Weekly Web Debates

Weekly Web Debate Contest: A Written War of Words!


Everyone wins

when all of us get smarter! Stretch your brain. Sharpen your writing and research skills. Join these weekly interactive written debate contests on today’s latest topics where every entrant receives personal feedback on arguments from expert judges.


HS Winners: LEFT 1st Place, Sheima Ben Abdallah, Leon M. Goldstein HS,   Coach Lee Sharmat. RIGHT 2nd Place,  Dylan Brown, World View HS, Coach Iriss Clymer.   



  • Grades: Open to all students grades 6-12 (We will alternate between high school and middle school each week).
  • Piece Length: Submit only ONE opinion piece of 400-500 words (High School) & 300-400 words (Middle School)  Use editorial style as a model.
  • Rebuttal Length: (After opinion winners are selected and posted) is 50-100 words including evidence
  • Voting: Entrants must “vote” for the best of opponents’ essays by responding.
  • Respect, civility, & professional language, good humor required!
  • Clear, concise, organized, interesting paragraphs are all pluses; debate jargon, a minus!
  • Submission of opinion piece (1st step) must include:
    • Only 1 clear claim
    • Evidence & its source
    • Reasoning
    • Significance (future impact)
    • An anticipated challenge to your view
    • With your answer to that challenge.
  • Prizes: There will be e-gift card prizes for finalists & winners!


  • FRIDAYS: A topic & anchor text launches.
  • MONDAYS: You have until noon that coming Monday to write and submit your 1 eligible* opinion piece in the comment/reply box for either Pro or Con. Your post will not yet appear publicly.
  • WEDNESDAYS: By noon the following Wednesday, (new, extended time!!) all entrants must resubmit a revised version of their opinion piece. You will have received brief, targeted feedback to aid you. Qualified judges then select a limited number of SEMIFINALISTS whose pieces will now appear, though anonymously.
  • THURSDAYS: Only those select SEMIFINALIST opinion pieces appear, anonymously. All entrants now choose to refute 1 best opinion from these “elimination round” choices. You are voting for the strongest opponent response with your choice! You have until Thursday, close of business day, to submit a 50-100 word counterargument, with evidence, that directly responds to that piece. Some select refutations will also win from this “elimination round,” posting publicly as the FINAL ROUND.
  • FRIDAYS: Judges evaluate FINAL ROUND. All winners are announced, named & posted for fame & glory. NEW topic launches for the next week’s cycle for the 2nd age group. NEW topics release and open for your age group every other week.

Click Pro & Con tabs to see new HS finalists!


CONGRATS!!  MS Winners! May, 22  

Cameron Anderson, 1st Place, Pro

Brooklyn Heights Montessori School  


Darius De Biagi, left,  2nd Place, Con, PS 343, Bronx  

Malaysia Black, right, 3rd Place, Pro, PS 343, Bronx  

Nikita Chernin,  4th Place Champ, Con, IS 239, Mark Twain 
Hailey Espinales-Fernandez, below, semi-finalist, Pro,     In-Tech Academy, Bronx  





June HS Topic:  New York’s COVID-19 prison release policies are, on balance, undesirable for minority communities.

Task:    The infection rate among inmates in New York City’s Riker’s Island is nearly seven times higher than in the rest of the city, reports the Washington Post last week.

Some 2.3 million people are behind bars in U.S. jails and prisons.  Many are sitting ducks for a virus that thrives in cramped quarters.  But current  hasty policies of decarceration are releasing masses of people who, due to America’s short-sightedness, now face a lack of health care,  job opportunities, affordable housing or access to welfare.

   As the decarcerated and prison staff get infected, they’ll bring the virus home and infect the surrounding community.  These are too often under-resourced rural towns or communities of color, whose hospitals and economies are already strained to the breaking point.


 But this government seems to be okay with that! 


 Releasing prisoners might reduce overcrowding inside, but if the virus has already spread, it risks creating new problems. Prisoners tend to be poor, and may not have anywhere to go. Some are homeless, or have no fixed address. Angel Rodriguez, who directs Avenues for Justice, a New York-based non-profit group that works with at-risk youth, says one of his clients entered Rikers disease-free, but had contracted covid-19 by the time he was due for release. Since he lives with his 80-year-old grandmother, who has respiratory problems, his release was delayed while they worked out where to send him.


