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Home > The Glover Report > Op/Ed: Is This the Definition of Bait and Switch? By Jim Bell, Esquire

Op/Ed: Is This the Definition of Bait and Switch? By Jim Bell, Esquire

jim bell
Attorney Jim Bell, Esquire

Is This the Definition of Bait and Switch? By Jim Bell, Esquire

(WASHINGTON - October 8, 2015) - When I read the headline, “Shocking Upset: Inmate Debating Team Defeats Harvard in Exhibition,” I just shook my head in disbelief. Not because some “inmates” defeated “Harvard” in a debate, but because of what was implied in the statement: (1) that just because a person gets convicted of a crime or pleads guilty to a crime (usually because they could not afford good legal counsel) that somehow that person must be less intelligent, have fewer research and analytical abilities, an unreliable or poor work ethic, and inferior oratory skills compared to a student who goes to college at Harvard; (2) that just because a person goes to college at Harvard or University of Maryland, they are somehow a superior person intellectually and professionally than someone who is incarcerated.

So, I, against my better judgment … I read it anyway. When I began to read the article, I quickly discovered that the article was not really about the inmates or the Harvard students, who were not pictured in the article. It was a political spin piece for The Bard Prisoner Initiative (BPI), the company who ran the program.

It does not take a college degree to understand this was a puff piece to keep funding for their prison program. There were only there (3) students from the Harvard Debate Team that competed in this exhibition debate. It was only an "exhibition match" which means “not a real sanctioned match.” Picture it in terms of sports.

Who cares about whether a team wins or loses exhibition games or practice games? No one cares because exhibition games or practice games don't count against the teams record. The debate was just practice that involved some members of another team. Think about it, they were college students at Harvard with all of the pressures that comes along with that, participating in a practice debate with inmates.

In fact, Anais Carell, a 20-year-old junior from the Harvard debate team is quoted as stating, “They caught us off guard.” You don’t get caught off guard when you are prepared and take something seriously. His statement speaks volumes about the lack of quality preparation and attention that his team gave to this practice debate with the inmates. Why, because it was only practice. However, the Harvard team was debating inmates, grown men hand-picked for a special program being given millions of dollars a year in private donations.

These men have all day and night to research and practice because the facility wants them to show some kind of results that people can see and talk about. The inmates were prepared. As in most games, the best prepared team usually wins the game. Remember, just because inmates got convicted didn't mean they were not book smart or articulate before they were incarcerated. It just means they got caught breaking the law.

When you are spending that kind of money on inmates you have to show results to justify continued funding and set you apart from other programs that are designed to reduce recidivism. Joe Six-pack doesn't give a darn about grown men beating college kids in a game but he does care about decreasing recidivism because that means reduction in crime, violence and money spent to house an incarcerated person.

But, if you can’t show data that the debate program specifically decreases recidivism, you find a great angle to show your program in a positive light and cross your fingers and hope that the powers with the purse strings buy into your creative angle or puff piece. It appears that it worked. So, did inmates win a debate against Harvard? Yes, but the devil is in the details.

Grown, educated men with nothing but time on their hands and faced with the great possibility of losing this program that keeps them out of General Population in prison for significant amounts of time during the week had a lot more real-life consequences if they lost a practice debate than some young Harvard students having fun and using the debate team as a tool to put on their resume to apply to the best law, business and other professional schools.

Yes, the inmates won the debate, but the people who created and distribute the money from the multi-million dollar program are the real winners because it looks like they are going to keep getting funded. I would not even be surprised if they now get some government money to expand their program because their program can be seen as taking Black and Brown men who are less intelligent, with less research and analytical abilities, an unreliable or poor work ethic, and inferior oratory skills and training them to beat the Harvard Debate Team. I say bravo to the person who dreamed up this 'puff' piece for The Bard Prisoner Initiative (BPI) and my hat goes off to the inmates who, through their preparation, will get to continue in the prison debate program.

Tags: , Op/Ed: Is This the Definition of Bait and Switch? By Jim Bell, “Shocking Upset: Inmate Debating Team Defeats Harvard in Exhibition,

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