Contrary to what most people think, the American system of incarceration – and possibly the world’s – isn’t predicated on the notion that jail is revenge. It’s supposed to punishment, sure, but in addition to safely stowing away people who could cause harm to society, incarceration is supposed to be about paying for a crime. One would think after a jail sentence, the crime might still be there, but it has been paid for. Done. And, arguably, the person who was in jail should no longer be considered a criminal.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works and we see lots of people shrieking “I hope you get raped in prison” at everyone who gets tossed in the can. As if gang rape was part and parcel of the criminal justice system. To make matters worse, once an inmate is released, it’s difficult to get a job and go straight because even though the crime has been technically paid for, former inmates are still considered criminals in the eyes of society. This leads to high recidivism rates because, hey, if you can’t get a job it’s damned hard to get luxuries like food and a place to live.
Now, it’s likely the criminal justice system will continue to spiral down into anarchy, at least until a lot of things change. And part of that change has to be in the way we view former inmates. Rather than mindless brutes, there are some clever folks in prison. Take, for instance, the prison debate team at Eastern New York Correctional Facility who recently not only beat Harvard’s debate team, but they beat the Cambridge debate team. Not bad for a bunch of guys who don’t even have Internet access.
Additionally, the ENYCF debate team, rather than having to dodge jocks in the hallways, has the support of a large portion of the prison population. They are, in their own way, celebrities.
We could argue whether or not being on a prison debate team is helpful in reforming prisoners, but you have to admit that it’s better than getting out of prison with B.S. in Violent Crime, and M.S. in Bodybuilding, and a PhD in Going Right Back To Prison. At the very least, debate encourages critical thinking, argumentation without resorting to childish nicknames, research skills, and presentation skills, all things which will be more useful than killer biceps.
Read the whole story here.
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