By Josh Smith
The Second Chance debate project came to an end last Friday, with participants debating ‘This House Would Give Prisoners The Vote’ in front of a packed debating chamber.
Working in partnership with charity Changing Lives and Team Durham, the Durham Union Society-led programme aimed to teach the arts of public speaking and debating to individuals who have previously experienced social exclusion or are overcoming personal difficulties.
The programme involved an eight-week workshop of debating classes led by Durham students.
Joe Hill, President of Durham Union Society, spoke to Palatinate: “It’s really important that the University gives back to the local community, and it’s amazing to see the progress which we make with all the participants.”
The speakers were allowed to pick their subject matter, and chose ‘This House Would Give Prisoners The Vote’ as they felt particularly strongly about it.
The four speakers for the proposition covered a range of arguments, from the individual value prisoners hold within society, to the increased chances of rehabilitation.
One participant, an ex-Prisoner himself, argued: “Prisoners are still valuable members of society…we must maintain the link with society to rehabilitate them.
Meanwhile, four speakers for the opposition provided a strong case against the motion. They focussed on the unfair privileges prisoners enjoy, and how giving them the vote could lead to political opportunism.
One speaker argued: “By going to prison, people forfeit some of their human rights.”
On the matter of local politics, the speaker continued: ‘In one constituency, there could be a large prison population. This could lead to politicians pandering to prisoners.”
Another speaker elaborated on this argument, stating that MPs could suggest short sentences to win the vote of England and Wales’ 86,000 prisoners, and that people may be more likely to commit crimes.
The final speaker of the night, arguing for the opposition, concluded: “The country has a moral imperative and a duty to act against prisoners.
“We should focus on rehabilitating prisoners, not giving them the vote.”
Dr Peter Warburton, the Dean of Experience Durham, commended the Second Chance project on Friday, and the debate, which was the climax of eight weeks’ work: “Breaking down barriers between University and society is very important.
“It just shows that everyone can work together.”
Photograph: Ben Lockwood.