By Su Brass, Third year Criminology and Criminal Justice student, Lancashire Law School, UCLan.
This week saw the second session of the ‘Debating Differences’ scheme run in partnership between HMP Kirkham and UCLan. The focus of the enterprise is to bring together those of differing circumstances to learn together, improve social skills and debate current issues in a structured setting. The debate location was the visitors room of HMP Kirkham and all involved in the scheme volunteered to partake.
The topic for debate this week was ‘Does the internet do more harm than good?’- a very thought provoking and current issue. As with the first session, students and prisoners were given preparation work to complete surrounding the mains points of the topic a week prior.
On the day participants were split into equal teams with a mix of prisoners and students on each side, one arguing in agreement that the internet does more harm and the other opposing this. All team members were encouraged to share in the process of formulating points of note as well as delivering these points within the debate setting. This proved a great opportunity for improvement of skills such as public speaking and confidence. All involved in this week’s debate articulated themselves well and developed their points to a high standard resulting in coherent and convincing arguments from both sides.
The task of choosing the winning team fell to Nazneen Asmal from the university along with a member of the prison staff who observed the process and discussed their findings. I’m convinced it must have been very difficult to choose a winner as both teams did incredibly well, but this week team A were awarded the victory- those proposing the internet does more harm than good.
Arguments, in brief, from team A included the dangers of the dark web and the fact the internet is another platform for crime. In addition, this team considered the argument it could be isolating for those who become too involved and for those who not have access to it at all. Yes, it is great for connecting with those across the world however, it could be argued that the ease of technology means we do not connect with those directly around us as much as we should. Arguments put forward by team B centred around the usefulness of the internet in terms of connecting people as well as access to a wealth of information at the touch of a button. Furthermore, businesses have another area in which to promote and increase their presence and therefore have further scope for potential sales.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to chair the team for one side of the debate this week, which gave me the opportunity to not only get involved in structuring arguments but also to deliver introductory and closing remarks. From this position I observed both students and prisoners articulating themselves well and delivering fantastic points. At times if not for prior knowledge, it would be difficult to establish who were the students and who were the prisoners- it was simply a group of people engaging in a healthy debate in an inclusive environment.
Personally, I think this opportunity is fantastic for breaking down barriers and challenging preconceptions as well as rehumanising offenders. Even as an individual who is very open-minded when it comes to those who transgress the law I found myself surprised as to how personable and knowledgeable the men were. In addition to this, it was clear how much effort the prisoners put in both prior and during the debate which was great to see. As a student I found this to be a fantastic opportunity which I feel very lucky to be able to get involved with. I found the process to be eye-opening and thought provoking and I am very much looking forward to the next session as I am sure my peers are.