and programs with terms such as “individuals,” “students” or “patients.” He encouraged corrections officers to “practice replacing or removing the word ‘offenders’ from your communication and presentations to others.”

He said “offender” creates a stigma that adds to the difficulty encountered by those seeking to reintegrate in society when they get out of prison.

Morgan was out of the office and unavailable for comment Friday.

Agency spokesman Jeremy Barclay said he had not heard about or seen the letter.

“Therefore I cannot comment at this time,” he said.

Padden said he would wait for a response from Morgan before deciding whether the committee would conduct a hearing on the matter.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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