People First is a movement to honor the humanity of people in the criminal justice system.

Words alone did not make and will not unmake mass incarceration, but they do make a difference. If we want to end mass incarceration, our language and policy choices must reflect an understanding that the tens of millions of individuals and families impacted by the system are people, first.


Why People First?

DEHUMANIZING PEOPLE PERPETUATES MASS INCARCERATION. Nearly 2 million people are incarcerated in our country’s jails and prisons, more per capita than any other country.  The evidence is clear: mass incarceration does not bring us safety and instead causes real harm.

INCARCERATION HURTS COMMUNITIES, ESPECIALLY BLACK COMMUNITIES. People who have been incarcerated and their families have a lifetime of reduced earnings and a shortened life expectancy. Black people are 50% more likely to have a family member who has spent time in jail or prison. 

WORDS MATTER. Dehumanizing labels are extremely common and they bias people against reform. They also make it harder to live and thrive after incarceration. One in three Americans has a criminal record–as many as have a college degree. When people are defined by their criminal record the negative consequences on employment and housing are profound. 

We can all help build a safer, more successful country by choosing to put #PeopleFirst.


What can I do to join the People First movement?

person-first language like “person in prison” “person with a felony conviction” when talking about our neighbors and family members in the criminal justice system. Or just use people’s names!
the importance of putting people first when we talk and think about the criminal justice system at work and at home. You can also write letters to the editor asking them to put people first in their language and reporting.
policies and practices that recognize people as people. That could mean changing hiring practices to give people with criminal records a fair chance, or asking your elected officials to stand up for criminal justice reform.
the People First movement! Request and wear a shirt by emailing, post a photo online and tell others why you choose to put #PeopleFirst.
“When audiences read and hear words like 'felon' and 'inmate' they are more afraid of, less open to, less curious about, and less supportive of people with experiences like mine and the opportunities that would make me most safe and free.”

Norris Henderson
Founder and executive director of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) and its sister organization, Voters Organized to Educate

News & Resources

People First Ambassadors

Mother. Father. Aunt. Uncle. Brother. Sister. These are just some of the words that describe people impacted by our criminal justice system.


People First: Drop the Harmful Labels From Criminal Justice Reporting

Read the report showing the harmful impact of dehumanizing labels commonly used by the media.


Business Ambassadors Program

Learn how to build a stronger, more inclusive workplace. Join the #PeopleFirst Business Program


A Father's Freedom

Rob Rich reflects on fathering while incarcerated, the human toll of mass incarceration and why we must put People First in a moving interview.

Learn More
Please join us in the people first movement to receive updates on new research and important policy conversations happening across the country.