The Instigator
Pro (for)
6 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
9 Points

Prisoners should be required to work while serving their time

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/11/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 10,275 times Debate No: 15895
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (17)
Votes (3)




"The average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day; among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate, or $62.01 per day." [1]

It is my view that while in prison, inmates should be expected to work to contribute back to society in order to address this burden. I will address elderly prisoners, financial concerns, release programs and a number of other problems with incarceration within the United States. I will also be arguing that this is not a form of slavery, in spite of the position put forth within the Georgia prison strike dilemma.

The Con side will have to argue that they should not be required to work, hopefully with good sources and clear reasoning =)

Good Luck!



I don't disagree with your argument that prisoners should in some way still contribute to society and compensate for the financial burden that we as taxpayers incur. However, I disagree that forcing inmates to earn a "living" while in prison is inefficient and unethical due to the inability of states to monitor safe and ethical working practices that prisoners would be subject too, as well as it is still our taxes paying the meager wages that prisoners are forced to work for, since the majority are unable to leave prison grounds in order to acquire more acceptable positions. Currently the majority of prisons have already implemented plans that require eligible inmates to participate in duties and jobs that allow them to earn a wage between $.20 - $.40 per hour and up to a $1. 15 for more skilled positions in prison factories. These earnings are often applied towards a number of court-mandated judgments, which is one less thing that we, as taxpayers, are not directly responsible for paying (

The low wages earned by prisoners is also still covered by our same taxes that support their "living" needs. In order to pay higher wages more of American's taxes would have to be allotted towards the prison systems. This would occur by either increasing taxes or taking away form other needed social programs. To force inmates to work unregulated jobs under the control of prison wardens for these meager earnings in order to cover their "living" costs seems unrealistic and ineffective based on current standards.

By forcing inmates to work in below minimum wage positions that are primarily labor-based is essentially allowing the acceptance of indentured servitude, which is described as unskilled workers forced to work in labor intensive jobs for a specific amount of time in return for accommodations, such as food and shelter while working off a specific debt. And indentured servitude or "debt bondage" is illegal according to article 4 of the "Victims of trafficking and violence protection act of 2000" (
Debate Round No. 1


To begin with I would like to request that my opponent proof read her arguments before posting them. Communication is difficult enough without having to assume what the intended meaning is between grammatical mistakes:
“However, I disagree that forcing inmates to earn a "living" while in prison is inefficient and unethical due to the inability of states to monitor […]”
I will assume this means - I disagree with forcing inmates to earn a living, because it is inefficient and unethical...

Re: Inefficient & Unethical
Before we can discuss inefficiency behind mandating prisoners to work you will need to offer up some sort of argument for where it is inefficient and why this process cannot be made more efficient within the state system. Until you do this is simply an unfounded assertion.

The ethics of this matter is actually a double edged sword. You are free to point to indentured servitude as you have, but this situation is not that simple. A prisoner has made a choice and the state removes their freedoms because of that. It is already commonplace to remove rights from Felons (I.E. Sufferage), let alone the issues they face given the opportunity to rejoin society. While in prison the most common activities are directed at their physical, mental and spiritual health, but they are all optional. They are free to work toward their GED, be taught to read, write or do arithmetic, let alone their room and board – none of which are free. [1] The problem is that all of this is a cost to the tax payer, and not to them.

To look at the other side of the sword, how ethical is it for someone on the outside to be forced to pay for a prisoner’s way? As a person in the society of America we are expected to take care of ourselves, working, schooling and the like. The social programs that do exist have steep requirements and long lines, so many people don’t get to see the benefits. Those who do get access to such benefits, such as unemployment, are forced to jump through hoops. There are no free rides out here. On top of all of that we are forced to pay our taxes or possibly join these prisoners.

Re: The states ability to monitor safe and ethical working practices
This is an odd statement, and I need further examples/evidence/argument to understand why you are willing to put this forward. We trust the state to monitor the working practices and ethics of the businesses in the rest of society, so why wouldn’t it work out in this situation?

