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Starr's Mill - Panther Debate Team
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                A debate coach once told me definitions are meant to overtly clarify, and covertly exclude.  What this means is that however you define the terms of the resolution is how you define the ground on both sides.  If there is an argument that you have a difficult time answering, then altering the definitions may be a way to preempt that position from being developed in the first place.  Strategic definitions have the possibility of making really good arguments irrelevant.  But they also have the possibility of making a debater afraid to deal with the issues that most people expect to be covered by a resolution


                If this is all unclear, perhaps a brief (and entirely unlikely) example would clear things up.  Lets say the resolution is Resolved: Selling guns to children is good.  After the affirmative debater is revived from fainting after hearing the worst resolution in history, they may consider some strategic definitions.  If they defined guns as water guns, and defined is good as provides happiness, then the resolution would be Resolved: Selling water guns to children provides happiness.  As you can see, the tables have turned on the opposition, leaving them with more difficult ground.  That is, if the affirmative manages to establish these definitions as the working definitions for the round.


                One last thing, these definitions are not out of the dictionary definitions; they are more of a common sense approach to defining words.  And when I say common sense, I mean what makes sense to me.  This is a discussion that is meant to be a roadmap to what type of content you need in your evidence.




Lets start with the easier definition.  It is obvious that this phrase wants to restrict the debate to the criminal justice system within the political boarders of the United States, but it would be nice to have a little piece of evidence just for safe keeping. 


Beyond the obvious, the criminal justice system is a term used to identify a subsection within the entire legal system.  Other subsections would be family law, civil law, probate, etc.  With this in mind it should be fairly easy to find evidence in one or more locations that articulates what is and is not considered part of the criminal justice system within the United States.




This phrase is basically what the debate is supposed to be.  I always find it amusing when debaters define every word within this phrase with an individual synonym that provides no greater clarification or strategic advantage to either side.  Ought means should and above means over.  Why waste the time explaining this mundane information?  Consider what definition does to the interaction of arguments during the debate.


In the case of this phrase, you need to consider what it means, to be valued above something else.  There are a few ways to clarify your intent.  One of my favorite ways to articulate this phrase is in the temporal sense:  that we should implement Rehabilitation before Punishment.  I think that this is a very simple clarification that benefits the affirmative case. 


Negative positions love to try to take both sides of the resolution.  Since the resolution asks for valuing one above the other, the negative strategy could be to value both of them and implement either one when it is appropriate.  This takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of the affirmative case because now the negative can grant the benefits to rehab and just talk about why punishment is beneficial too.  The reason the time oriented definition is good is that it allows the affirmative to grant all the benefits to punishment but still say that rehab ought to be tried before punishment.  Think of this in the context of the sentencing period of a trial, the judge could sentence the convicted to incarceration (punishment), a rehab clinic, or a combination of both.  The affirmative would argue for trying rehab fist, if that fails, then we should try the other options.  This maintains the higher value of rehab while granting the benefits of punishment as a backup.


Effectiveness could be another reason to value one above another.  When people say they value something, it is usually because they consider it better than other things.  Luckily for us, we have only two things to consider, rehab and punishment.  The debater would be asking the critic to recognize the rehab is just better at achieving whatever value is trying to be achieved.  In short, this phrase is merely the reason why the case is happening.  It ought to be valued higher because it is more just, or It ought to be valued higher because it saves more lives.




                This term should be one that is going to be in dispute often.  I think that rehabilitation should be looked at in the methods and motives rather than the outcomes.  Someone could feel punished by being sent to a rehab clinic, and rehabilitation may not even occur at one of these clinics.  In my opinion, it would be abusive for either side to proclaim that rehabilitation is only the result of an action because this would mean that rehab is everything and nothing at the same time since what works is different for every person.  Furthermore, the only way we could determine what rehabilitation is under this definition is after someone has been rehabilitated.  Aside from the circular reasoning, this would allow any affirmative debater to claim that any negative effects of rehabilitation just arent true examples of rehabilitation and are, therefore, inapplicable.  This abuses the ground of the negative and is bad for debate.


                Rehabilitation should be considered an active process to equip people with tools to become productive members of society.  The goal should always be the reintegration of the individual.