Radley Balko, journalist on criminal justice noted, “A number of public defenders and criminal-justice-reform advocates who were hoping the mass emptying of the jails would help make the case for bail reform. Once thousands of low-level offenders were released to prevent virus spread and needless deaths, the thinking went, we’d see that keeping people behind bars because they can’t afford bail is purely punitive, and doing so does nothing to improve public safety.

       But that argument rested on a faulty premise. It assumed that when confronted with the urgency of the covid-19, that upon the realization that prisons and jails by their very nature make inmates sitting ducks for a highly communicable and potentially lethal disease, judges, governors, prosecutors and other public officials would have enough regard for the health, welfare and humanity of incarcerated people to at least get low-level offenders out of harm’s way. It assumed they would give a damn.

     It was a good-faith assumption, grounded in the notion that even the most retributive among us would want to prevent needless mass deaths behind bars. It was wildly optimistic.”


Read the model anchor text below. Research other examples and points of view. Then, choose your one main claim, & let the games begin!


Anchor Text:   Click this link below!

Boston Herald Staff: “Decarceration Short-sighted”

CONGRATS HS  HS June-July Winners!

Pro HS      

1st Place

Sheima Ben Abdallah

The criminal justice system has helped to construct what Michelle Alexander calls “the rebirth of racial caste in America.” Minority communities have become a direct pipeline to the county jail. The formerly incarcerated are forever trapped as second class citizens- denied even the most basic of needs. On every benefit application, the same question is asked- “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” This question is what separates them from the rest of the population, and sentences them to a life of poverty. Diseases like COVID-19 disproportionately affect minority communities due to systemic discrimination and inequity. It is no coincidence that the people who reside in these disadvantaged areas experience difficulty finding affordable healthcare. Sure, we can empty prisons- but what are they going home to?

By carelessly releasing incarcerated individuals without stopping to consider if they have a home to return to, we sentence them to a life bouncing between a friend’s couch and the streets. Not every individual who was incarcerated has a family to go home to. In addition,  according to the NYC Housing Authority, returning citizens convicted of a felony are barred from applying for NYCHA developments for a minimum of 5-6 years. This is on top of an already years-long waiting list without so much as full healthcare coverage before you’re called for an interview. Upon release, it’s no surprise that returning citizens often find themselves homeless. This puts both returning citizens and the communities they return to at an increased lethal risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

Some may argue that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greater in prison than while released, so prisoners should be released to avoid contracting it. They’ll insist that sharing a cell makes it possible for close contact that will spread the virus. There’s truth to these claims. Prisons keep multiple prisoners in each cell, using the same ill-kempt facilities. Prisons become breeding grounds for superviruses. Releasing prisoners will not prevent prisoners from contracting future viruses. There is an ongoing nationwide jail healthcare crisis. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, in 41 states (including New York), prisons charge a co-pay for healthcare. These copays can be a serious hindrance to getting healthcare while incarcerated. For most, it’s a question of whether they should get treatment or essential products such as soap or a toothbrush from commissary.

Instead of evicting a contagious population upon communities that already experience unequal access to healthcare; we should be focusing our efforts on getting incarcerated individuals the testing and the treatment they need. In the case of Rikers’ Island and facilities like it, it is now a matter of how we can best respond to the situation. What is required is better access to healthcare, for both incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals. Mass decarceration without testing and treatment would be a grave mistake that will result in the second wave of COVID-19 in the minority neighborhoods of New York City.



My opposition began with anecdotals of released prisoners. Unfortunate stories cannot apply to every inmate. Some prisoners  rearrested were for misdemeanors like drug possession and larceny, subject to jail time under certain circumstances. Larceny warrants jail time when stolen items exceeds $3,000 value. Drug offenses depend on the drug and quantity.  Anticipating refutation, the oppositon suggested inmates may catch Coronavirus again, however most recovered and developed anti-bodies. New York City conducted over 4 million tests, implying no shortage. More people diagnosed began recovering at home, resuming elective surgeries in select hospitals June 9th. Finally,New York cases are dropping since early June



Pro HS   4th Place Winner Overall:  Jaden Rocha

New York’s COVID19 prison release policies are hurtful to minority communities. Be not deceived, currently, dangerous prisoners are being released from prison.  The New York Commissioner said “Like any good thing… I think people are taking advantage of the situation,” on FOX 5 “Good Day New York.” 

