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HMP Kirkham: Student/Prisoner Debate

Thoughts from debate session between students from UCLan and prisoners from HMP Kirkham

By Laura Kelly, Criminology Lecturer and Debate facilitator

As a University we have developed a partnership with HMP Kirkham, a Category D open male prison. As part of this we are piloting a Learning Together scheme, whereby students from UCLan and men from Kirkham partake in learning activities together. The first of three pilot sessions took place on 25th January 2017, within which the topic ‘Should smoking tobacco be banned completely in the UK?’ was discussed.

Here are some of my thoughts post session one:

I am completely overwhelmed after today’s session; firstly, with relief that it went okay, and secondly with delight that it went so well. I could never have conceived that the session would be the success that it was, and so much of that was down to the students and prisoners who were involved. One of the main aims of these sessions is to break down boundaries between prisoners and non-prisoners, and to encourage an inclusive environment where participants ‘learn together’. Without a shadow of a doubt, this aim was achieved. The participants were split into two groups, and given half an hour to prepare their argument on whether smoking tobacco in all its forms should/should not be banned.  As soon as that preparation time began, all 13 participants engaged completely, and for the first time during my time at as a lecturer I did not have to prompt anyone to get involved. Just as I had hoped, equality ensued; in that room for those two hours, it did not matter whether somebody was a university student or whether they were a prisoner, they were all just members of a team, and for me that was amazing to see. Students were shown that, just like them, prisoners too are complex human beings with different opinions, positions and ideas, who have got as much to offer as anyone else.

After the preparation time ended, the debate began. As the facilitator of the event I started by reconfirming the structure of the debate and laying down some ground rules. From this, both teams began with their opening remarks and outlined the first half of their main points. I was immediately taken aback by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of the ideas put forward, and the way that students and prisoners were working so comfortably together. What ensued was a thoroughly enjoyable hour whereby both teams put forward compelling, well considered and thought provoking arguments, which often sat in contrast with their own personal opinions. Participants quickly learned that they had to wait their turn and that they had to abide by the rules and structure of the debate. When the judgment was made at the end about the winning team (those arguing that smoking should not be banned), everybody clapped, and when asked if they had any questions, the chair of the losing team piped up and said ‘Where’s the appeal form?’.

It is an honour to be involved in something like this. Society is so very quick to judge people based upon a label, and while labels are inevitable, they don’t always have to prevail.  I will never forget today, it will stay with me for a long time, and I hope that the next session brings much of the same. I could see that the staff members present were as happy as I was, and we even discussed working up to an open debate – So much to think about and look forward to.

 

Next session: 15th February.

Topic: Should the monarchy be abolished?

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