                Rehabilitation could also be contextually defined to explore a self-proclaimed rehabilitation center.  Such centers like Betty Ford, Alcoholics Anonymous, or similar groups.  Some of these centers consider rehabilitation to occur by fulfilling twelve steps (which would be very clear to understand).  Perhaps just consulting some of these groups will reveal what they consider rehabilitation to be and provide a clear definition.  Consulting law journals and reviews also could provide a context to narrow the definition of rehabilitation into something more conducive to a half-hour debate.



Guyora Binder, University at Buffalo Distinguished Professor of Law, 2002 (Buffalo Criminal Law Review, Democracy and Punishment: Punishment Theory: Moral or Political?, 5 Buff. Crim. L. R. 321, p. Np)

Is the justification of punishment a moral question? Much contemporary writing on punishment, whether by philosophers or legal scholars, treats it as such. Theories of punishment are taken to be moral theories, and the problem of justifying punishment is presented as a key battle-ground in the war between utilitarian and deontological ethics. The question of how and when the state should punish is reduced to the question of how and when particular persons should punish other persons. This question in turn is treated as just a special case of the more general question whether persons are morally obliged to govern their actions by the aim of maximizing human welfare or by rules of fair treatment. But surely this is an odd way to think about punishment. Punishment is not a behavior, but an institution. It is part of a system that involves conduct norms, an authoritative procedure for generating these norms, an authoritative procedure for decisions to impose sanctions, and some measure of practical power over persons or resources. To punish someone is not just to harm them, nor even just to harm them because of something they have done. It is to stake a claim to a certain kind of institutional authority, even when the institution is only the family. To punish someone is to assert a right and accept an obligation to punish anyone similarly circumstanced and behaved, even if that other person be only a sibling. Punishment is never the isolated act of an individual: to punish is to act as an officer or agent participating in a system for enforcing an authoritatively promulgated norm.



MIRKO BAGARIC AND KUMAR AMARASEKARA, School of Law, Deakin University and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University, April, 2000 (Melbourne University Law Review, THE ERRORS OF RETRIBUTIVISM, 24 Melbourne U. L.R. 124, p. Np)

A more fundamental problem with invoking rehabilitation as an objective of punishment is that rehabilitation (at least of the type which appears to be having some success) and punishment may be inconsistent. Punishment by its very nature must hurt. n51 There seems to be an inherent contradiction between deliberately subjecting someone to pain and at the same time trying to get him or her to see things your way. The more tolerant, understanding and educative we are in trying to facilitate attitudinal change in others, the closer we come to providing them with a social service. n52 For example, cognitive-behavioural programs focus on the needs of offenders. They attempt to meet these needs by providing education and counselling which is aimed at reshaping the beliefs, attitudes and values of offenders and improving their problem-solving capacity, in order that they no longer engage in criminal behaviour. n53 Such programs seem to work better in community settings than when delivered in institutions. n54 There is very little difference between such programs and educational courses within the community (which are enthusiastically undertaken by many law-abiding members of the community). This is all the more so, given that it is a feature of many rehabilitative 'sanctions' that they cannot be 'imposed' unless the offender consents to them. n55 By making the interests of the offender paramount, modern rehabilitative programs are more akin to welfare services than punitive sanctions. In order for the goal of rehabilitation to justify punishment, it must be shown at minimum that reform is attainable in a setting that is directed primarily at imposing unpleasantness on the offender. There is no evidence to support this. One suspects that this tension will prove irreconcilable.



                A vast majority of the analysis given to REHABILITATION applies equally to PUNISHMENT.  Considering punishment to be merely when someone feels punished makes the term much more difficult to understand and hurts the ability to evenly divide ground.  I would avoid this and look to the process and/or motivation to give a definition that is better for the debate environment.


                Also, punishment could be narrowed to explore a specific area.  A debater could say, I will define punishment as the Death Penalty.  This gives clarity for this debate and tightly adheres to concepts of the resolution.  I have heard that many coaches and judges discourage this type of narrowing, but on this topic it might be appropriate.  These areas is very predictable, very debatable, and remember, the affirmative would have to argue for the rehabilitation of death row inmates, not just life in prison.  I would defer to your coaches as to whether or not to run this strategy.

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