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Prisons face off for debates

CAN the teenagers from the Youth Training Centre (YTC) defeat Carrera prison? Are the men from Golden Grove Remand Yard a match for the women of Women’s Prison? Who will emerge as the winner in a contest between Golden Grove Prison and Maximum Security Prison? Or for that matter, can the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre (ECRC), the new prison at Santa Rosa, defeat my team of veteran debaters from Port of Spain Prison?

We’re carrying debates to a whole new level in TT’s prison system when the eight prisons face off in a debating contest beginning July 16 at the Women’s Prison.

“These debates are a step in the right direction,” says Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson, “because we’re moving into restorative justice, and we’re trying to prepare inmates to re-enter the prison service.

“The debates will show we have educated inmates and a lot of inmates who are competent in their communication skills. We have inmates with potential, and once you can harness that into a clear direction, they can only succeed.

“This is a first for us. It’s the best thing to happen in the prison.”

Prisons programme officer Joel Roberts says, “The debate is generating great excitement. Inmates are excited to showcase their intellectual capabilities.”

Roberts has been co-ordinating the preliminary rounds of the debate. “A dedicated team of officers is actively preparing inmates to develop their research and presentation skills. The prison debates began in my Port of Spain CXC English class three years ago to help inmates work on their communication, research and presentation skills. The debates were also meant to be a visual model for writing an argumentative essay. They proved very popular among inmates and security guards, who help inmates practise for the debates.

Last year, we opened the debate to the entire Port of Spain prison so that an opposing team could face off against my CXC English class team.

The debates’ popularity and the response of specially invited guests and judges have been so outstanding that the prisons’ programmes department decided to hold a nationwide hunt for the best prison team.

Once that final team is chosen, the ultimate goal is to challenge a team from UWI or UTT. We’d also like to take on a business place or company that is interested in the challenge.

The preliminary round of prison debates begins on July 16.

The semi-final round will be in August and the finals will be held in September, when a prison will be chosen as the overall winner.

Debaters will accrue individual points from judges so that in the end, there will be a prison debate team prepared to debate outside this prison.

This final team could be made up of debaters from different prisons, because it is based on the top five individual scores during the debates.

Here is the schedule for the preliminary round of debates:

July 16 at Women’s Prison

Golden Grove Remand Prison vs Women’s Prison

July 17 at YTC

YTC vs Carrera

July 19 at ECRC

ECRC vs Port of Spain

July 20 at Golden Grove

Golden Grove vs Maximum Security Prison (MSP)

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