Monday, December 22, 2014

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Con Position

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Con Position

To support the idea that peacekeepers should be allowed to engage in offensive operations would support a contradiction of terms.  Simply put, the UN claims UN Peacekeeping operations are guided by three principles (UNPKO undated), and indeed these principles are found repeated throughout their literature: 1) Consent of the parties.  This means the factions involved in conflict must mutually agree to allow the UN to conduct peacekeeping functions. It implies, there is an explicit agreement as what those operations shall be. 2) Impartiality. This means the UN peacekeeping force will take no actions which advantage a particular side in the conflict; the UN will not favor a position or act in a way which demonstrates partiality. 3) Non-use of force (except in self-defense and defence of the mandate). In other words, the UN peacekeepers will only exercise force in order to protect themselves or their mission.  Self-defense is rarely ambiguous.  It must be proportional to the threat (not excessive force), must be in response to imminent danger (basically the enemy has started the attack) and typically the use of force in self-defense is the last resort.  If there is any wiggle-room in these precepts it is in the third pillar phrase "defense of the mandate" and this where the UN gets into trouble and spills-over into what is termed peace enforcement.

Oliver (2002):
The meaning of the term peace enforcement is often misunderstood. Consider that when soldiers are performing enforcement actions under a UN Security Council mandate, they are still called peacekeepers. The term’s origins are found in the UN Charter under Chapter VII and Articles 39, 41, and 42. Article 47 goes on to outline the procedures for managing “breaches of peace and acts of aggression”. It establishes a Military Staff Committee to manage the armed forces placed at the disposal of the UN Security Council.4 Unfortunately, the Member States that comprise the Military Staff Committee never came to an agreement on how the UN would use military forces placed at its disposal. {page 101]

Back To Basics

Let's start this analysis with a review of two infamous UN peacekeeping missions.

In the 1991-1993 time frame, civil war in Somalia resulted in a flood of refugees and starving, dying civilians in need of aid.  Cease-fire agreements were made and the UN sent a peacekeeping force to oversee relief operations.  However, the warlords continued their fighting and threatened relief operations.  The U.S. offered to head a task force to secure relief operations but other countries failed to send troops so the force was understaffed while conditions continued to deteriorate. It was 1993 when the UN-sanctioned task force headed by the US assumed an enforcement role under Chapter 7 of the UN charter aimed toward securing the safety of the mission by kidnapping warlord Mohamed Farrah Adid. The ensuing Battle of Mogadishu culminated in the infamous events described in the novel "Blackhawk Down" resulting in loss of US troops and a failed mission. Not long afterwards, the UN ceased peacemaking efforts in Somalia.

In 1995, during the Bosnian War in former Yugoslavia, UN peacekeepers established a "safe-area" for the Bosnian Muslims in the area of Srebrenica. In July of the year, Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serbs resulting in the mass murder of thousands of Muslim civilians.  The massacre was blamed on UN deficiencies in personnel and resources.  The event resulted in the UN declaring that borders would no longer protect leaders who abuse their citizens and authorized an enforcement campaign. Subsequently NATO launched punishing airstrikes against Serbia under US command.

Hillen (1995):
in January 1995 the secretary general retreated from An Agenda for Peace and stated, "The UN operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina . . . [was] given additional mandates which required the use of force. These were incompatible with existing mandates requiring consent of the parties, impartiality, and the non-use of force. The resultant combination was inherently contradictory. It jeopardized the safety and success of the peacekeeping mission." What the secretary general did not recognize is that, along with the strategic incoherence of those operations, the effort to pump vast amounts of humanitarian aid into the former Yugoslavia and to use UN forces to keep a lid on tensions in the region has backfired. 

To be sure, the UN has conducted many more than two Peacekeeping missions (see the link here). which demonstrates UN Peacekeeping is capable of performing an important and vital mission to promote an agenda of peace and humanitarian aid.  What examples like Somalia and Bosnia illustrate is how the peace mission fails when the UN attempts to move pass the security of its three foundational pillars and take a more pro-active, offensive role in peacekeeping. In Somalia we see the result of peace enforcement by attempting to prevent a warlord from disrupting peace operations and in Bosnia there is a kind of peace enforcement which sought to punish the country of Serbia for UN failures to uphold the peace.

NYTimes (1995):
The use of major powers' troops for enforcement operations under a U.N. flag, like the British, French and Russians in Bosnia or the Americans in Somalia, has not worked well and should not be repeated. Enforcement missions require the kind of firepower that only major powers can supply, but these powers do not easily subordinate their armies to U.N. command. There should be a shift back toward more limited objectives like policing cease-fires. These missions should be carried out by specialized forces from smaller and neutral states operating under U.N. command. When major enforcement missions are clearly warranted, they should be assigned to the armies of major military powers, under Security Council mandate but national combat command. This will only be possible where there is a consensus on the Security Council and where an appropriate country is willing to undertake the mission -- for example, the French last summer in Rwanda. U.N. peacekeeping does what it can do very well. It makes no sense to continue eroding its credibility by asking it to do what it cannot.

We can conclude this contention with a statement made by the former Special Assistant to the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and tie in the second contention.

Tharoor (1995):
Can the United Nations expect to mix peace-keeping and coercion, as the Security Council has obliged it to do in Somalia and now in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The United Nations Operation in Somalia's'" ("UNOSOM") attempts to impose peace led to the loss of political support and its eventual withdrawal from Somalia; the United Nations Protection Force ("UNPROFOR") has been blamed for failing to do things it was never mandated, staffed, financed, equipped, or deployed to do. Public opinion and political rhetoric have tended to outstrip both the mandate and means given to the United Nations [page 417].

