The Rikers Debate Project (RDP), an initiative teaching inmates of Rikers Island the skill of competitive debate, welcomed TBS star Samantha Bee on Tuesday, March 21 to watch their second public contest, segments of which will be broadcast on an upcoming episode of the popular current affairs show Full Frontal.
The debate, at George R. Vierno Center (GRVC) on Rikers Island, pitched an all-men team from the center against an all-women team from the Rose M. Singer Center facility. The topic of the debate was President Trump’s recent executive orders banning travel to the United States from six predominantly-Muslim countries. Students from both detention centers along with local criminal justice reform leaders – including including Udi Ofer, deputy national policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Carol Fisler of the Center for Court Innovation, and Geraldine Downey of the Center for Justice at Columbia University – joined Bee in the audience.
“Programs like the Rikers Debate Project provide individuals with skills they can use once they are back to their homes and communities,” said the ACLU’s Ofer. “There are 11 million people cycling in and out of jails–this number is far too high, and also highlights the need for more programs that provide people currently experiencing the system with the skills to effectively re-enter society.”
The competitors – Juel and Zamir for the men and Camilla and Gloria for the women – had prepared to argue both sides, in favor and against, Trump’s executive orders. A coin flip at the event tasked the women’s team to argue against the ban. After a spirited debate, Broderick and Rodriguez’s team were declared the winners, though the vote was close, with half of the audience members voting for the men.
This was RDP’s second public debate at GRVC. The first, called “a clash of uncommon substance and civility” by the New York Times, discussed felon disenfranchisement just weeks before the November election. This was RDP’s first debate since starting its second class at RMSC. RDP is opening a third class, at the Eric M. Taylor Center, this week.
Photo Credit: Rikers Debate Project