Skip to main content

Speech and Debate at Washington State Penitentiary

July 14, 2017

By Tim Kelly

DOC Communications

(Tim Kelly , DOC Communications)

WALLA WALLA – For 15 weeks this spring, students from Whitman College had a unique opportunity to share a classroom with inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.

A combined total of over 30 Whitman students and medium-custody inmates met for the class of Rhetoric 270 using Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" as a textbook. The south complex gym was the setting for the final debate, which was attended by both staff and community members from Walla Walla. Inmates and students formed small, combined groups to share what they learned and gave their final conclusions during the evening presentation.

The class will be offered again this fall and because of its popularity it won't have trouble finding interested inmates. The class positively impacts the incarcerated men and helps to improve public safety by providing them an opportunity to self-improve and learn. It also provides new debate and verbal skills and abilities while leading to avoidance of physical violence and maintaining a safer facility environment.