The Impacts

Peace enforcement or any kind of offensive force carried out by "peacekeepers" can have a multitude of negative impacts arising from injecting oneself into a politically charged conflict.  Offensive force can change the balance of power, which actually results in prolonging conflict and it can strengthen the resolve of combatants by a "rally around the flag" effect which strengthens the power of illegitimate leaders. In fact, even non-offensive peacekeeping missions can prolong hostilities. Consider the comments of Richard Betts with respect to the Bosnian war.

Betts (1994):
There, the West's attempt at limited but impartial involvement abetted slow-motion savagery. The effort wound up doing things that helped one side, and counterbalancing them by actions that helped the other. This alienated both and enabled them to keep fighting. The United Nations tried to prevent the Serbs from consolidating their victory, but without going all the way to consistent military support of the Muslims and Croats. The main U.N. mission was humanitarian delivery of food and medicine to besieged communities, but this amounted to breaking the sieges—a military and political effect. {Page 24]

Intervention by UN peacekeepers, even if authorized by the UN General Assembly, engages the participants as combatants and thus exposes them as participants in the conflict they are resolved to mitigate. Even when the UN positions itself as a possible aggressor, it opens itself to defensive and preventative attacks from regional forces which could subject the peacekeepers to capture, and possible death.  In fact, this happened in the former Yugoslavia when NATO forces, acting under UN authority threatened to bomb certain targets. UN Peacekeepers were abducted and tied to the targets as human-shields.

If UN Peacekeepers carry out offensive operations, an enemy must be identified and struck.  This removes the pretense of impartiality and threatens the balance of power in a regional conflict which could erupt into a wider war.

Hanson, et al (2004):
From the concept pursued in this new peacekeeping doctrine, it is evident that peacekeeping must engender two dimensions of activity. One brings it closer to a state of war (i.e. peacekeepers must always be prepared for combat and maintain an enforcement capability). At the same time, however, the impartiality principle prescribes that it must also be capable of building consent so as to limit the necessity for the enforcement of compliance. If this is not achieved, it becomes far more likely that peacekeepers will be drawn into a prolonged military enforcement role, thus increasing the danger of ‚crossing the Mogadishu line‘, i.e. of taking sides and being drawn into the conflict directly. Unless practitioners engage seriously in the consent-promoting dimension of peacekeeping, by focusing on the goals of conflict resolution and post-conflict peace-building, they will, under this new doctrine, run the risk of becoming embroiled in full-scale warfare.

Coalition of the Unwilling

Con needs to point out that allowing the UN to conduct offensive operations means someone has to launch the missiles, drop the bombs, or fire the bullets and these "someones" are international troops assembled from participating countries.  Usually, when a decisive action must be taken, a world-power must be enlisted to "drop the hammer" because only powerful armies have the resources to get the job done effectively.  Thus, enforcement or offensive peacekeeping requires cooperation by powers which are often politically unmotivated or unwilling to engage in such operations.

The answer is, to keep a strong distinction between UN Charter Chapters 6 and 7.  One is for appeals for redress and aid, the other for war.  By standing on the foundational pillars, the UN peacekeeping missions have the best chance of success and if the combatants are not interested in keeping the peace, then it may be best to leave and perhaps authorize other actions.  It is confusing for the UN Security Council, the Peacekeepers, and the world to mix the responses and try to justify offensive actions by peacekeepers.

For all these reasons and more, we urge a Con ballot.


Betts, RK (1994), The delusion of partial intervention; Foreign Affairs, Vol 3 No. 6; accessed 12/16/2014.

Hanson, W; Ramsbotham, O.; Woodhouse, T (2004); Hawks and Doves: Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution;  Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management - Edited version Aug 2004; accessed 12/16/2014

Hillen, JF III (1995); Killing with Kindness: The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia; Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 34, Jun 30, 1995; accessed 12/16/2014

NYTimes (1995); The Future of U.N. Peacekeeping, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 8, 1995; archived source; accessed 12/16/2014.

Oliver, GF; 2002, The Other Side of Peacekeeping: Peace Enforcement and Who Should Do It?; International Peacekeeping: The Yearbook of International Peace Operations, Volume 8, 2002, p. 99-117; accessed 12/16/2014.

Tharoor, S (1995); The Changing Face of Peace-Keeping andPeace-Enforcement; Fordham International Law Journal, Vol 19, Issue 2, Article 20, 1995; accessed 12/16/2014

UNPKO (undated) What is peacekeeping?; United Nations Peacekeeping; Peacekeeping Operations; accessed: 12/16/2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Pro Position