Re: Taxes paying their wages
This is not the case. They would be working to pay for their room, board and services, not for a wage. They could spend their days pushing a large millstone around, grinding up barley for a local brewery or running on treadmills to power a local city, or hell… we have them install the solar panels on a plot of federal desert and wire it back to their prison, which can sell that electricity back to the city. The point is not to improve their pocket books, but to lighten the load on the rest of society, and they do that by contributing back to society. Prisoners owe a debt to society, and this debate is about how well locking them away and supporting them with tax payer funding accomplishes the repayment of that debt.

Re: Minimum Wage
This is a bit of a side note, but ill address it. I dont think they should make a dime. That money should be directed back into their prison and be used to offset the cost of their room and board, as was discussed above.



To begin, I apologize for my grammatical errors. That was an oversight on my part, and I will do my best to be clearer for you. I will also attempt to address your issues in the same order in which you laid them out.

To first address your concerns about why I believe your proposition to be inefficient. I use the term "inefficient" to describe how your proposed idea, to make inmates work to earn their keep while incarcerated, offers a limited solution to the ultimate goal of inmates working in order to pay for their living costs. It is inefficient because you have not offered any actual solution to how inmates will be able to work in order to earn their keep that is different than current programs. Many inmates across the country are already working in jobs with-in the prisons, some are bussed to off-site jobs, and many are eligible for work-release programs. All of these pre-existing programs allow inmates to earn minimal wages, which are delegated to cover court related costs and judgment mandated costs. Until you can describe an actual plan that is different from the already existing programs, and that has more beneficial results, than your proposed plan is inefficient.

I agree with you when you asked, "how ethical is it for someone on the outside to be forced to pay for a prisoner's way?". It is not necessarily ethical for the government to force us to pay for the cost of incarceration, but my point is that we will be paying for it not matter what. Where do you think the wages earned by the inmate's labor will come from? Like previously stated by me, inmates eligible to leave prison grounds for work release already do so. The majority of other prisoners are in prisons and separated from society because they cannot be trusted to safely live and work amongst regular society. Therefore the jobs they are eligible for will be prison appointed jobs, which are funded by taxpayers. The last point I will make concerning how ethical it is for taxpayers to be forced to pay for prisoners' living costs is that I, as a taxpayer, am paying for a prisoner's basic needs while they are safely separated from society. Versus having no prison system to keep them separated from us, just so that they were eligible to earn a living to support them.

To force inmates to work in order to eat, have shelter to sleep under, and be clothed is not unreasonable. Like you said, "As a person in the society of America we are expected to take care of ourselves, working, schooling and the like." However, to only pay them less than a dollar an hour and still force them to cover these costs through the wages they are able to earn is unethical. They have lost their rights to exist in society, but they are still human beings that need basics to survive.

This brings me to your last two concerns about me mentioning taxes paying their wages and minimum wages. I really have addressed this concern in the last two paragraphs. But you mention that the inmates would not be working for an actual wage. I am aware that they will not be receiving actual money, but it is important to make a comparison to the cost of living in terms of monetary compensation. There must be a monetary value assigned to the unit of measurement used to evaluate the worth of their work. If it costs around $22,000 to keep and inmate, then we must determine how much they have to work in order to earn the $22,000. This is exactly how it works in real society too. No matter the determined worth of their work, we still are faced with the practical reality of who will pay the earned money to the prisons to care for the inmates. It is not the issue of actual funds concerned here, but where will the finds come from? We could send them to install solar panels on a plot of federal desert, but that would still be paid from designated public funds- taxes. Even private corporations who win the bids for programs such as these are paid by the allocated federal funds. And the cost to train prisoners to set solar panels up is an added cost that the State must take on, as well as the extra cost of hiring extra guards to monitor the inmates. And on a side note, this would take away useful jobs from free Americans in order to hire cheap labor. Much like the outsourcing we already participate in to save money as a nation.

