Debate Club Aids Offenders in Earning College Degrees While Behind Bars

Amber Morczek
Amber Morczek

While their paths may be different, the overall goal remains the same — education.

Walla Walla Community College, Washington State University, and the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center team up every year for the Prison Debate Project, a program that brings together students from all three institutions for a debate in front of nearly 100 inmates at the prison in Connell, Wash.

Starting in 2012 with a grant from the Open Society Foundation, CRCC staff was looking to provide additional educational opportunities to inmates who had already received an associate of art degree while incarcerated, said Loretta Taylor, corrections education director for Walla Walla Community College at CRCC.

“We were finding that as our students would graduate, they were trying to slow up their graduation because they wanted to continue to be involved in classes,” she said, adding that led to the formation of a debate club.

About 15 WSU students are selected each semester for the program, said Amber Morczek, Ph.D. candidate for the WSU criminal justice and criminology department. They and 15 student inmates are split up into two teams and given a question to debate at the end of the semester. This semester’s topic was whether women are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration.

Morczek said the original goal was to introduce WSU students to the prison system and inmates, as there aren’t many other programs that can get students that experience.

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