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Justification for Force

The justification for offensive force for UN peacekeepers begins in 1999 with the passage of U.N. Resolution 1279 to affirm what was known as the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. This agreement aimed to end a long and horrific conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The conflict which became known as he First Congo War involved several nations and resulted in the deaths of millions from both direct hostilities and humanitarian crises. As the First Congo War raged, the rest of the world struggled with images of the Rwandan massacre, child-soldiers kidnapped and armed with automatic weapons, and waves of refugees streaming into camps under the most horrific conditions.  The world welcomed "peace" and the U.N. subsequently authorized a small group of observers to document compliance with the peace treaty brokered at Lusaka.  The roots of conflict remained and continued to stir, especially in eastern Congo, so the UN continued to expand its role to include assisting in the release of prisoners of war, providing support for humanitarian efforts and assisting in the removal of land-mines. Over the next ten years the UN peacekeeping force expanded to more than 20,000 personnel with close to $9 billion spent to maintain the deployment. It was during this time, the UN peacekeepers were accused of certain abuses such as rape and regional conflict emerged into what has become known as the Second Congo War which has involved nine African countries and resulted in more than five million deaths. In my opinion, the eruption of one of the deadliest wars in the history of planet earth, and the U.N. failure to provide any sort of meaningful deterrence or protection to citizens resulted in the U.N. deciding to take more decisive action to enforce "peace".  (To be sure, the 2013 Congo situation was not the first use of force by the U.N. One need only research Congo -Resolution 169-, Somalia -Resolution 837- and Bosnia -Resolution 836- to realize the U.N. has engaged in offensive operations in the past.) This leads us to where we are today and provides a background for the Pro position.

Neutral Force

One of the key aspects of UN offensive operations is the presumed lack of partiality.  While the Pro acknowledges U.N. Peacekeeping operations have and do involve some offensive operations, these are limited in scope and aimed toward deterring aggression which disturbs peacekeeping missions.  The UN use of force is not attempting to give one side or the other advantage. It is thus an act of forcefully keeping the peace.

Findlay (2002):
It is in this sense that such missions aim to ‘enforce the peace’. They do not attempt to militarily defeat the party concerned, but rather to coerce it to comply with the will of the international community and with its previously agreed commitments. They usually attempt to act impartially in dealing with all the parties, in the manner of an umpire, but in doing so may be forced to penalize one or more of them, including through the use of force. They are not normally only involved in peace enforcement, but will undertake the range of activities involved in expanded peacekeeping, including humanitarian assistance and ‘nation-building’. Like peacekeeping operations, they employ both positive and negative inducements (the proverbial ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’), but they also have the use and threat of the use of force as the ultimate negative inducement. [page 6]

The UN has fairly consistently stuck to a norm which authorized the use of force for self-defense and it is relatively simple to draw distinctions between using force in self-defense and using force in an offensive way. Self-defense is commonly recognized as an application of force which is equal to the threat and generally employed when other reasonable attempts to avoid force have been exhausted. But, it is considered a mission of UN Peacekeepers to act as a deterrent to aggression and this has failed many times. Nevertheless, U.N. peacekeepers are authorized to use force as a deterrent to actions which would interfere with UN mandates.

UNPKO 2014:
In certain volatile situations, the Security Council has given UN peacekeeping operations “robust” mandates authorizing them to “use all necessary means” to deter forceful attempts to disrupt the political process, protect civilians under imminent threat of physical attack, and/or assist the national authorities in maintaining law and order.

Facing Reality

In 2000, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, commissioned a panel headed by Lakhdar Brahimi to review and report on all aspects of U.N. Peacekeeping operations. The resulting landmark document known as the Brahimi Report provided a much needed dose of realism in the idealistic mission of the U.N.

Findlay (2002):
While conceding that ‘there are many tasks which United Nations peacekeeping forces should not be asked to undertake and many places they should not go’, it declared that when the UN does send its forces to uphold the peace ‘they must be prepared to confront the lingering forces of war and violence, with the ability and determination to defeat them’. Although force alone could only create the space in which peace may be built, no amount of good intentions could substitute, it said, for the ‘fundamental ability to project credible force if complex peacekeeping, in particular, is to succeed’. [page 333] 

Part of the failure of past missions and the perceived lack of UN deterrence stemmed from very ambiguous and conflicting Rules of Engagement (ROE).  It needed to be clear both to UN commanders and regional combatants the UN would be prepared to carryout its mandates with sufficient resolve and force.

Findlay (2002):
The panel urged that, once deployed, UN military units must be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and the mission’s mandate. ROE should be ‘sufficiently robust and not force UN contingents to cede the initiative to their attackers’. Mandates should specify an operation’s authority to use force. ROE should not limit contingents to ‘stroke-for-stroke’ responses but allow ‘ripostes sufficient to silence a source of deadly fire’. UN forces should be bigger and better equipped and become ‘a credible deterrent threat, in contrast to the symbolic and non-threatening presence that characterizes traditional peacekeeping’. Brahimi advocated that: ‘UN forces for complex operations should be sized and configured so as to leave no doubt in the minds of would-be spoilers as to which of the two approaches [traditional or complex] the Organization has adopted’ [page 334]

Even before the decision was made in 2013 to send attack helicopters into Congo, the UN had already been softening its non-force position claiming "peacekeeping" was a complex mission which includes more than standing between combatants. In the 2008 document, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Principle and Guidelines, describes the complex characteristics of peacekeeping as related to conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peace building.(UNPKO 2008: 17-18). The UN establishes guidelines for what it terms, "robust" peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

UNPKO (2008):
Although on the ground they may sometimes appear similar, robust peacekeeping should not be confused with peace enforcement, as envisaged under Chapter VII of the Charter. Robust peacekeeping involves the use of force at the tactical level with the authorization of the Security Council and consent of the host nation and/or the main parties to the conflict. By contrast, peace enforcement does not require the consent of the main parties and may involve the use of military force at the strategic or international level, which is normally prohibited for Member States under Article 2(4) of the Charter, unless authorized by the Security Council. 

