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Education Crime

Prison Debate Team Beats Harvard's National Title Winners 191

HughPickens.com writes: Lauren Gambino reports at The Guardian that months after winning this year's national debate championship, Harvard's debate team has fallen to a debate team of three inmates with violent criminal records. The showdown took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. The Bard prison initiative has expanded since 2001 to six New York correctional facilities, and aims to provide inmates with a liberal arts education so that when the students leave prison they are able to find meaningful work. A three-judge panel concluded that the Bard team had raised strong arguments that the Harvard team had failed to consider and declared the team of inmates victorious. "Debate helps students master arguments that they don't necessarily agree with," says Max Kenner. "It also pushes people to learn to be not just better litigators but to become more empathetic people, and that's what really speaks to us as an institution about the debate union."

The prison team has proven formidable in the past, beating teams from the US military academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. They lost a rematch against West Point in April, setting up a friendly rivalry between the teams. The competition against West Point has become an annual event, and the prison team is preparing for the next debate in spring. In the morning before the debate, team members talked of nerves and their hope that competing against Harvard—even if they lost—would inspire other inmates to pursue educations. "If we win, it's going to make a lot of people question what goes on in here," says Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan convicted of manslaughter. "We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard."
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Prison Debate Team Beats Harvard's National Title Winners

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  • Good for them (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jumunquo ( 2988827 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:38PM (#50681981)

    From the article:
    "Among formerly incarcerated Bard students who earned degrees while in custody, fewer than 2% have returned to prison within three years, a standard measurement period for assessing recidivism. This is exceptionally low, when contrasted with the statewide recidivism rate, which has hovered for decades at about 40%."

    Sounds like a wonderful program.

    • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:43PM (#50682017)

      I have a crazy idea...

      Get a degree in prison, get out on probation....

      Ok, maybe there are some details to be worked out, but perhaps it isn't the worst idea ever...

      • by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:50PM (#50682057)
        So what crime do I need to commit to get a free degree? Gotta make sure I stay in at least four years.
        • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:57PM (#50682089) Journal

          Get admitted to a university in Germany? So ... drive under 100kph on the Autobahn and be vegetarian and designated driver during Oktoberfest? I think those are crimes there.

          • Fun fact: Driving too slow could get you fined, indeed. (Though you would have to drive slow enough to obstruct others)

            • by mjwx ( 966435 )

              Fun fact: Driving too slow could get you fined, indeed. (Though you would have to drive slow enough to obstruct others)

              Fun Fact: the above law is rarely enforced in most countries that have it on the books (looking at you Mr doing 20 under in the passing lane).

              • (looking at you Mr doing 20 under in the passing lane)

                Hang up and drive!

              • by Tuidjy ( 321055 )

                In the late 80s, which was the last time I drove in Germany, I twice saw people being pulled over for hanging on the left of a car without passing quickly enough. Tellingly, it was non-German plates, both times.

                I was myself nearly ticketed for waiting for someone to pull out of a parking spot instead of driving further into a parking structure. I had law enforcement papers at the time, so I got a free pass, but also quite a lecture. The Germans have amazingly strict driving laws, and few enough law brea

        • by shess ( 31691 )

          So what crime do I need to commit to get a free degree? Gotta make sure I stay in at least four years.

          I think you have that backwards. Once you've been imprisoned, you're going to have a helluva time getting a job even with a degree. I see this as people finding themselves in a worst-case scenario, and picking up the pieces and making the best of things. You could go out and make the best of things all on your own, right now, no need for some external party to force you to face harsh choices.

          • Free doctor is the real deal with going to prison and before the ACA some broke the law just to get into the system.

        • Share a movie/song on the internet.

      • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Interesting)

        by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:22AM (#50683851) Journal

        For a while, I worked as a transport officer in a detention facility. This was a military prison and not a civilian prison. I did interview at a civilian facility at one point. I've also spent a few hours in jail waiting to be bailed out because I used to be a drunken moron at times. One mistake that people make is assuming that those who are incarcerated are automatically stupid. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. There are a higher percentage of smart people, from what I witnessed, than there are on the outside. However, those who are stupid really make up the difference.

        The smart people are brilliantly smart. They have all the time in the world to learn a skill. There are phenomenal musicians, artists, and chess players. They screwed up, often in horrific ways, but that doesn't mean that they're not smart. The ones who are dumb, however, seem to really be on the low end of the scale. I suspect those get more publicity than the smart ones.

    • also FTA

      The Bard prison initiative has expanded since 2001 to six New York correctional facilities, and aims to provide inmates with a liberal arts education so that when the students leave prison they are able to find meaningful work.

