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Table 1 Examples of terminology to avoid (in alphabetical order), problems related to its use, and preferred wording to describe people who are incarcerated

From: Words matter: a call for humanizing and respectful language to describe people who experience incarceration

Terminology to avoid Problems Preferred wording
Abuse; misuse Judgmental; negates the fact that substance use disorders are a medical condition [22]; not conducive to fostering the trust and respect required when engaging with people who use psychoactive substances [19] (Heavy) substance use; substance use disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-5); dependence syndrome (International Classification of Diseases – ICD-10)
Body-packer; drug mule; drug smuggler Not person-centred language, judgmental Person with body-packing, or with internal concealment of psychoactive substance [36]
Body-stuffer Not person-centred language, judgmental Person diagnosed with acute ingestion of psychoactive substance [36]
Correctional; offender; penitentiary; prison health services Reinforces stereotypes, moralistic, ambiguous. Health services in detention settings; healthcare in prison
Crazy; mental; insane; psycho; mentally ill; emotionally disturbed; demented Not person-centred language, judgmental Person living with a mental health condition; person living with dementia
Dungeon; hole Derogatory, inaccurate, reinforces self-stigma Solitary confinement
Drug user; abuser; addict; junkie; dependent Not person-centred language, judgmental Person with a substance use disorder; person with dependence syndrome; person who uses psychoactive substances
Ex-prisoner; ex-offender; ex-inmate; ex-felon; ex-con; criminal; thug; post-carceral Not person-centred language, judgmental Person who was in contact with, involved in, interacted with or experienced the criminal justice system; person with convictions; person who was formerly incarcerated
High(er)-risk group Implies that the risk is contained within the group; can increase stigma and discrimination against the designated groups; membership of groups does not place individuals at risk, behaviours may [19] Key populations; priority population; high-risk behaviour (e.g., sharing needles, condomless sex)
Hunger striker Not person-centred language, judgmental Person on hunger strike
Illegal immigrant; illegal; unlawful non-citizen; visa overstayer; undocumented alien Not person-centred language, judgmental Person who lacks resident documentation
Prisoner; inmate; felon; offender Not person-centred language, judgmental Person who is incarcerated; person who experience incarceration; person in detention/jail/prison; person living in detention/jail/prison; person involved in, or experiencing the criminal justice system
Prisoner-patient Health staff care for patients, irrespective of their status Patient; person in treatment
Prostitute or prostitution Not person-centred language, judgmental [12] Person involved in sex work, or in sale or trade of sexual services; sex worker
Probationer; parolee Not person-centred language, judgmental Person on parole; person on probation
Substitution therapy or opioid substitution therapy (OST) Misleading: gives the impression to politicians, civil servants, and other lay people that this therapy is replacing ‘street drugs’ with ‘state drugs’; and therefore, this language counteracts availability of therapy [22] Opioid agonist therapy (OAT); opioid agonist therapy for the treatment of substance use disorder; treatment [37]