While the conflicting and intersecting roles of "robust" peace are blurry and not always conforming to set boundaries, Pro should probably limit discussion on peace enforcement as outside the scope of the resolution.


I think Pro must recognize words have power and politicians play word-games in order to influence positions.  Offensive operations conducted under the authority of the UN termed "peace enforcement" have attached a negative view of such operations.  However, the UN, as seen in the Brahimi Report recognizes that so-called "robust" peacekeeping operations can be effective in supporting the mission and mandates of the UN Peacekeeping operations.  The fact that certain terminology is applied should have no bearing on the debate but unless the Pro can properly center the debate on the broader issue rather than semantics, the failure of past missions will loom large. The idea of punitive actions to enforce peace will likely invoke an undesired response in the mind of judge. Finding the right balance between robust peacekeeping and more aggressive responses to restoring peace in places of conflict is part of the general U.N. mandate. Since inception, the UN has reserved for itself the authority to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security" [UN Charter, Chapter VII, article 39]. When considering the role of a UN peacekeeping operation, a similar semantic conundrum exists when considering the differences between preemptive and preventative actions. While preemption deters perceived, imminent threats, preventative action designed to deter future attacks are considered illegal under UN and international law. In the context of peacekeeping, preemptive actions may be considered not only justified, but moral in response to an imminent threat but whether or not preemptive actions may be defined as an exercise of offensive power is a question that must be answered in the round if Pro decides to run it.

R2P Opens the Door

A major component of UN peacekeeping operations is humanitarian in nature.  More often than not, it is population at large; the non-combatants which suffer the most during the time of conflict and as witnessed, for example, by the First and Second Wars of the Congo, starvation, disease and homelessness can affect millions, threatening entire populations. Under these circumstances the UN possesses a framework for robust peacekeeping.

UNR2P (2012);
The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.

Thus the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) establishes a requirement for the international community to intervene in humanitarian crises which are not being mitigated by the state in which the crisis is occurring.  In fact, the R2P emerged out of international frustration over the Rwanda massacre. R2P is based upon three pillars; 1) a state has the prime responsibility to protect its population from genocide; 2) the international community has a responsibility to assist the state in protecting their population; 3) the international community should take collective action when state acts fail to protect their populations.

Gerber (2012):
Peace operations with a civilian protection mandate reinforce all three pillars of the R2P framework, though in varying ways and degrees depending on the form and objectives of the mission. At the strategic level, all UN peace operations are approached as a “pillar 2” tool to “assist States under stress” in protecting their populations through direct security provision and local capacity building. While rare, peace operations such as the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo temporarily assume full “pillar 1” responsibility in the territory they administer. More frequently, POC-mandated peacekeeping missions act under “pillar 3” to ensure protection when local actors prove unable to do so. [POC is Protection of Civilians].

When one considers the overwhelming crush of humanity affected by the Second Congo War, 20,000 peacekeepers have very little ability to effectively carry out this mission in protecting millions of civilians over a region of thousands of square miles.  Robust peacekeeping recognizes the need to give the international force the best chance of success and justification within the limits of its mission to defend itself and the population it is charged to protect. However, while the peacekeepers may take actions to protect themselves, the use of external intervention forces to protect the peacekeepers and local populations violates the principles of self-defense.

Sartre (2011):
To justify the recourse to these interventions, the legitimacy of the duty to protect should be substituted for that of the right to self-defense. This step forward should be established in a doctrine, which I will outline below, which establishes the notion of an intervention force as part of the missions; and gives the Security Council and the Secretariat the tools to limit its use to the protection of the force, its mission and the local population and exclude its use for pursuing the objectives of the operation. By definition, self-defense can only be defensive. Protection, on the other hand, can be seen as temporarily and locally offensive, when an outclassed unit of the peacekeeping force has to be relieved by an intervention operation. If protection is recognized as being a duty that justifies temporary and locally offensive actions then two things that have for a long time been seen as contradictory can be reconciled: giving the operations robust means of reacting against any aggression and prohibiting them from using those means to force the consent of the parties. [page 9]

Sartre quotes Jean-Marie Guehenno's concerns that UN peacekeeping forces provide an illusion of safety for local populations, despite being unsuitable for the enormity of the mission they are expected to carry out. The Democratic Republic of Congo has over 70 million inhabitants (Sartre 2011:11) at risk.

Sartre (2011):
Jean-Marie Guéhenno has warned against making the concern for the protection of civilians, or, we should add, military personnel, the sole reason for the robustness of peacekeeping. In practice, the first objective of robustness should be the freedom of action, the pre-condition for the success of its missions: protecting itself, protecting the populations, and retaining control of the crisis area so that political progress is possible. This freedom of action is all the more necessary because it is normal for a peacekeeping force to lack both numbers and resources. This means that it must retain a mobility that enables it to exert its control of the situation and to protect itself where and when it wants without hindrance. Peacekeeping must indeed not let itself become coercive; this is what distinguishes peacekeeping from enforcement. But it must not give way either, and this is why it should be robust. Whatever violence may be taking place between the parties, it must continually keep open the space needed by the political process to bring peace nearer; neither giving way nor coercing, but protecting to persuade.