This was witnessed in New York,  where a man who set his girlfriend’s door on fire was released, but later he was allegedly caught threatening his girlfriend again according to Shea. In Staten Island, 30 inmates were released and a majority of them were released without the approval of Richmond County prosecutors according to Staten Island District Attorney Michael E. McMahon. McMahon discussed that his office approved by the city officials that they would release 7 inmates, however, it winds up to 23 inmates who were released without his consent. Those inmates who were released had been detained for crimes that included criminal weapon possession, driving while intoxicated, drug offenses, and larceny. During the interview, Shea pointed out that in previous years prison advocates advocated that no one should be in jail. Following that, he stated, “ I think you have to be honest about what’s going on”. We Have to be honest that people who are not even supposed to be released are being released without people’s permission, especially without prosecutors’ permission which is very bad because the person that is being released can be murderers or a rapist and can go out seeking whom they may target which is not good and that is what is going to happen to minority communities, therefore, it is not a good idea to let prisoners be released especially without the consent of authorities because it seems as if they don’t know who they are releasing. The prisoners that are being released are dangerous.

Some may argue that due to crowded conditions that inmates face they should be released because they may die. well, inmates who come in contact with the Coronavirus again outside of the jailhouse will deal with lack of treatment outside of the prison-house if they were to come in contact with the coronavirus again because some states aren’t allowing non-COVID people into the hospitals so letting prisoners out is not the best option since both community members and prisoners would be affected if they were to get sick again.  For example, Dr. Marc Boom the head of the Houston Methodist hospital, wrote in an email to staff members this week, “We appear to be nearing the tipping point, Should the number of new cases grow too rapidly, it will eventually challenge our ability to treat both COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 patients.”  What this means is that those again that get sick again this is not including the COVID 19 but if they get sick again they would be denied and also those in the community. With the system being so full it is best for the prison house to focus on sanitation being that is the best alternative that’s what’s best.



My opposition began with anecdotals of released prisoners. Unfortunate stories cannot apply to every inmate. Some prisoners  rearrested were for misdemeanors like drug possession and larceny, subject to jail time under certain circumstances. Larceny warrants jail time when stolen items exceeds $3,000 value. Drug offenses depend on the drug and quantity.  Anticipating refutation, the oppositon suggested inmates may catch Coronavirus again, however most recoveries developed anti-bodies. New York City conducted over 4 million tests, implying no shortage. More people diagnosed began recovering at home, resuming elective surgeries in select hospitals by June 9th. Finally,New York cases are dropping since early June .

Congrats HS Winners, June-July!



HS  2nd Place Winner

Dylan Brown


I negate the resolution that prisoner release for fears of coronavirus is bad for minority communities, and rather affirm it is a more ethical solution.

As Covid-19 continues to ravage countries worldwide, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, social distancing has been advised by health organisations of countries across the world to mitigate its spread. New York City quickly shut down as it became the epicenter. With everything occurring outside, it is easy to forget about the prison population, specifically on Rikers Island. The island is already considered too dangerous to keep inmates, by the CDC guidelines. Doing so during a pandemic makes it illogical and unethical, many leaders agreed recently.  Keeping masses of people in close, confined places makes coronavirus easier to catch and spread. Keeping people on Rikers Island endangers both prisoners’ and employees’ health. Covid-19, an airborne virus that attacks the respiratory system, travels by sneezes and coughs, making it easier to catch. It is why social distancing is important. But in an environment like Rikers Island, that is nearly impossible. Cases will cluster in New York City jails as inmates share cells,eat together,and communicate amongst themselves and to employees who eventually go home. Per the Guardian, when 38 inmates caught the virus in March, this ballooned to 288 on April 9th. Those tests were also long awaited. Inmates sharing cells pass coronavirus more easily, to not only other inmates, but also to guards and other prison staff and families. Keeping apart would be impossible as the facilities cannot allow it. And then there are inmates with preexisting conditions who are at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, a death sentence for mild infractions. One prisoner, jailed in Rikers Island on a parole violation, passed away on April 9th, The New York Times reported. Rikers Island and Queens is already home to the most inmates incarcerated for petty crimes, according to the New York City Council, so it is smart to release those for their health, and for justice.

