Yesterday, on the 8th of November 2018, 6 third year criminology/law students traveled to HMP Kirkham along with the event organiser Laura Kelly, who is one of UCLan’s Criminology lecturers, to meet with 7 prisoners for the second session of ‘debating differences’. This a scheme which is run in partnership between HMP Kirkham and UCLan and is now in its third year running. The purpose of the scheme is to break down barriers and to allow both the students and the prisoners to be in a positive learning environment, where all feel confident enough to share their ideas on different topics that exist within society as well as being able to develop on their debating techniques, learn how to create good quality arguments and improve on social skills.
The topic up for debate in this session was ‘Should prostitution be decriminalised in England and Wales?’- an incredibly thought-provoking and controversial issue. As with the first session, both the students and prisoners were given preparation work which was to be completed prior to the session. The prep was made up of research surrounding the main points of the topic and we were all required to write three ‘pro’ points and three ‘con’ points regarding the issue as well as our own opinion on the topic. Personally, my opinion on this topic stayed the same after I had completed the research. However, when traveling to the prison it was made apparent that several of the students, as well as Laura, were unsure about where they stood on the matter and so it was clear that it was going to be a very interesting debate!
Once we had arrived at the prison, Viv Ivins who is the head of UCLan’s Law school and one of the judges for this session was waiting for us and we were also greeted by the prison librarian Michelle who was also co-judging alongside Viv. After a quick introduction, we were split into two teams with a mix of prisoners and students on each side, one team was arguing in agreement that prostitution should be decriminalised in England and Wales and the other opposing this. Both teams were given an adequate amount of time to come up with six points supporting their side of the argument (Laura’s timekeeping was very good). The structure of the debate meant that all team members were encouraged to share their ideas when the main points were being formulated 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. Also, we were all aware from the last debate that it was important for us to expand on our arguments when delivering our points, this was something that every team member in both teams did very well in.
Some of the main arguments give from Team A who were ‘pro’ for this debate included people being able to do as they please with their own bodies without feeling that what they are doing is ‘illegal’ and ‘wrong’, as well as how prostitutes who had been the subject to crimes would feel much more confident in coming forward if it was legalised and also how the decriminalisation of prostitution within England and Wales would benefit the economy. Arguments put forward by Team B were based around the negative factors that the decriminalisation could bring into society. These included how the decriminalisation of prostitution could encourage a further increase in crimes such as human trafficking and how it could also mean an increase in violence towards prostitutes as well as how the legalisation could be a negative influence on children. In general, the points given by both sides had clearly been well researched and were extremely thought-provoking as well.
When it was time to decide on a winner it was apparent that this would be a difficult task as both teams had presented well-rounded arguments and strong closing remarks. Both Viv and Michelle (the co-judges) agreed with this and even mentioned how they briefly considered calling it a draw. However, in the end, Team A who were pro-decriminalisation were chosen as the winners of this session.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this session as well as the previous one and know that the others who are participating in the scheme with me feel the same. I have gained so much from this experience so far and I must say that my own expectations of what the scheme and the prisoners would be like were rather inaccurate and I have definitely had my opinions changed on prisoners and prisons themselves. I was rather anxious before starting the scheme and was wary about how some of the prisoners might behave. However, I could not have been more wrong, every single prisoner was well-mannered and civilised, if I didn’t know they were prisoners then I honestly could never have guessed, they just seem like normal guys. This is an incredibly unique opportunity where preconceptions are challenged, schemes like ‘debating differences’ allow stereotypes to be eradicated. One of the main things I have taken away from the past two sessions is how intelligent and educated on issues of the world the prisoners were, I will be the first to admit that I did not generally expect this, it was clear that they had all put a large amount of effort into preparing for the debate and were thoroughly enthusiastic about it, which was good to see. I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to participate in this scheme and am looking forward to the next two sessions. I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering participating in this scheme to apply as it is a thoroughly enjoyable and yet rare opportunity where you will find your opinions and conceptions challenged in a way they might never have been before.
- Iram Ali – Third-year Law (LLB) student, UCLan.