Lastly, I will retract my statements about states inability to monitor safe working environments. Only because it is based on recent past experiences similar to the incidents in GA's prison systems, but that is all based on opinion and not conclusive fact. So I am willing to rely on my other arguments.

Now that I have addressed your definitional and clarity concerns, at least I hope I have, I ask you once again to try and actually give a reasonable proposition to how inmates can effectively and ethically earn a reasonable equivalent to an income that will support their living costs while incarcerated?
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent has chosen to make an unfounded assertion – My idea is inefficient because she asserts it to be so. Current work release and inmate work programs are as efficient and efficacious as they can be, within an optional program. Within the Washington State Corrections Department, they have shown very positive benefits:

Efficacy of the Work Release Program
Offenders who complete the work release program are more likely to be successful in maintaining employment, stable housing, and in paying legal financial obligations. Additionally, recent research conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy indicates that work release programs have a positive cost/benefit impact; in fact, for every dollar spent, $3.82 is returned to the state. [1]

While I disagree with my opponent regarding the need to put forth new ideas here, I will address this issue. One theme throughout the responses thus far is a fear of prisoners taking jobs from free citizens, which is second only to discussing their work conditions and third to their wages. In South Carolina a prison opened up a farm for their inmates. The prisoners grew their own food and cut the cost to the taxpayers by almost $400,000 a year. They feed each prisoner on 1.51 cents a day, for three meals. [2] I would think this is an efficient and efficacious application of the optional form that I have been urging. This is not a new idea, but it is clearly within the bounds of this argument. Building a farm on each and every prison would be one such application of how inmates can effectively and ethically support themselves.

This argument is not about making sure they have any income, it is about making prisons self-sufficient. My opponent and a few of the commenters seem to be hung up on prisoners taking jobs from the free citizenry, but that is not at all applicable here. I am not suggesting they get to have jobs at the Quickie Mart or in construction. They should not be released or allowed to work in public, so there is no danger of losing public jobs, save those who have been classically contracted to contribute to the prison system.

$22000 a year is well above the 2010 Census poverty line of $11136[3], which ignores the prison population. It is a ratio between the threshold of a family and the income, and when the threshold is above the income that person is considered to be within the poverty stricken group. These people are typically involved in social programs, but by no means are they living at the same level as a prisoner. If a free person can live off of $11000, surely the prisoners can live off of less than $22000. Even if we address $22000 a year, we need to come up with about $425 dollars a week, or about $10.50 an hour. Clearly with minimum wage below this we have a problem of a similar nature. Here in California minimum wage comes is $8 an hour, which amounts to $16640 a year. [5] If we get our prisoners down below this threshold there are a number of more reasonable jobs available, including the previously mentioned farming, where they offset the costs and bring that cost down further.



I will begin by correcting my opponent on several of the issues he brings to our attention. If my opponent would carefully read my previous statements he would realize that I was claiming that he had yet to supply me with any acceptable plan to back up his proposed argument. If one is to argue for a change in policy, one must clearly state a proposed change. It is then the opposition's duty to argue against the change. My opponent asks for a change in the current system regarding how the cost of living for prison inmates should be alleviated from taxpayers, but he had not declared how we should go about alleviating this cost. When he did make suggestions I responded with why those solutions were inefficient in alleviating the cost for taxpayers, and not necessarily attainable ideas due to constraints of public safety and so on.

This brings me to the issue that my opponent seems to think those commenting on this topic and I can't grasp, which is the idea that we fear prisoners will be taking jobs from free citizens. The fact that my opponent does not understand the full breadth of his proposal makes it difficult to go beyond where we are currently at a stand still. The idea of a self-sustaining farm where inmates can raise their own crops to feed themselves is a great idea, however it will only solve part of the issue of maintaining inmates living costs. Some sort of commissioned work will still be necessary to sustain the cost of electricity, clothing, housing, maintenance, etc. Obtaining jobs where inmates can earn an equivalent to an income is still necessary to cover these other costs. Which takes me back to the comment on the solar panels to generate electricity, which still incurs more costs in the long run. Or one of your new links that directs readers to an article about inmates running a DMV call center, which is a clear example of prisoners being used as cheap labor in favor over hiring free individuals to do the same job. And their low wage is still ineffective in covering the cost that is required to currently sustain an inmate.

