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Binghamton Speech & Debate

Proposition: Cooper Dean (Wood River High School) vs. Opposition: Emma Murphy (Winston Churchill High School)

Judge: Rebecca Hayes (Unaffiliated)

Resolution: This house believes that prisons should be abolished

  • Cooper Dean
    Cooper Dean

    Emma Murphy
    Emma Murphy
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    Speech Details

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    Posted at April 13, 2015 11:40:40PM EST by Cooper Dean



    "Prison Abolition & Alternatives." Prison Abolition & Alternatives. PrisonJustice.CA, 2008. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <>.

    "Prison Abolition & Alternatives." Prison Abolition & Alternatives. PrisonJustice.CA, 2008. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <>.

    United Nations. Alternatives to Imprisonment. Suva, Fiji: Government Printer, 1983. Criminal Justice Handbook Ser. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

    Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "Alternatives to Incarceration in a Nutshell." ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION IN A NUTSHELL (n.d.): n. pag. FAMM, 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <>.

    Posted at April 14, 2015 08:41:20PM EST by Emma Murphy



    Resolved: This house believes that prisons should be abolished.


    they are criminals, they should pay for their crime.
    Abolishing prisons is the idea of an unattainable utopia. We must adopt and reform them instead.
    (Herbert 2008, The Abolitionists Criminal Conspiracy, The Guardian July 27, 2008.)

    Last week saw an International Conference on Penal Abolition. With such a heady ambition, what can be next? A global conference to abolish crime? The ambition of an eccentric minority to abolish prison isn't just dotty. It's a distraction from a real and pressing agenda, which is to reform prisons which simply aren't working.

    A century ago, prisons had hard labour and treadmills. Today, they have colour TVs in cells. Jails may have changed, but the enduring truth that they are necessary has not. We will always have a small minority of offenders who, by their behaviour, pose so great a threat to the lives and property of the law-abiding majority that they must be kept apart from us. Ignoring this reality and arguing for the total abolition of prison is a hopelessly utopian goal that does the credibility of penal reformers no service.

    The case for penal abolition rests on a series of tenuous assertions. Let's set aside the obvious, if uncomfortable, fact that part of the purpose of prison is to punish. It's said that short-term prison sentences don't work, because recidivism rates are shockingly high and there is little time for any restorative programmes to work. But since the evidence is that longer sentences have lower recidivism rates, and provide the opportunity to rehabilitate offenders, this might be an argument to lengthen sentences, not abolish them altogether. After all, another purpose of prison is to incapacitate offenders.

    Of course, overcrowded prisons that are awash with drugs, and a system which gives short-term prisoners no supervision or support on release, is almost calculated to fail. But this could equally be an argument the one which the modern Conservative party is making for a complete transformation of prison regimes and a system of support for offenders when they are released from jail. It's a logical non sequitur on a grand scale to argue that because short-term prison sentences currently aren't working, we should therefore stop using them at all.

    Abolitionists say that short-term prison sentences have a poorer recidivism rate than community sentences. In fact, both have a lamentable record and one that has deteriorated in the last ten years. But the difference is hardly surprising, since the worst recidivists are bound to end up in jail. According to Home Office figures (pdf), only 12% of those sentenced to prison have no previous convictions. Over half have five or more previous convictions, and over a third have ten or more. Those who say that prison should be reserved for serious or serial offenders tend to ignore the fact that it already is.

    Serial offenders who end up with custodial sentences have usually run through the gamut of weak community sentences already. If we want to avoid magistrates having little choice but to send them down, the logical thing to do is to make community sentences far more effective. Yet the perverse reaction of the abolitionists is to recommend that the very community disposals that have, by definition, already failed are used again.

    Over a third of unpaid work requirements are not completed. Drug rehabilitation requirements have an even worse record fewer than half are completed. If a fraction of the energy and resources that are being devoted to the cause of penal abolition were directed to thinking seriously about how better to design non-custodial punishments, short-term prison sentences would be less necessary.

    What do the abolitionists really want? If it's the end of all custody, including for the most serious and dangerous offenders, then we can dismiss their demands as truly silly. If it's the abolition of short-term custodial sentences, then the effect on the overall prison population will be minimal. Justice ministry tables show (pdf) that over 87% of the current prison population are serving sentences of over 12 months. Abolishing prison for those serving, say, six months or less would mean watering down 60,000 sentences but it would reduce the prison population by less than 7,000. The more effective and sustainable way to reduce the prison population in the long term is to reduce re-offending, as the Conservative party's radical "rehabilitation revolution" proposes.

    It would be nice to live in a society where there were no prisons, just as it would be nice if there were no hospitals because there was no illness. But until someone steps forward with a ten-year plan to Make Crime History, jails are here to stay. The challenge is to create prisons with a purpose not to hold lazy conferences making futile calls for their abolition.

    The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime would institute reforms over many aspects of the criminal justice system rather than abolish all prisons so as to combat recidivism and reentry into the system of incarceration.
    (UNODC 2015, United Nations Department of Crime 2015, Why promote prison reform?)

    It is of utmost importance that prison reform is not regarded in isolation from broader criminal justice reform. UNODC believes that effective prison reform is dependent on the improvement and rationalization of criminal justice policies, including crime prevention and sentencing policies, and on the care and treatment made available to vulnerable groups in the community. Reform of the prison system should therefore always take into account the needs relating to the reform of the criminal justice system as a whole and employ an integrated, multi-disciplinary strategy to achieve sustainable impact. Thus, reform initiatives will usually need to also encompass criminal justice institutions other than the prison service, such as the judiciary prosecution and police service, as relevant.
    An integrated approach also takes account of areas that are typically not regarded as part of the "criminal justice system". These include, for example, the development of substance dependence treatment programmes in the community or psycho-social counselling programmes, to which certain offenders may be diverted, rather than being imprisoned, thus ensuring that services in prison are not overstretched, trying to meet the needs of a growing number of prisoners with special needs.
    The integrated strategy to prison reform can benefit immensely from the establishment and development of collaboration and partnerships with other UN agencies and other international and national organisations engaged in complementary programmes.