The Pro Position

Thus it is clear that over the decades, UN peacekeeping missions have engaged in offensive operations in the past.  The early experiences in Congo in the mid-sixties and later Somalia and Kosovo were considered disastrous and the argument can be made that was mostly due to a very nebulous and poorly defined understanding of what the limits and authority of the operations were supposed to be.  The Brahimi Report helped provide some solidification of the principles and justifications for offensive operations by peacekeepers.  Nevertheless, the requirement that intervention by peacekeepers must take place under the consent of the states involved and mandate that peacekeeping operations should be neutral and non-coercive forces a fuzzy view of what is acceptable or not in times of conflict when rules and international law seem distant and unclear.  The Pro position, not only recognizes the need to engage in offensive operations to effectively carry out its mission, but provides a framework under which that mission can be carried out with in the context of current UN mandates and international law.

Here is the Con position.


Findlay, T. (2002); The use of force in U.N peace operations; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, accessed 12/15/2014

Gerber, R. (2012), Peacekeeping and Responsibility to Protect, The Stanley Foundation, May 2012; accessed 12/15/2014

Sartre, P. (2011), Making UN Peacekeepers More Robust: Protecting the Mission, Persuading the Actors; International Peace Institute, August 2011; accessed 12/16/2014

United Nations Peacekeeping (UNPKO 2014), Principles of U.N. Peacekeeping, accessed 12/15/2014

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO 2008), (Capstone Doctrine) United Nations Peackeeping Operations, Principle and Guidelines; United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support; accessed 12/15/2014

United Nations Prevention of Genocide (UNR2P 2012); Responsibility to protect; accessed 12/15/2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

LD Jan/Feb 2015 - Just Governments & Living Wages - Introduction

Resolved: Just governments ought to require that employers pay a living wage


I guess it's time to debate just government, a staple of LD debate, as one coach recently proclaimed to me.  But requiring employers to pay a living that practical?  My first thought was, suppose we increase the pay of all working citizens to some mandated minimum which meets the standard defined by "living wage".  It seems logical to think, the cost of goods and services would soon increase to compensate for the fact people are receiving higher wages and so we are back to square one since the level of income needed to maintain our lifestyles will ratchet up due to the increased costs.  Either prices increase or employment falls but either way, the economy will right itself like a ship in the waves. But does it really work like that? If so, the pragmatic debate is lost before it even begins.

living wage
Let's start at the end. What is a "living wage" and how is it different from something like the U.S. minimum wage? No problem, wikipedia can be a starting point for research because everyone should know, wikipedia provides citations, like this one leading to the New York Times.

Gertner (2006):
Workers in some of Baltimore's homeless shelters and soup kitchens had noticed something new and troubling about many of the visitors coming in for meals and shelter: they happened to have full-time jobs. In response, local religious leaders successfully persuaded the City Council to raise the base pay for city contract workers to $6.10 an hour from $4.25, the federal minimum at the time. The Baltimore campaign was ostensibly about money. But to those who thought about it more deeply, it was about the force of particular moral propositions: first, that work should be rewarded, and second, that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.

Okay, so now we can begin to formulate a standard that a "living wage" should elevate the recipient above the poverty level and we also can see, in the U.S., the federal minimum wage law may not provide sufficient compensation. Adams and Neumark gives us more background.

Adams & Neumark (2005):
The number of cities, counties, and school districts with living wage ordinances across the United States has swelled to nearly 100. Living wage laws have three central features. First, they impose a wage floor that is higher—and often much higher—than traditional federal and state minimum wages. Second, living wage levels are often explicitly pegged to the wage level needed for a family with one full-time, year-round worker to reach the federal poverty line. Typical living wage levels as of December 2002 (when our sample period ends) were $8.17 (Los Angeles), $9.05 (Detroit), and $10.25 (Boston). Third, coverage by living wage ordinances is highly restricted. Frequently, cities impose wage floors only on companies under contract (generally including non-profits) with the city. Other cities also impose the wage floor on companies receiving business assistance from the city, in almost every case in addition to coverage of city contractors. Finally, a much smaller number of cities also require that municipal employees receive a legislated living wage. Previous estimates have found that living wage laws increase the wages of low-wage workers. On the flip side, however, there are negative employment effects on workers at the low end of the skill distribution.

While we have no specific definition for living wage, we can see the requirement varies from place to place and there are a number of ways the requirement is applied. But never fear, I found a good definition of living wage.

Roosevelt (1912):
We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.

Check the source on this, you may be surprised to learn the debate over living wage is not new and at least in the U.S. has been part of the political landscape for some time.

This term is simple. An employer is any person or organization that employs people (Oxford Dictionary). The same source lets us know that "to employ" means to give work to someone and to pay them for it. There was probably no need to define the word and there is practically no chance anyone would dispute its meaning.  Its only purpose in the resolution is establish a mechanism by which the government can provide its citizens a living wage. But we should be clear, the government itself is also an employer and so it too would be required to provide a living wage to its employees.  This distinction is necessary so the debate does not require people to receive a living wage just by virtue of the the fact they reside within the jurisdiction of the government.  The debate is limited to individuals who are employed by an employer under the jurisdiction of the government.

to require
In the context of this resolution, "to require" means to compel as means to achieving a purpose or establishing an essential condition. I suppose a dictionary definition is suitable if necessary for clarification.  In this resolution it is a government which establishes the requirement and we assume, in order to have any force, it must be empowered by law.