My opponent also reference the work-release program of Washington St., which yes claims a positive cost/ benefit impact, but only small percentages of inmates are eligible for this program. This really doesn't count towards the cost of keeping an inmate in prison either, because they are housed off prison grounds according to the site. This site also lacks evidence to support its claim of a positive cost/ benefit, and it does not clearly inform readers about how the program works and to what it is comparing itself too in order to generate that statistic. Lastly, these prisoners are also working at mainstream positions and are not self-sustaining while in prison.

My opponent also mentions minimum wage amounts compared to the cost of keeping an inmate. I once again don't disagree with the fact that if free individuals can live off an income that is half of what it cost to keep one inmate that means we are spending too much on inmates living costs in general. Plus he hasn't valued in the government assistance that families at this poverty level often receive, and it is still our taxes that cover these aids as well. But this debate is not about how we can cut specific living costs, such as cutting cable or similar, but how we can make prisoners more self-sufficient in order to cover their own living costs while incarcerated.

In conclusion, I reaffirm my statement that my opponents plan is inefficient because it has not offered a suggestion to how we can make prisoners more self-sufficient across the board. Self-sustaining farms are a great start, however a proposal for an effective plan for total self-sustainment is necessary to this argument that prisoners should have to cover the burden of their own cost of living while in prison. I hope perhaps this time I have made myself even clearer about why I make the claim that this idea is inefficient at this point.
Debate Round No. 3


"If one is to argue for a change in policy, one must clearly state a proposed change. It is then the opposition's duty to argue against the change." [Con]

This is an odd statement in light of how this debate has gone. I am indeed arguing for a change in policy and I have put forth the change - prisoners should be mandated to work while in prison, where as they currently aren't. My opposition has chosen to take this debate into an area that is related to the implementation, but that is not at all what this debate is about. The topic is to mandate them, and I have presented two arguments for the case.

The ethics of a free person being forced to pay the way of a prisoner – This was addressed in the second and third post when I argued that it isn't on ethical grounds.

A Prisoner's way of life is way too expensive – This was addressed in the second and third round of this debate. There may be a number of contributing factors, but regardless of one's political or ethical views – if housing and taking care of a prisoner requires more money than a good portion of the free population something is wrong. I pushed the farm application as one opportunity to lighten the load on the state, which is cited. I then argued that the cost is too high and pointed to the level of income that minimum wage or poverty stricken free people are able to survive at, which is cited. My opponent has simply asserted that decreasing costs is not on topic, but how it is possible to discuss expense without acknowledging the costs? This is a prime financial concern and has been backed up clearly.

My opponent has taken this debate into the realm of implementation, which needs to be discussed but this is not the venue for it.

The current system is inefficient – I linked to the Washington State Corrections thoughts on the matter, and my opponent's response was that it cannot be accepted because they haven't shown the direct link all the way back to how they tallied their statistics. This is acceptable as a reason to question statistics, but nowhere within debate are statistics so scrutinized. The Washington State Corrections Dept. is an authority on Washington State Corrections Dept. and we are all are free to question it but my opponent needs to put forth a better argument to refute their statistics.

Wages – This is neither here nor there, since their wages are not being addressed within the topic. My opponent is free to argue that their wages need to be taken into account, and she is correct, within the implementation of the topic. That was never my intention, and as such this is a red herring.

These topics are important, don't get me wrong. They are incredibly important and need to be discussed at length in the implementation of a plan, but again… that is not the policy change that was put forth in this discussion. My opponent has chosen to argue about the implementation and from her arguments she is taking the stance that it's alright, but the infrastructure is too inefficient in her eyes is not in place for it to work and as has already been discussed… the implementation is not what was meant to be discussed. I will leave it to the judges now.


