By Katie Bingham, Third year LLB Law student, Chair of the first debate
For the second year running, a group of UCLan students and willing participants from a Category D male open prison have partaken in a scheme to enhance their social and debating skills. HMP Kirkham welcomed seven students and two members of staff into the visitors centre as part of the ‘Debating Differences’ initiative, and it was there that the first of four sessions debating current social issues began, facilitated by one of UCLan’s Criminology lecturers, Laura Kelly.
Both students and prisoners were asked to complete some preparation prior to the first session, which focussed on if voluntary euthanasia should be legalised in the UK. This comprised of reading some articles surrounding the topic and writing down individual thoughts regarding each side of the debate. On the day, participants were split into two teams, one in favour of the debate and one against it, and were given adequate time to formulate coherent arguments, as well as responses to the views of the opposing team during short breaks throughout the session. The structure of the debate encouraged all team members to have an opportunity to speak. One person would act as the chair of their team and they had the responsibility of introducing their group’s arguments and summing up the most important points in a concluding statement. The team as a whole were encouraged to take turns in explaining the arguments on their side of the debate and both groups did this extremely well. Throughout the debate, each participant was involved in suggesting, developing and presenting arguments to the other group and it was great to see the confidence of both teams increase as the session went on. It was also thought-provoking to hear the different views on what is a very controversial issue!
As one of the students fortunate enough to be taking part in the scheme, it surprised me how intelligent and articulate the prisoners were, and how much effort they had put into completing their preparation and participating in the debate. Most of them had a commendable academic background, which is not something that you would necessarily expect of a person who has broken the law. The prisoners gave a valuable contribution to the session and presented themselves as hardworking, knowledgeable and dedicated individuals.
Schemes like this allow common stereotypes to be eradicated and encourage people not to prejudge others based on their current situation. I’m confident that if more schemes like this were rolled out nationally, it would dramatically impact the way people think about prisoners and would prove that they are capable of providing a meaningful contribution to society.
I am already looking forward to the next session of the scheme and improving my debating skills further.