I defer to all of my previous discussions of this powerful word which means so much more than "should".  In the past (just look at this LD topic, for example) I have provided links to Ralph Wedgewood's paper, "The Meaning of 'Ought'".  I think philosopher David Hume would require, when faced with the word "ought", to provide a reasonable explanation of how statements which describe how things are lead us to a normative statement about the way things ought to be. I believe and often advocate that debaters should be able to debate in a purely theoretical universe in which things happen as they "ought to" but humans are grounded in physical reality which requires one to build a very sturdy bridge between what "is" and what "ought" to be. For many, that bridge is rooted in the concepts of morality since it is not too difficult for most judges to conceptualize a universe in which things behave according to basic human standards of right and wrong. Otherwise, it is necessary to make the link between what is and what ought to be with real-world harms or benefits.

just governments
I guess we can entertain several definitions of "just" in this context and I suppose many will link it to traditional definitions of justice such as giving each his due, and indeed, there is no reason such values cannot be used in traditional LD cases.  In this context, however, I think when one sees the specific terminology, "just government", just is derived from the word justified. The Oxford dictionary defines just as "based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair" and gives the example of a "just society" or a "just cause", Merriam Webster says "being what is called for by accepted standards of right and wrong". This definition of the word is thus very similar to the common definitions of "moral".  However, claiming a government (or corporation) is moral has its own complications since moral agency is usually attributable to beings possessing free-will and capable of rational choice. Nevertheless, the actions and decisions of governments can be guided by standards established by moral beings. It was Thomas Jefferson who said "man is not made for the State but the State for man, and it derives its just powers from the consent of the governed".  While this resolution is not specific to the U.S. we can to look to the founding fathers for understanding about the role of the just governments. James Madison, for example, supported the idea that governments should only serve to preserve our natural rights when he wrote, " This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own". (Madison 1792).

Off We Go

So, I think I have laid a bit of a foundation for the Aff and Neg positions and we should be able to find enough evidence to build reasonable approaches to both sides of the resolution.  While I do believe there could be more interesting debates for just government, this one will allow us to learn more about the practical effects of wages on society and business while allowing us to also explore ways to discuss hypothetical worlds of what is and what ought to be.

The Affirmative position is here.


Adams, S., Neumark, D. (2005) The Effects of Living Wage Laws: Evidence from failed and derailed living wage campaigns, Working Paper 11342, National Bureau of Economic Research. Accessed 12/4/2014.

Gertner, J. (2006), What Is a Living Wage?, New York Times Magazine. accessed 12/4/2014

Madison, J. (1792), Property, 29 Mar. 1792 Papers 14:266--68, A collection of essays retrieved 12/3/2014:

Roosevelt, T. (1912), Address by Theodore Roosevelt before the Convention of the National Progressive Party in Chicago, August 1912, Archived by the U.S. Social Security Administration. Accessed 12/5/2014

Wedgewood, R. (2011) The Meaning of 'Ought',  Oxford Studies in Metaethics, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, vol. 1 (2006), 127-160. Accessed 12/2/2015.

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Intro

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.-Vegetius

My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.-Ferdinand Foch

There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.-Niccolò Machiavelli
Quotations source:


Is it just me or is this resolution an oxymoron reminiscent of the time in the mid-1980s the U.S. government decided to name the MX intercontinental ballistic missile (an offensive weapon with 10 warheads) the "Peacekeeper". I guess by definition, once a peacekeeper becomes a war-maker the peacekeeper ceases to exist unless somehow it is possible to engage in an offensive of peace.  Oh wait, perhaps it is possible -

Merriam Webster Dictionary
peace offensive
a campaign designed to serve the interests of a nation by the expression of wishes to end a war or of intentions to resolve conflicts peacefully and thus cause hostile or unfriendly nations to relax their efforts or become less vigilant

United Nations peacekeepers
Obviously, the United Nations peacekeepers are a group organized and managed by the United Nations (I hope there is no need to "define" United Nations.  Their own website defines their mission: "United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace. We are comprised of civilian, police and military personnel."  U.N. peacekeeping began in 1948, as a multi-national group of military observers whose mission was to monitor the "Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors". Typically, this is the role of the United Nations peacekeepers.  Following a period of war, unrest, revolt, or conflict, the United Nations may agree to send a "force" of military personnel to maintain a negotiated or mandated truce or peace agreement.  As observers or monitors they will report any attempted violations of the agreement between conflicting parties and do what they can to aid and protect innocent people caught in between and generally serve as a deterrent to aggression or violation of the peace agreement. Historically, U.N. peacekeepers are lightly-armed with defensive weapons and have depended on the aid of other regional or international powers to protect them in case conflict erupted beyond the ability of the peacekeeping force to maintain their own safety.  As a result, "More than 3,220 UN peacekeepers from some 120 countries have died while serving under the UN flag.".

So, while the original mission of U.N. peacekeepers has been considered to monitor peace the role has expanded to included limited offensive operations in recent years which I will discuss shortly.

Offensive Operations
While most of you are probably familiar with offense and defense in sports we can extend that analogy to military operations and understand that when a troop is projecting its force with intent to gain some advantage or objective it is engaged in an offense operation. When a troop "digs in" behind barriers or in safety zones in anticipation of being attacked, it is considered a defensive position.  You also should know in debate, the difference between attacking (offense) and defending (rebutting attack). A Mississippi College ROTC document describes offensive operations:
Offensive operations are chiefly designed to disrupt the enemy’s combat power—
firepower, maneuvering, protection, and leadership. You plan and execute them to:
• destroy the enemy and his will to fight
• seize terrain
• learn enemy strength and disposition
• deceive, divert, or fix the enemy.
Offensive operations suppress enemy strengths and take advantage of weaknesses.
[page 335]

should have the power
When one makes a statement which proclaims one "should have the power" to do something, there are several ways we can look at it.  First, we may consider by using the word "power" we can think of authority.  This is because the word "power" imparts a sense there must me more than a simple ability to carry out an action. We may also apply a sense of ability (strength) to do something that is directed toward a particular purpose. Perhaps the famous, former Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Robert Dahl can help us conceptualize power.