My opponent stands by his claim that he has proposed a policy change, which I believe he has not. He proposes a "change" in policy about how prisoners should be forced to work while incarcerated. I believe that this is not an actual proposed change, because prisoners are already forced to work while incarcerated (with exceptions for prisoners with medical constraints).'+Rights

Perhaps my opponents original opening argument did not specifically state the latter part about inmates "working to cover their own costs", but since inmates are already forced to work and he mentioned the expensive cost to keep inmates incarcerated, I would assume the actual statement "prisoners should be forced to work" is more of a precursor to the latter part. And though I agree that programs such as sustainable farms are a wonderful solution to helping lower the cost to all, there are still several more factors involved in the total cost of keeping prisoners. These factors cannot be disregarded in a discussion that is asking for prisoners to be forced to work to cover their own costs.

My opponent believes that innocent taxpayers should be relieved of the burden to cover prisoners living costs, and that this should be achieved by forcing them to work in order to cover their own costs. Don't get me wrong, I do agree with my opponent's beliefs. However, I do not agree that under the current circumstances prisoners should be forced to work in order to cover these costs. I feel that the current wages paid to prisoners is inadequate to cover the cost of their living, and until a more efficient plan is proposed that would either lower their cost of living or allow an increase in the amount they are capable of earning to cover the cost, I see the proposed idea to force inmates to work in order to cover their living cost inefficient.

I do not deny that it is unethical for taxpayers to carry this burden, but I do feel it is more important to cover this burden in order to keep adequate numbers of prisons open to keep prisoners safely separated from society.

In conclusion, if it cost $62/ day to keep a single inmate, and the average inmate can only earn less that $1/ hour and work a max of 10 hours/ day then it is impossible for them to earn an amount that is even relatively close to what is needed to cover their cost of living. So, based on current conditions and standards, which already require prisoners to work while incarcerated, my opponent's argument is lacking a proposed change in policy that would effectively improve already established norms. I will end with that, and leave it up to the voters to decide.
Debate Round No. 4
17 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Bob_Gneu 5 years ago
No matter your opinion on the matter, her vote is justified and she explained it in her comments and the response to the debate. If anything your actions constitute a vote bombing. =\ It is a shame that you feel the need to protect debaters from vote bombing when you really aren't achieving that goal. A shame indeed.
Posted by duckiejen23 5 years ago
When did con bring an 8th amendment claim? Cruel and unusual is a difficult standard, indentured servitude by the 13th amendment would be a better case but she didn't bring it up. Did I miss the constitutional commentary somewhere here?
Posted by Bob_Gneu 5 years ago
So if I read your response to DuckieJen correctly, you agree that "Prisoners should be required to work while serving their time", just not within the bounds that are currently in place?
Posted by TMLee2 5 years ago
@duckiejen23: The problem with Bob_Gneu's argument is that most prisoners are required to work while in prison already, but that does not seem to cover the cost of their living. He proposes that prisoners should be forced to work in order to be more self-sustaining. I don't disagree with that argument, but if you are going to start a debate about forcing prisoners to work in order to cover the cost that is incurred to maintain them then you need to have a understanding of what you are proposing. He has the burden of proof to prove why a change is needed. I don't think you would find many people who would disagree with you or him that prisoners shouldn't have to work just like free individuals, but to just say they need to work in order to be more self-sufficient without any proposed ideas on how to do that is not really a complete debate. When I argued why I believe under "current systems" that prisoners should not be forced to work, in response to his original debate post, he took it to where it has led. I have since only argued why "current systems" and the few ideas he has stated are inefficient plans. He feels that my explanations for why I consider them inefficient are without merit. Bottom line is if he thinks "current systems" are working he wouldn't need to debate the issue, but he doesn't think this I assume and that is why he is arguing for a change in policy. But a change in policy then needs to be stated in order to debate that. Otherwise, my arguments for why prisoners currently should not be forced to work under "current systems" still stands. He has not really debated me and offered good evidence to support his grounds, he has only really repeated why he thinks I'm wrong. That is not a debate. He should learn to back up his claims with grounds and warrants. It is my job as the con side to defend the presumption that the "current system" is still more efficient than his proposal of "prisoners should be forced to work".
Posted by duckiejen23 5 years ago
@TMLee2: I'm a little confused why you assert that Bob_Gneu must propose a prisoner plan and for you to refute. The title of this debate is "Prisoners should be required to work while serving their time", not "[insert plan here] is better than current prisoner work programs". Would you mind clarifying why you feel this is your primary duty in this debate? Based on his intro, it appears that prisoners are currently not mandated to work but instead given a choice. If I understood his claim correctly, his primary premise is that they should be FORCED to work and not given this choice rather than arguing the merits of the system as a whole.
Posted by Bob_Gneu 5 years ago
Thank you for clarifying, but i get the feeling that these people think i mean they need to work in the same way that free people do. They need to work, in order to pay back their debt to society. Allowing them to be locked up and simply read, be involved with gangs and work out or play basketball all day is simply unacceptable, at the cost they incur on society.

