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SPEAK Volunteers Host Fourth Public Debate at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility!

I would like to heartily congratulate the VLS and UVM SPEAK volunteers—Victoria Scozzaro, Laura Savall, Toni Girardi, Kassie Tibbot, Will Lowrey, Elise Iannone, Isabella Olson, Camara Hudson, and Ryan Tartre— who collaborated to host the fourth SPEAK debate at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) last night! The topic, which was generated and thoroughly researched by our CRCF debaters, read: "This House believes drug rehabilitation programs within correctional facilities should provide medications—such as methadone, subutex (buprenorphine), or naltrexone—to individuals for detox and maintenance."

What is the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative?

The VLS and UVM students listed above have been providing speech and debate programs at the CRCF, Vermont’s sole female correctional facility, as volunteers through the SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative since February 2015. Last night’s debate, led by VLS student, Victoria Scozzaro, and UVM senior, Isabella Olson, was the fourth presentation by CRCF inmates held open to local community members and was the most rigorous debate performance at the CRCF to date. The debaters spoke with precision and passion, engaged each other in critical questions on the topic, and shared personal stories about their own experiences with addiction. What was clear from their presentations was that, after almost two years of debate instruction, the CRCF now has a full-fledged debate team…and they are ready to challenge, critique, compete, and advocate! I could not have been more impressed by our CRCF students.

The incredible progress that the CRCF SPEAK debaters have made is a testament to their dedication and love of debate, but it is also a compliment to the VLS and UVM instructors who take time every week to travel to Burlington and teach, learn, and share. Last night, Tori and Izzy repeatedly reminded the audience that, while the “outsiders” from VLS and UVM may have brought technical knowledge about debate instruction, they were the ones who learned the most about drug use and cycles of abuse throughout this program.

So…Who Won the Debate?!

The CRCF debaters selected their topic in late September. They felt passionate about this issue due to the disturbingly high number of their friends who suffered fatal drug overdoses soon after leaving, or maxing out, of the facility. The Proposition debaters suggested that transitional drug treatment with synthetic medications, like suboxone, would help treat inmates safely when it counts—at the end of their sentence, not just the beginning. The Opposition countered that no drugs are safe drugs, especially when you have a history of addiction. Additionally, the opposition detailed the health dangers of allowing transitional drugs in correctional facilities and used visual aids to explain the addiction cycle. While the Proposition ultimately carried the day, all of the debaters—none of whom had debated before—received certificates of achievement for their completion of the eight-week SPEAK curriculum. Participation in this program is completely voluntary, so when debaters show up every week to do tough research and battle through deductive reasoning…it’s pretty cool!

VLS and UVM students ran two full-time SPEAK programs this fall at the Lund Family Center and the CRCF, partnering with more than thirty participants over the course of twelve weeks. And we won’t stop there! Bravo to the VLS and UVM students who worked so hard to make these program happen. Special thanks to the Lawrence Debate Union, Vermont Law School, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, and the VLS SPEAK Chapter for all of your support for the Vermont Prison Debate Initiative since the very beginning.

Thank you, and be well!

Respectfully & with gratitude,


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