Dahl (1957):
Unfortunately, in the English language power is an awkward word, for unlike “influence” and “control” it has no convenient verb form, nor can the subject and object of the relation be supplied with noun forms without resort to barbaric neologisms. 

Then again, perhaps not, since Dahl takes over 14 pages in his paper to describe the concept of power and this is Public Forum debate where the longest speech is only four minutes.  Therefore , an appropriate dictionary definition may be sufficient.

However, the Pro side of this debate is making a claim by way of the resolution, U.N peacekeepers are lacking something they should have, namely power to engage in offensive operations.  Therefore, we must for now assume, they do indeed lack this authority, ability, influence, or "power" and there is a very compelling reason to believe such a thing should be imparted to them now. This is, in fact, the very nature of debate affirmative positions.  A problem exists in the status quo which is producing significant harm. The solutions, for some reason are not or cannot be corrected without some heretofore, ungranted, unenabled or unenacted condition and when the barrier to acting is removed immediately, the harms can be solved and other advantages may ensue.  In classic debate the negative will claim there is no reason to change the status quo, since the harms may have other causes, the affirmative proposal will lead to other harms or there may be other ways to solve the harms without affirming the resolution.

As soon as you begin researching, you will discover, the 'classic' debate positions do not apply for this resolution.  Oddly, as it turns out and depending on your point of view of current peacekeeping operations, it may be the pro  position is NOT advocating a change to the status quo and depending on how the Pro positions itself it may turn out to be the Con needs to advocate a change to the status quo.  In other words, we could interpret the words "should have the power" as saying "should continue to have the power".  As if someone says, "hey, UN peacekeepers have the power to engage in offensive operations" and Pro says, "well, yes, they SHOULD have the power to do so".

UN News (2013):
With peace efforts under way with the M23, the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is shifting its focus to other rebel groups and working with the Government to maintain the fragile gains in the eastern part of the country, the Security Council was told today. “We will go on with this fight against all armed groups,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Martin Kobler said, referring to the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO) which he heads.

So what exactly does this mean when Kobler says, "this fight against all armed groups"? As it turns out, Kobler's peacekeeping operation was given the "power", so to speak.

UN News (2013):
In March, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

This report in Aljazeera America serves nicely to frame the impact debate.

Brooks (2013);
While the world's attention has been fixed on Syria over the past few weeks, the landscape of diplomacy quietly but radically evolved amid the dense green hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A flock of attack helicopters descended there on Aug. 28, in a town north of Goma, in the eastern region of the beleaguered Central African nation. The aircraft were filled with armed United Nations peacekeepers, along with Congolese military forces. The first-ever U.N. peacekeeping force with an offensive combat mandate – tasked with "neutralizing" and disarming rebel forces in one of the world's most intractable conflicts – was in action. Within two days, the peacekeepers and army had forced rebel militias threatening Goma to withdraw from the front lines. On Thursday, a rebel group known as M23 agreed to resume peace talks with the Congolese government. Despite the military and diplomatic gains, what impact the force will have on the ground in the eastern DRC remains to be seen – the country has suffered both internal and regional strife for decades. But the impact on peacekeeping is likely to be profound.

Yes, Oxymoron

As it turns out we are looking at an oxymoron. Either that or we need to define a new category of operations for UN forces.  But more importantly we, as Public Forum debaters need to consider the advocacy shift which has occurred and Pro must realize they must now support the status quo while Con must advocate for change. This is much more subtle than demanding Pro to advocate a negative position and tends to make coaches like me think the resolutions of late may be indicative the category is perilously adrift.

The Pro position is found by clicking here.

Unlinked Sources:

Brooks, C. (2013), UN tests combat brigade in Democratic Republic of Congo, Aljazeera America, September 6, 2013; accessed 12/3/2014

Dahl, R.A. (1957), The Concept of Power, Behavioral Science, 2:3 (1957:July)
p.201; accessed 12/3/2104

UN News Centre (2013), DR Congo: UN peacekeeping on offensive after defeat of M23, says senior UN official, 11 September, 2013; accessed 12/3/2013

Monday, November 17, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Pro Position

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

For part one of this series, click here.

Pro Position

Private (for-profit) prisons for adult offenders have been operating in the United States for at least three decades and juvenile offenders even longer and now the Pro position is calling for them to be banned.  They should not be scaled back or reformed or more tightly regulated.  They should be banned. To justify such a position there must be a compelling problem that scaling back, reformation or regulation will not solve.  For this article, I will include many of the expected positions dealing with economics and quality and I will look at the civil and moral implications of for-profit prisons, but the underlying theme will be, the existence of the profit motive as perhaps the biggest flaw of all.

No Cost Benefit

The Con cannot legitimately claim a cost benefit to allowing governments to shift prison operations to private entities.

