Prison officers have been ordered to stop calling criminals ‘convicts’ on the grounds it is ‘offensive’.
Civil servants at the Prison Service headquarters have also instructed warders to drop the phrase ‘ex-con’ for former prisoners – and refer to them as ‘persons with lived experience’ or ‘prison leavers’.
The edict has left staff shaking their heads – at a time when jails are suffering from record overcrowding and their colleagues are leaving in droves.
A Prison Service spokesman said it was part of a ‘clampdown’ on ‘inappropriate deviations’ from its guidelines.
The national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) trade union was instructed to drop use of the words in an official letter from the Ministry of Justice agency.
Mark Fairhurst told the Mail: ‘I received a letter saying some people found the word ‘convict’ offensive and that we should not use that term.
‘The letter from the employee relations department of HM Prison and Probation Service said the terms ‘prisoner’ and ‘offender’ should be used instead.
‘But there is nothing offensive about that language when you are describing someone who has been convicted and incarcerated.’
He added: ‘When I talk to prisoners they call themselves ‘cons’. So what’s the problem?’
Another prisons source said: ‘This is real nanny state stuff. Yet again, do-gooding civil servants are spending their working hours trying to manipulate the English language to fit their personal world view, rather than concentrating on things that really matter.
‘While they are sending out diktats about ‘persons with lived experience’, the jails are full to bursting, prison officers are leaving in droves and crime is at a record high.’
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay described the Prison Service’s latest intervention as ‘nonsense’.
‘However you refer to them – convicts, offenders or prisoners – these are people who find themselves in prison for serious offences against their victims and the community at large,’ he said.
‘I frankly don’t care what you call them because they’re all the same. They have not earned the right for new, woke nomenclature to describe their status.’
He added: ‘This new agenda that has taken hold right across government departments has to stop. It is not respected by the public. It’s just pure nonsense.’
Last year, the Prison Service published guidance on how inmates should be described.
It was issued after the then Justice Secretary, Sir Robert Buckland, expressed his frustration at the Prison Service referring to inmates as ‘residents’.
The guidance adopted ‘prisoners’ or ‘offenders’ and said terms such as ‘residents’ and ‘service users’ should not be used.
A source close to Sir Robert said at the time: ‘This isn’t the first time we’ve found this kind of drivel circulating around civil servants at the department.
‘Prisons are places where we lock up ruthless criminals who have ruined people’s lives but there is a blob in the department who act like they’re running a north London playgroup.’
James Daly MP, a Conservative member of the Commons’ justice select committee, said: ‘The Prison Service have other priorities to concentrate on – and shouldn’t be fiddling with language that has been in existence for years and years.
‘It is troubling that civil servants are obsessed with constant interference with things like terminology.
‘There are major structural problems in the prisons and the wider criminal justice system that they should be focussing on instead.’
But Mark Leech, a reformed armed robber and editor of the Prisons Handbook, said he agreed with the change in terminology.
He said: ‘Of course they shouldn’t be called ‘convicts’ – that’s the language of 200 years ago.
‘Today our prisons are designed to reduce reoffending by treating prisoners with decency and respect – not by demeaning and disparaging them with titles that have no place in a modern prison system.’
The disclosure came after POA boss Mr Fairhurst raised a series of concerns about the state of Britain’s prisons during the organisation’s annual conference in Eastbourne.
He called on members to pull out of voluntary duties and to refuse overtime.
The chairman added that dangerous offenders are being wrongly allocated to open jails in a bid to free up space in higher-security prisons, as jails try to cope with record numbers of inmates in England and Wales.
Earlier today, a Prison Service spokesman said: ‘We have set clear and robust guidance on language to be used by staff, and have clamped down on inappropriate deviations from this.
‘However, ‘convict’ is inaccurate, given a large proportion of prisoners are on remand ahead of trial and have therefore not been convicted.’
The spokesman did not explain why ‘offenders’ is among the approved terms in the guidance when it too suggests guilt has been proven.
Currently, around 17 per cent of the 84,800 prisoners in England and Wales are on remand.
The word ‘convict’ derives from the Latin ‘convincere’, which means to refute or overcome in argument.