Many people in the United States who advocate for prison reform think this would be a good idea. Prison serves to separate criminals from the rest of society during their sentences but does not do much else to stop them from committing crimes again. Over 70% of criminals who leave prison commit another crime afterwards. This is called “recidivism”. Since criminals are separated from their families, jobs, and communities, it can be very difficult for them to return to society without turning back to crime. Debaters on the pro side might observe the results of prison as punishment and see that other punishments could provide better rehabilitation and prevent future crime and recidivism. Since the risk posed by non-violent criminals is low and often limited to economic harm, keeping them out of prison could lead to better outcomes for society.
Debaters on con side can start to prepare by considering what effect the severity of punishments might have on crime rates. The severity of a punishment can affect if a criminal decides to commit a crime; this is the basis of the concept of deterrence. While prison might not be appropriate for someone who has committed a very minor crime, debaters on the con side can choose to argue that the most severe non-violent crimes need to be punished severely. Currently one of the most severe punishments is imprisonment.
There are several key ideas that debaters should consider as they prepare their cases for NHSDLC tournaments. First, weigh the long prison terms handed out to non-violent criminals and the huge cost associated with keeping these criminals in prison compared to alternative punishments. This includes the cost of criminals who have not been rehabilitated by going to prison returning to society and committing crimes again. Second, consider whether or not prison is a necessary punishment for some non-violent criminals. Certain criminals have done a lot of harm to society, therefore society must deliver a fair punishment and make sure that a criminal does not have the opportunity to harm society again. Lastly, decide what outcome best fulfills the purpose of the justice system by keeping crime rates low and ensuring that people are safe.
Debaters looking to improve their tournament preparation should look at the resources on the NHSDLC website. When building their cases, some students might benefit from a private debate coach to explain some of the more important questions prior to a debate tournament. More information about private debate coaching can be found here.