Speak Vermont Prison Debate Initiative

Albert Schweitzer Fellowship: SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative

This spring, SPEAK President and Founder Jessica Bullock was selected as a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to support the SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative that SPEAK started at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in the spring of 2015. The Schweitzer Fellowship provides financial support for students who develop and implement service projects to tackle health inequities in underserved communities.

The VLS SPEAK Organization strives to promote debate, public speaking, education, and advocacy at Vermont Law School and throughout the Vermont community. To support this mission, SPEAK offers educational programs and debate trainings that increase participants' confidence in oratory, critical thinking, and diplomatic dissent.

The SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative provides public speaking and debate training programs to inmates incarcerated at Vermont correctional facilities. SPEAK's Prison Debate Initiative offers a six-week training program that utilizes debate as a tool for teaching participants professional, public speaking, and presentation skills. The goal of the program is to increase participants' confidence in presenting their personal stories and, ultimately, easing inmates' transition into the community upon release.

Speak Members stand outside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

This spring, members of the VLS SPEAK Organization ran the first prison debate program at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) in South Burlington, Vermont. The women who participated in the program selected to debate the topic: The government should provide transitional "second chance" housing for inmates who have completed their minimum sentence or are about to complete their sentence. Participants presented their arguments before members of the Vermont Commission on Women and Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. Due to the enthusiasm expressed by inmates at the facility, the CRCF SPEAK Debate Society will continue to hold debate trainings and practices for inmates on Saturdays throughout the summer.

As a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and the founder of SPEAK, Jessica Bullock hopes to continue promoting the power of debate by initiating programs at subsequent facilities throughout Vermont. Jessica Bullock and the SPEAK Organization received the annual Vermont Law School Student ProBono Award and Student Group ProBono Award for their work through the Vermont Prison Debate Initiative over the course of the past academic year.

If you would like to know more about the SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative or are interested in hosting a program at your facility or school, please do not hesitate to contact Jessica Bullock at jessicabullock@vermontlaw.edu. Additionally, please feel free to visit the SPEAK webpage at http://www.vermontlaw.edu/community/student-groups/speak. If you would like to learn more about the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, please visit the Schweitzer Fellowship website at http://www.schweitzerfellowship.org.


Project Members

Speak Instructors

Albert Schweitzer Fellow: Jessica Bullock
Albert Schweitzer Program Directors: Nancy Gabriel and Laura Murphy
Faculty Mentor: VLS Professor Margaret Barry
Community Mentor: Jill Evans, Director of Women and Family Services for the Vermont Department of Corrections
Faculty/Community Consultants: VLS Professor Robert Sand and Norwich University Professor Johannes Wheeldon