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Prisoners to tackle drugs in sport and prisoner votes in UK’s toughest debating contest

As the Olympics gets underway in Rio this week, prisoners taking part in the UK’s toughest debating competition behind bars also got under starter’s orders today as the topics they will battle over this summer at G4S-managed HMP Birmingham were confirmed.

Prisoners, split into six teams of four, will also discuss votes for prisoners, whether free speech has limits and criminalisation of the television licence fee.

Heats will take place in the prison on 6 September before two winning teams go head-to-head in a grand final ten days later.  Prison leaders think that this summer’s contest will help prisoners to express themselves more clearly and encourage them to resolve conflicts outside of the classroom with words rather than with violence.

G4S Director at HMP Birmingham, Pete Small said:

“These subjects will provoke intense debate among prisoners at HMP Birmingham, who perhaps in the past may have looked to settle disagreements with violence rather than through reasoned discussion. We are hoping that the skills our debating teams will develop will echo around the prison and help us to further improve the way prisoners to resolve disagreements without using violence.    

“The entire prison community is very excited about this competition and we think it will be a tremendous catalyst to challenge prisoners’ behaviour and perspectives as well as help our staff to engage prisoners in education.  Our focus is to ensure the time spent at Birmingham helps to reduce prisoners’ likelihood of offending again and we are delighted to be partnering with the Institute of Ideas on this innovative project which we believe will help to reform and rehabilitate the men we look after.”

Institute of Ideas debating trainer, Adam Rawcliffe, said:

“With these topics now set, the whole team is excited to get beyond bars this month and start helping the prisoners to develop their arguments ahead of September’s heats.  The project is really starting to come to life and our star judging panels, who will be confirmed in the coming weeks, are champing at the bit to listen to the prisoners’ arguments.  

“Debating really challenges you to argue from a sound basis of research and logic, which is quite different than having an argument with your mates.  We’re hoping that this different approach to difficult topics will have a real impact on the men we will train this summer as well as their families and the communities outside.”