Coyote Ridge Corrections Center hosts 5th debate event with Wash - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center hosts 5th debate event with Washington State University students

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The debates and AA programs at Coyote Ridge are funded through a private grant The debates and AA programs at Coyote Ridge are funded through a private grant

CONNELL, WA- Washington State University students and inmates at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center became a team, for the fifth year in a row. 

Incarcerated graduates from Walla Walla Community College AA degree program and Pullman students debated "Should prison based rehabilitation programs be mandatory?" in front of a crowd of scholars, staff and inmates at the prison.

Every person in the room was given a slip, a pre-debate decision and a post-vote. Many ended up changing their minds, impressed by the arguments from those with real life experience and those with research.

Teams of five students, a mix of those living inside these concrete walls and those who are learning about the prison world for the first time, "I believe that, strongly firmly believe that, they need to come down to an actual facility and talk to individuals who are going through that life struggle," said Ashley Orjiako, a senior at Washington State University.

Inmates like Israel Espinoza acknowledge their decisions and mistakes, wanting to make something better, "I was 17 when I got in, I decided I was going to change my life. I started going to school and try and get my GED. That was probably the hardest," Israel Espinoza explained. Espinoza has been incarcerated for five years.

The teams met for weeks before the debate, combining their knowledge with real life stories. "Professors tell you this is how it is. You just take their word but actually coming here and talking and seeing it in place is amazing. One of the most outstanding moments was actually walking into a classroom and seeing inmates who actually want to get an education, " Orjiako said.

Both sides agreed these programs are necessary for success, but differ on mandating them. Opposing views argued forcing someone into anything does not always produce good results and seems more like punishment than a reward. While others argued they never would have followed through with their success unless someone required them to do it. 

"It has given me a lot of hope, it has given me more confidence than you know. Before I thought I was a lost cause, I didn't think there was any hope, so through this education I have learned there is hope. I have also learned there is different solutions to new and different problems I am going to face in the future in here and out there," explained Espinoza.

Voting was conducted purely for educational purposes. More people in the pre-debate voted they agreed rehabilitation programs should be mandated, however, after hearing both sides for about two hours more agreed they should not be mandated.

The debates and AA programs at Coyote Ridge are funded through a private grant.

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