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How a group of prisoners beat Harvard students in a debate

Harvard University

Harvard University Photo credit: Joseph Sohm /

Sometimes the biggest difference between a prison inmate and an Ivy League student is opportunity. A group of prison inmates got the opportunity to face off against Harvard students in a debate and the outcome was eye-opening.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the prisoners were from eastern New York correctional facilities and included men who were serving time for murder. They were a part of the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers college courses for the incarcerated.

The prisoners also have a more difficult route when preparing for a debate. They aren’t allowed to use the Internet, and it can take weeks for them to receive updated books, newspapers and journals.

But the prisoners were up to the task as they had to argue in favor of an issue they disagreed with. Resolved: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

Along with defeating Harvard, the prison debate team also have victories against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont.

But the Bard program is an aberration when compared to other prisons across the country. Most states have cut funding for prisoners to obtain a GED or college degree in jail. As a result, most prisoners are unprepared to enter the workforce once they are released.

Out of the 300 inmates who earned a degree through the Bard program, less than 2 percent returned to prison in three years.

1 Comment

  1. rawdog on October 8, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    It doesn’t shock me, but is a little surprising. Just because someone either got caught doing wrong or “caught up” in the system and had to make a plea agreement, it doesn’t make them stupid. American politicians are stupid for not educating prisoners (especially non violent ones who can easily be brought back into society). People with job skills aren’t forced to go back to a life of crime.