An opposing argument says that releasing inmates could incite danger in minority communities. In March 2020, Mayor Bill De Blasio released 300 convicted prisoners over fears of the Coronavirus, but 250 were rearrested per NBC. However, the unlearned lesson of a few should not justify the death sentence for all. Some inmates have been rearrested and returned to the island for the unlawful taking of socks and other necessities because of a lack of resources. The rearrest of convicts corresponds to the negligence of the State because there are not any resources as they are released into quarantine and the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. As proven already, people with minor charges are jailed the most. It is most logical to grant reprieves to those who are fit for readaptation to society. They are allowed the comfort of their own home and access to public resources that they didn’t have equally while imprisoned. Simultaneously, the island’s population eases, keeping the most dangerous still in jail with more space to stay apart and quarantine in new cases.



My opponent argues that we should release inmates because patients will be cared for.  People can help to a certain extent because these patients need to be quarantined. My opponent says inmates would be better treated outside. However, prisoners would deal with overcrowded hospitals because they are fully occupied and some people aren’t even getting treated properly. My opponent also states that prisoners would have more freedom, but look at our Staten Island evidence where dangerous people who are not supposed to be released are being released. My opponent mentions the economy, but that’s not a good reason as to why prisoners should be released because businesses are unlikely to hire ex-convicts.


HS 3rd Place Winner!

Leesa Johnson

Covid-19 has thrown America’s carceral system into unknown territory. As we work together to find ways to protect and sustain humanity across the world, we must not overlook vulnerable minority communities. In this essay, I will explain why New York City’s Covid-19 prison release policies are in fact desirable for minority communities. When Covid-19 prison releases occur 1) they provide former inmates with overall better care options than the prison industrial system and  2) they establish more opportunities for community economic growth.

Inmates of color can receive better care in communities of color than they can receive in the industrial prison system. Religious institutions provide access to food pantries, Covid-19 testing, and referrals to mental health services. In the height of covid-19, state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments and healthcare systems are working within communities of color to collect data on the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and to understand the groups who are more at risk. This information can be used to better direct resources and care to address health and racial disparities. A well-known African American rapper by the name of YNW Melly had tested positive for covid-19 but instead of being released, he was given Gatorade and Tylenol for his symptoms. With supporting, partnerships between researchers, professional groups, community groups, and community members, YNW Melly could’ve gotten way better support and help if he were released. In prison, the guards can be the main reason for the influx of the virus, masks are not provided and social distancing practices are not being properly implemented. Inmates who are released will have more freedom to engage in safer practices within their communities. (Source: CDC, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting small businesses across the board. Out of the  1.1 million minority-owned small businesses, women of color own nearly 300,000. Together these businesses employ over 10 million workers with1 trillion dollars in revenue. Minority-owned small businesses face structural challenges that underscore the underlying economic fragility of underrepresented groups, including the Black and Latinx communities. In an assessment of the financial health of companies, the Federal Reserve Banks reported that minority-owned small businesses were significantly more likely to show signs of limited financial health. These companies were approximately twice as likely to be classified as “at-risk” or “distressed” than nonminority-owned small businesses. That’s particularly concerning since the US Federal Reserve also indicates that distressed companies are three times as likely as healthy businesses to close because of a two-month revenue shock. The reentry of released inmates can broaden the knowledge, skills, and number of workers in the business sector of communities of color. Their intellectual property and varied capacities can contribute to building personal and sustainable community economic wealth.

The pro side of this resolution can argue that Covid-19 prison releases lead to questions about inmates experiencing inadequate housing options, lack of family support, and economic difficulties. My con argument focuses on human dignity, civil engagement, and social change. When we address issues relating to inmates reentering into their communities, we must not underestimate the power of unity, hope, and faith that the members, businesses, and institutions in communities of color use to uplift each other. Ultimately, my pro side will put released inmates and their communities in a better position to not only survive but thrive through the pandemic.


Prisoners from facilities where the virus has already spread will not be in a position to get a job. Not only will the majority need treatment for COVID-19, but stigma remains around the formerly incarcerated which ensures them job discrimination. According to the Justice Bureau, 68% of incarcerated individuals didn’t complete highschool. This puts them at a disadvantage to be considered for the role. Businesses should now wait for the end of this period of economic stress. The last thing we need is to bring about the second wave in communities that were already hit too hard by the first.


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