    There are many aspects needed to be reformed so that prisons may retain their ability but fix their construction to better suit the modern world.
    (UNODC 2015, United Nations Department of Crime 2015, Why promote prison reform?)

    Central to the arguments to promote prison reforms is a human rights argument - the premise on which many UN standards and norms have been developed. However, this argument is often insufficient to encourage prison reform programmes in countries with scarce human and financial resources. The detrimental impact of imprisonment, not only on individuals but on families and communities, and economic factors also need to be taken into account when considering the need for prison reforms.

    A sentence of imprisonment constitutes only a deprivation of the basic right to liberty. It does not entail the restriction of other human rights, with the exception of those which are naturally restricted by the very fact of being in prison. Prison reform is necessary to ensure that this principle is respected, the human rights of prisoners protected and their prospects for social reintegration increased, in compliance with relevant international standards and norms.
    Imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. When an income generating member of the family is imprisoned the rest of the family must adjust to this loss of income. The impact can be especially severe in poor, developing countries where the state does not provide financial assistance to the indigent and where it is not unusual for one breadwinner to financially support an extended family network. Thus the family experiences financial losses as a result of the imprisonment of one of its members, exacerbated by the new expenses that must be met - such as the cost of a lawyer, food for the imprisoned person, transport to prison for visits and so on. When released, often with no prospects for employment, former prisoners are generally subject to socio-economic exclusion and are thus vulnerable to an endless cycle of poverty, marginalization, criminality and imprisonment. Thus, imprisonment contributes directly to the impoverishment of the prisoner, of his family (with a significant cross-generational effect) and of society by creating future victims and reducing future potential economic performance.
    Prisons have very serious health implications. Prisoners are likely to have existing health problems on entry to prison, as they are predominantly from poorly educated and socio-economically deprived sectors of the general population, with minimal access to adequate health services. Their health conditions deteriorate in prisons which are overcrowded, where nutrition is poor, sanitation inadequate and access to fresh air and exercise often unavailable. Psychiatric disorders, HIV infection, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, sexually transmitted diseases, skin diseases, malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and injuries including self-mutilation are the main causes of morbidity and mortality in prison. In countries with a high prevalence of TB in the outside community, prevalence of TB can be up to 100 times higher inside the prisons. In most countries HIV infection in prisons is significantly higher than within the population outside prison, especially where drug addiction and risk behaviours are prevalent. Prison staff are also vulnerable to most of the diseases of which prisoners are at risk.
    Prisons are not isolated from the society and prison health is public health. The vast majority of people committed to prison eventually return to the wider society. Thus, it is not in vain that prisons have been referred to as reservoirs of disease in various contexts.
    Imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion, since the maintenance of such cohesion is based on long-term relationships. When a member of a family is imprisoned, the disruption of the family structure affects relationships between spouses, as well as between parents and children, reshaping the family and community across generations. Mass imprisonment produces a deep social transformation in families and communities.

    Posted at April 15, 2015 11:49:38PM EST by Cooper Dean



    None available for this speech.

    Posted at April 16, 2015 07:21:10PM EST by Emma Murphy



    None available for this speech.

    Posted at April 17, 2015 11:06:13PM EST by Cooper Dean



    None available for this speech.


    This match has been completed. Show the Decision.

    Submitted at April 19, 2015 01:00:21PM EST by Rebecca Hayes

    Category Cooper Dean Emma Murphy
    Use of evidence: 4.6 3.9
    Delivery skill: 5 4.4
    Coherence of arguments: 5 4.4
    Responsiveness to opponent: 4.6 3
    Identification of key points: 5 4.5
    Comments: Your style and overall delivery was excellent. I very much appreciated the roadmap at the beginning and the fact that you went with two strong points. Your vocabulary and the complexity of your argument were impressive. Your use of your research was effective- notably the opening quotes, and the example of Switzerland, to a point. Constructive criticism on that example- I think your use of it in the opening argument was the most effective- it is a good example of why reducing our over reliance on prisons is possible. In later arguments, you verged on over relying on this example as proof positive for your entire argument, when in reality, it is a limited example that helps, but does not prove, that this could work in America. The idea that prisons should be used as a last resort, and other alternative options, such as rehab and mental health services, was very persuasive and well argued. You have a clear and effective delivery. Your vocabulary and mastery of the concepts at issue in this debate were very strong. Your argument that abolition and reform are not the same thing was a very strong one, although not ultimately persuasive, but I was glad you raised it and argued it. I liked your theoretical arguments, but those were also not ultimately persuasive, especially within the confines of this debate, where your opponent was not arguing for the theoretical extreme. Your analogy regarding the hospital was a very good one. Your argument against public shaming was weak.

    The decision is for the Proposition: Cooper Dean

    Reason for Decision:

    This was a very close call. I went back and forth on this decision, as both sides were argued very persuasively. Indeed, this debate was a pleasure to watch and judge. Both sides were really arguing for reform, so the question came down to whether the proponent had effectively defined the term abolition to include the concept of reform for the purposes of this debate. At the end I concluded that he had. His arguments for reform were the best ones.

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