The "occasionally" aspect is exactly what i mentioned in the previous comment. This is about requiring them to work. I would also like to know what you are trying to imply by saying that "sex offender/major offenders should be forbidden from working in public," as allowing them to work in the public sector was not mentioned and i don't see the implication in what i said to lead to that conclusion. Work would be within the prison, or in a prison related industry.
Posted by duckiejen23 5 years ago
People... this debate is about prisoners having to work for their living. If it takes 62 something dollars per day to feed/clothes/house a prisoner, their work should be worth 62 something dollars per day. This is not about taking jobs from Americans, sex offenders, unemployment or any other ridiculous comment that is made without accepting this debate. Please refrain from comments until you read the premises. Instead of giving your two cents, simply accept the debate and move on...Thank you!
Posted by 1stLordofTheVenerability 5 years ago
Prisoners do work, occasionally, at manual labour or menial civil services that need to be done but that nobody wants to do without exorbitant wages. It would be tremendously difficult to implement them into societal workplaces, and sex offender/major offenders should be forbidden from working in public... If the debate could be related to this premise, I might just accept.
Posted by Bob_Gneu 5 years ago
Well, at least you didn't just read the last two comments. Your opinion on the matter is not really what we are discussing here and the Unemployment Rate is not what is being discussed in this debate. As i mentioned, they aren't counted:[1]

---- QUOTE
Who is not in the labor force?
Labor force measures are based on the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over. Excluded are persons under 16 years of age, all persons confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons, and persons on active duty in the Armed Forces. [...]
And for the record, the term "prove" is not exactly useful in debate. This is not about creating more jobs, but thank you for the input. It would be great if you would read what this debate is actually about before you make such statements.

Posted by PFD_Debater 5 years ago
That doesn't really matter in the practical sense of the word.
You're only arguing this in the practical sense of the word, just because these people aren't counted as actually being employed (which you don't really prove); that doesn't create any-more jobs. The end fact is that there still aren't going to be more jobs, and by affirming this resolution, you take away jobs from free americans who have done nothing wrong.

And by doing so, you ultimately punish those who have done nothing wrong.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by askbob 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Negating Duckiejenn's votebomb. She knows him in real life and is a biased voter
Vote Placed by duckiejen23 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This debate was not about working conditions, employment rights, or any other argument posted by Con. The change in policy stated by pro was simple: prisoners should be FORCED to work, rather than simply encouraged. I feel Con missed the call of the question and was unable to give any authority to support her claim. Should con have made any constitutional arguments, I would have supported her stance. However, she failed to do so. As such, my vote has to go to Pro.
Vote Placed by DylanAsdale 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This was an interesting debate, and perhaps the first that ever caused me to change my opinion. Initially, I agreed with Pro, but Con brought up the interesting contention of working practices that prisoners would be subject to. The possible infringes of the 8th Amendment caused me to shift my opinion in favor of Con. A great debate by both of you, though.