What do you call a former criminal who has served their sentence and been released from prison?

I thought of “convicted criminal”, but that might imply the person is still a criminal and/or serving a sentence.

  • Does “convicted criminal” fit this definition?
  • Are there other--better--words that are more accurate?
  • Depending on the situation that there may be different reasons for someone's realease. You mention serving their sentance, but someone who's been pardoned may take offense to 'ex-con'. You can also be detained without ever being convicted if you can't post bail or bail is denied.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 20:55
  • 2
    A rehabilitated criminal (if you truly mean "former"). Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 21:00

7 Answers 7


There are numerous terms used in the US, including

  • ex-convict
  • ex-con
  • former convict
  • ex-felon
  • parolee
  • probationer

Several of these convey particular criteria (such as probationer).

  • Parolee sounds pretty good. Is it considered parole when a prisoner is permanently released after serving their sentence?
    – crush
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:13
  • 7
    Actually, if the sentence is fully served, the former prisoner is not a parolee. Parole is the release of a prisoner before the full sentence is served, usually for good behavior, and parole lasts for a limited time.
    – bib
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:19
  • 1
    @crush - no, it's not. A parolee is out on parole only, and if they break the rules of their parole, they have to go back in jail. Their sentence is not fully served while on parole.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:20
  • 8
    How about "Civilian" ? They served their time, shouldn't they be entitled to the whole 'fresh start' thing? If you're going to keep labeling them with something they've already paid the price for in full, you're not really helping them break the cycle. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 7:49
  • 3
    @jwenting I'd be less concerned with their constitutional right to own a gun and more with their ability to get hired in a legitimate job that'd enable them to make a living without having to fall back into bad habits... Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 10:35

I believe the common term is ex-convict (often shortened to ex-con).

  • An ex-convict. Have a look at this wikipedia entry:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convict
    – Louel
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:12
  • I had actually thought of ex-convict too, but felt that maybe it was a bit informal or slang. It seems you are right, and it is the commonly accepted term.
    – crush
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:13

Another term you could use would be "ex-offender." A friend of mine works with recently released men and this is the term he uses.

  • 2
    'Offender' and 'ex-offender' are the kinds of terms used in Britain by professionals working in the criminal justice system, magistrates, solicitors, probation-officers, social workers etc. It is also probably the term the police would use if speaking publicly. What individual police officers call convicts, whilst drinking tea in the station canteen probably doesn't bear repeating. Otherwise most of the expressions here, surprisingly, are very similar to Britain.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 20:40
  • It seems to me that ex-offender could potentially mean more than just someone who was formerly incarcerated.
    – crush
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 13:40
  • 3
    It seems to me that ex-offender is really easy to confuse with the class of criminal that you get if you prepend it with an s
    – Ross Aiken
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 16:17
  • @crush Could do, but doesn't, at least the way it's used by the British justice system. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 19:48

If the person has been imprisoned repeatedly he might be called a gaol-bird:-

a criminal who has been jailed repeatedly

Edit Green's Dictionary of Slang has it:-

  1. A prisoner
  2. A former prison inmate
  • 1
    hmm, always thought that was slang for someone currently in jail as a repeat offender, not someone out of jail who has been there repeatedly.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 10:35
  • Do people still use gaol? I figured that was Middle English and everyone said jail now.
    – TylerH
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 16:30
  • @TylerH, have a look here. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:51
  • @jwenting, I use it to mean both; see the definition from Green. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 18:05

How about calling him/her resocialized? Don't know if this is correct, because I'm not a native speaker.

EDIT: Okay, resocialized does not seem to be the right term here, see in the comments below.


A fine term would be 'a re-leased', with a hyphen to emphasise the fact that that person is 'given a new lease of life'…

  • 6
    It's an interesting neologism, but I don't think it's in use.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 3:46

Rehabilitated...Lol. The best one was "Resocialized", as if the life of a prisoner and their surrounding crowd of convicts, is any kind of way to "socialize" into a real life society of people.

I'm sorry. I am not a convicted criminal myself, but I know and have known several people who have been to prison, and let me tell you... it's nothing but a revolving door for them. Eventually, they just can't sit well in regular society and the rules are not the same as they are in prison. The lack of "respect", or what inmates claim to be "respect" is neither gained in the same way, nor lost in the same way, out here in the real world.

Here we call them FELONS. As in: Has been convicted of a felony crime, lost the right to vote and the right to bear arms.

  • 5
    a felon is someone convicted of a felony, not a generic term for people serving or having served prison time (which can be handed out for other things that are not felonies).
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 10:36
  • 2
    This should be less editorial and more answer focused. Seems like you have two answers here — rehabilitated and felon. Resocialized has already been given and should be removed from your answer or you can make it more obvious that you are comparing your answers to that one. And also, jwenting is right that felon is really too narrow to fit this context.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:16
  • 3
    @KitFox I think he is simply laughing at the notion of "Rehabilitated" being offered as an answer. In fact I think his first two paragraphs are laughing at the notion and rationalizing his belief. The only answer provided (albeit a vague one [no geolocation provided for "here"]) is the last sentence.
    – TylerH
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 16:33

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