      I dont know about you but all my friends who got liberal arts degrees are still doing nothing with their lives. Having said that, its better than staying in prison even if you are still only making barely above min wage

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's not what that means -- they mean "a real university degree" as opposed to the kind you get from a trade school / technical school.

        • by DaHat ( 247651 )

          Wouldn't that depend on the quality of the education you get?

          I've met far too many people who were dumb as hell who had a "real university degree" compared to those who spent a year or two at a trade/tech school leaning a trade.

      • This seems to be a recurring theme on /. There's a HUGE difference between a liberal arts education and a liberal arts degree.

        A liberal arts education is something you generally get from a liberal arts college, typically involves taking classes in a variety of subjects outside one's major to be more well rounded, and requires that you're able to think. A degree in liberal arts on the other hand is something that's usually obtained by those who have accumulated enough total credits to graduate but don't have

    • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:01PM (#50682121)

      It's high time the US as a society fell out of love with the perp walk and permanent punishment as embodied by long term criminal records and started to embrace the idea of real rehabilitation, making "convicts" part of normal society again. And for pity's sake stop prison rape, what the actual fuck.

      • You've pretty much got to do something about that first. It's a central tenant of Puritanism. Not sure how you deal with that. From a purely mechanical standpoint our economic right wing (e.g. the rich) noticed our religious right wing (e.g. blue collars) would throw their economic concerns to the wind for social issues. Stuff like Gun Rights, Abortion, Gay Marriage, etc, etc. We've pretty much defused Gun Rights (the left dropped it) and Gay Marriage (somehow or another they won that battle) but I'll be da
    • I'm just wondering. Is one of these guys named "Lex Luthor" or "Padraic Ratigan"?

    • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:20PM (#50682233)

      The biggest part of recidivism is in the fact that too many inmates have literally nowhere to go and nothing to do once they leave prison [youtube.com], they literally end up sleeping on the streets on day one and quickly return to a life of crime for the goal getting incarcerated in order to get sent back to prison. Programs like this debate team and liberal arts education programs give prisoners a few extra tools and critical thinking skills that are sorely needed to survive out in the free world in order to find housing and subsequently get a job that they need to survive in a stable life. There are plenty of prisoners who have learned of the harshness of prison life and want to live a reformed and peaceful life after prison but there are normally no support programs to help prisoners integrate back into normal society.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        81 people and 0% recidivism at this point. It doesn't appear for it to have been in place long enough for that to be a truly valuable metric. Usually they go by a five year time period when calculating recidivism. Hopefully the metrics hold true over a longer time frame. It looks like a nice program and I hope that it's being well funded or adequately funded. I'd like to see more programs like that and I don't think we need to wait for the official numbers to try it on a larger scale.

        As an aside, according

        • 81 people and 0% recidivism at this point. It doesn't appear for it to have been in place long enough for that to be a truly valuable metric. Usually they go by a five year time period when calculating recidivism. Hopefully the metrics hold true over a longer time frame. It looks like a nice program and I hope that it's being well funded or adequately funded. I'd like to see more programs like that and I don't think we need to wait for the official numbers to try it on a larger scale.

          As an aside, according to the FBI statistics, murders and sex offenders are the two groups least likely to re-offend. Two of the worst crimes on the planet and they're the least likely to re-offend. I'm not sure why that is.

          Dunno about sex offenders, but it makes sense for murderers: most murders are crimes of passion. Once the object of that passion is dead, well, the murderer can't kill them again, now can they?

    • I just had a crazy thought, what if we provided alternate path to prevent crime before it happens? Rather than giving the incarcerated a free higher education our money should be spent giving the poor and so called "at risk" a higher education. Don't get me wrong I'd love to see everyone, including the incarcerated, get a free education but why should criminals get it above all else? Giving a free education to those in prison is treating the symptom not the cause.
      • How many people are not within walking distance of a free public library? Any person actually interested in bettering himself can do it there.

        Somebody in jail has to fill his waking hours with something. Education is an excellent choice, and the incremental burden it places on society (beyond being a prisoner) is miniscule. The cost of public schooling generally is about $10,000 / year / student, a substantial burden on society (the added costs being buildings, teachers' and administrators' wages, etc.). A

      • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

        nipping the problem in the bud before it happens is a great idea. (though its also good to help those who have fallen into the system)

        unfortunately certain groups which shall remain nameless think public education is wrong, and should be privatized, think libraries are a waste of tax dollars, and further support the dog eat dog world of unfettered capitalism and seek the abolition of social programs, the same programs that support at risk individuals and prevent them from making a life altering decision.

