Inmate, Prisoner, Convict – Which is correct?

Is there a difference between a prisoner, inmate, and convict?

That depends on who you ask.  For the most part, prison officials and correction officers use the terms interchangeably and feel all three terms to have the same meaning.  In general society, most people also use all three terms to describe the incarcerated.

However, to those who are incarcerated, the terms are not used in the same way and there is a distinct difference in prison “lingo” between a convict and an inmate.

Inmate is Generally Considered an Offensive Term in Prison

According to a prison inmate blogger (who submits posts via regular mail and does not have access to a computer):

The term “convict” amongst the prisoner population, is a person incarcerated who follows a “code of conduct”, most often follows “racial politics” and often times has the “Us -vs- Them” mentality. Convicts tend to adhere to racial unity; do not talk much – if at all – to the guards; mind their own business – also known as “doing their own time”; and if anything jumps off on the yard, convicts are there to support their fellow convicts. Convicts also look out for each other, by providing new convicts on the yard with soap, coffee, smokes, etc. – known as a “care package”, until they can shop at the commissary. Convicts will use the term “inmate” with a derogatory connotation. Guards will use the terms “convict”, “prisoner” and “inmate” universally for their literal definitions.

The Difference Between Inmates and Convicts

An anonymous forum poster on prisontalk.com explains it this way:

In prison there are two types of “prisoners” … inmates and convicts.

Inmates are the ones who abide by the rules of the prison and convicts are the ones who abide the the code of the convicts.

An inmate will snitch, a convict won’t. An inmate will allow himself to be mistreated, abused, and victimized while a convict won’t.

Inmates avoid convicts and convicts despise inmates. A convict will correct you if you call him an inmate. There is a HUGE difference between the two.

The term “inmate” is also considered offensive in the UK.  Prisons minister David Hanson assets, “Prison staff are expected to treat prisoners with dignity and respect and for this reason the term ‘prisoner’ should be used in preference to the term ‘inmate’.”

In the early 200os, The Arizona Department of Corrections, as well as other prisons scattered across the nation began to refer to prisoners as “offenders.”  This term was not accepted by inmates who felt the term was too similar to “sex offender,” a term which stigmatizes inmates and exposes them to harassment and mistreatment by other prisoners.  Guards also seemed reluctant to adopt the term.

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