San Francisco Board 'Sanitizes' Language For Criminals; Hopes To Change Views About How 'Justice-Involved' People Are Perceived

A number of syringes are seen in the remains of a tent city being cleared by city workers along Division Street Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, in San Francisco. Homeless people have until the end of Friday to vacate a rambling tent city along a busy San Francisco street declared a health hazard by city officials earlier this week. The mayor’s office says about 40 tents remain, down from a high of 140 tents this winter. The tents have lined both sides of a street under a freeway overpass for months, drawing complaints from residents and businesses. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


Once arguably the most beautiful city in the United States, San Francisco has become synonymous with homelessness and filth. But, instead of tackling the city’s soaring crime rate or taking action to address their homeless crisis, its Board of Supervisors has introduced new “sanitized” language for criminals. They believe that by adopting these changes in vocabulary, it will soften the way people feel about criminals.

I think it’s equivalent to remembering to make a mortgage payment when your house is on fire.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a “convicted felon” released from prison will now be known as a “justice-involved person” or simply as a “returning resident.” There’s a big difference between a “convicted felon” and a “returning resident” folks. Just saying.

Instead of the negative term “juvenile delinquent,” they will use the phrase, a “young person with justice system involvement” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.” As if this person was just living their life, and this random event happened to them when they weren’t looking.

Parolees and those on probation will be referred to as “a person on parole or a person under supervision” and “drug addicts or substance abusers,” will be called “people with a history of substance use.”


Board Supervisor Matt Haney explained to the newspaper, “We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done. We want them ultimately to become contributing citizens, and referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from.”

The guidelines state:

The previous words used to describe criminals only serve to obstruct and separate people from society and make the institutionalization of racism and supremacy appear normal…Inaccurate information, unfounded assumptions, generalizations and other negative predispositions associated with justice-involved individuals create societal stigmas, attitudinal barriers and continued negative stereotypes.

The Chronicle “noted an individual whose car has been broken into could well be known to police as “a person who has come in contact with a returning resident who was involved with the justice system and who is currently under supervision with a history of substance use.”

This new language has been endorsed by the city’s district attorney, and awaits the endorsement of the Mayor, London Breed.

Stories like this help us to understand how San Francisco’s problems, particularly the city’s homelessness and surging crime rate, have spiraled out of control. The city’s leaders spend their time on these stupid, impotent measures while Rome burns.


The Board officials are only fooling themselves if they believe their decision to soften the language they use when referring to criminals will do anything to alleviate or to reverse the city’s underlying problems.

San Francisco will continue on this dangerous trajectory until the city becomes the next Baltimore.


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