    • Of course, there's always the question - is it because they completed the program, or because they were selected for the program? Not all prisoners are eligible, and not all who are eligible gain a berth. It could just as easily be the prisoners that gained a berth would be within the 60% who don't come come back to prison within three years regardless of their participation due to personal drive and existing educational accomplishments (which are large factors in whether or not they qualify in the first

    • I'm a Bard graduate, and I remember how we used to make fun of Leon Botstein (who started as President the same year I began as student). He had all these wacky ideas -- this one included -- that seemed doomed to failure and ridicule from the get-go, and which almost without exception worked better than anyone could have imagined. Leon doesn't get a fraction of the pub of other leaders in academia and culture at large, but I'd bet that 50 years from now he will be seen as one of the great American visionari
  • by q4Fry ( 1322209 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:39PM (#50681989)

    Released inmates from Eastern Correctional Facility quickly work their way up the chain of command in their respective gangs.

    • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:15PM (#50682205) Journal

      their respective gangs

      DuPont, Exxon, Pfizer, Wells Fargo...

    • by grcumb ( 781340 )

      Released inmates from Eastern Correctional Facility quickly work their way up the chain of command in their respective gangs.

      The Guardian had the best headline and sub-head on this story:

      Harvard debate team beaten by prison inmates.
      Maybe they lacked conviction?

  • The inmates in Bellevue's psych ward.

  • I guess it's better than teaching metal shop or lock picking,

  • by ozduo ( 2043408 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:56PM (#50682083)
    is full of "master debaters" Ha Ha!
  • ...provide inmates with a liberal arts education so that when the students leave prison they are able to find meaningful work.

    Do they also teach them how to cook? That seems like it will be useful when they apply their degree to their McDonalds' job.

    Joking aside, I think this is amazing. Actually trying to meaningfully rehabilitate offenders so they can re-integrate into society and actually do something productive. I would also hope that they would offer more specialized or in-depth programs for individuals that show the initiative and promise.

  • A three-judge panel concluded that the Bard team had raised strong arguments that the Harvard team had failed to consider and declared the team of inmates victorious.

    They're Bards.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But are they spoony?

      • Yes, but the spoons have been ground down to sharp points.

        Seriously, though, this is awesome. I seem to recall that getting educated in prison is one of the best ways to avoid future prison time.

  • by koick ( 770435 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:31PM (#50682313)
    It acknowledges and legitimizes humanity and worth of those in prison. I wonder if the inmates have an advantage in that they may be a decade or more older than their college competitors, and thus have more experiences and maturity over them...
    • by koick ( 770435 )
      (My subject was originally titled "This is awesome", not "koick", but got wiped somehow when submitting.)
  • So? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoeDuncan ( 874519 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:50PM (#50682413)

    Harvard's a *legacy* school!

    You don't go there for an education, you go to make "contacts".

    It's basically just a papermill for rich kids to buy degrees, and you expect them to be educated? LOL - the whole reason they're buying a degree from a legacy school in the first place is so they don't have to do any work.

    • You're really trying to portray Harvard as a place where the average undergrad simply bought their degree outright, and presumably has no business attending a world-class institution? Really? The legacy rule may be stupid, but speaking as if it dominates their entire undergraduate program sounds positively moronic. Plenty of rather brilliant people with no legacy have exited Harvard, including very recently.

      Not to mention the admissions department doesn't simply tell the entire school what to do and who t
    • Harvard's a *legacy* school!

      Only 10-15% of Harvard's undergraduates are "legacy" students.

      You don't go there for an education, you go to make "contacts".

      To some extent, that's true of any well-known university. Employers like a "recognized brand." People also tend to like "alumni networks" of known quality. You can guess what a "B+" GPA means at your home institution and evaluate a candidate somewhat. You have less idea of what the standards are at Upper Bucksnort State Bible College when they show up with a "B+" average for their degree.

      Anyhow, this is all separate from the educational qua

  • by willworkforbeer ( 924558 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:57PM (#50682449)
    That's funny, I've always heard Harvard is just full of Master Debaters.
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:58PM (#50682457) Journal

    I couldn't help but think, while reading this story, that it'd be perfect for a "based on real life" movie script. Has all the ingredients to be a "feel good, downtrodden guys make good" film.

  • I think most people are unaware of what constitutes debate.

    How To Speak Gibberish & Win A National Debate Title
    http://www.theamericanconserva... [theamerica...vative.com]

  • Hell I'd let them win too, no way I'm running afoul of dudes in maximum security prison!

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @08:29PM (#50682973)

    "..... and that concludes my opening statement. You got a problem with that, punk?"

  • TFA says it's inmates with violent criminal records in a maximum security facility.
    I suppose Harvard students on their debate team are good academic performers and are out of the school in five years.
    You have a lot more time for honing your skills on a prison debate team.
    Lifelong learning FTW!

  • and have a lot of time on our hands.

Multics is security spelled sideways.

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