Central to the argument in favor of privatization is the perceived inefficiency of labor costs in the operation of prisons. In using mostly nonunion labor and by controlling wages and fringe benefits, private prison companies maintain that they can efficiently reduce the costs of labor and thereby net substantial savings for the government. The promise of meaningful savings, however, is specious at best. Research to date has concluded that there is little evidence that privatization of prisons results in significant public savings. In a 1996 General Accounting Office (GAO) review of several comparative studies on private versus public prisons, researchers acknowledged, “because the studies reported little difference and/or mixed results in comparing private and public facilities, we could not conclude whether privatization saved money.”7 A study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) released in 2001 had similar conclusions, stating that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent” and “the promises of 20-percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.” These modest savings, furthermore, “will not revolutionize modern correctional practices.” [pages 1-2]

Cody Mason of the Sentencing Project cites a 2009 meta-analysis at the University of Utah looking at eight studies which concluded there was no clear fiscal advantage or disadvantage when compared to publicly managed prisons [Mason 2012:7]

Mason 2012:
Results vary somewhat, but when inconsistencies and research errors are adjusted the savings associated with investing in private prisons appear dubious. Even minimal savings are far from guaranteed, and many studies claiming otherwise have been criticized for their methodology. The available data belies the oft-claimed economic benefits of private contracting, and points to the practice being an unreliable approach toward financial stability.[page 17]

No Quality of Service Benefit

Con should not be able to cite any significant increase in the quality of care or services provided by private (for-profit) prison operations.  In the past, private prisons routinely degraded the quality of their services in the interest of higher profits [Austin & Coventry 2001:17]. To justify continued shift toward privatization in light of past abuses may require a genuine act of faith in the benevolence of corporations.

Austin & Coventry 2001:
The current movement to reprivatize primary facility management assumes that modern entrepreneurs are somehow more benevolent and humanistic so that the exploitations of the past will not reoccur (Walker, 1994). Critics, however, contend that privately managed facilities will bring new opportunities for corruption. Given poorly paid, undereducated, and inadequately trained staff, opponents question the professionalism and commitment that privatized staff will bring to the job.

[Alexander] Sasha Volokh wrote a revealing piece published in the Washington Post which examined the research which attempts to answer the question, "Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons?" [Volokh 2014]. Volokh compares several important aspects for determining which is measurably better.  Frustrated with the lack of good cost comparisons he looks at the question of quality of service.

Volokh 2013:
Moving on to quality comparisons, the picture is similarly grim. As with cost comparisons, sometimes no comparable facility exists in the same jurisdiction. Some studies solve that problem by looking at prisons in different jurisdictions, an approach that has its own problems. (If one had a large database with several prisons in each jurisdiction, one could control for the jurisdiction, but this approach is of course unavailable when comparing two prisons, each in its own jurisdiction.) Many studies just don’t control for clearly relevant variables in determining whether a facility is truly comparable. Often, the comparability problem boils down to differences in inmate populations; one prison may have a more difficult population than the other, even if they have the same security level. Usually prisons have different populations because of the luck of the draw, but sometimes it’s by design, as happened in Arizona, when the Department of Corrections chose “to refrain from assigning prisoners to [a particular private prison] if they [had] serious or chronic medical problems, serious psychiatric problems, or [were] deemed to be unlikely to benefit from the substance abuse program that is provided at the facility.” It’s actually quite common to not send certain inmates to private prisons; the most common restriction in contracts is on inmates with special medical needs.

The Profit Motive

One of the most important arguments which justify the Pro position is found in the profit motive.  Corporations are in business to make money and increase returns for their share-holders.  Granted, one may claim it is in the best interests of the corporation to provide quality services at a fair price, but in fact such balance for the long term is not normal.  The directors are driven to continually ratchet-up the returns.  In the prison industry, corporations can leverage the popular idiom, 'keep the criminal off the streets' to maximize profits.

Cheung 2004:
As an industry, private prison companies are beholden to the bottom line and maximization of profits. In a March 1997 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, CCA acknowledged that “the rate of construction of new facilities and the Company's potential for growth will depend on a number of factors, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in the United States.” Thus, higher profits require more inmates. And because most private prisons operate on a per diem rate for each bed filled, there is a financial incentive not only to detain more inmates but also to detain them for a longer period of time. The profit motive of private prison companies inherently creates a problematic entanglement between interest in profit and public policy. Corporate Contributions and Sentencing Policy-- Private prison companies deny that they are motivated to take proactive steps in pursuing legislation to keep their private facilities filled. Yet, both CCA and Wackenhut are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that supports conservative legislators. ALEC’s members include over 40% of all state legislators—representing a serious force in state politics. One of ALEC’s primary functions is the development of model legislation that advances conservative principles, such as privatization. Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many states “tough on crime” initiatives including “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws.[page 4]

Ari Melber, writing for MSNBC describes how cost-cutting by private prisons resulted in law suits filed in Mississippi when mentally ill inmates were denied food and medical care and in Florida, prisoner health care was cut up to 50% raising concerns of mistreatment [Melber 2014].

Melber 2014:
Many criminal justice experts say that a business built on incarceration can’t help but support incarceration. A 2011 report by the Justice Policy Institute, “Gaming The System,” documents how private prison companies, including CCA, have sought to advance “pro-incarceration” policies at the state and federal level. “Private prison companies have had either influence over, or helped to draft, model legislation such as three-strikes‛ and truth-in-sentencing‛ laws,” the report explains, “which have driven up incarceration rates.” 

It is also widely reported thanks to increasing incarceration of undocumented persons living in the U.S., private corporations are seeing large profit increases as more and more of these individuals are transferred to private facilities.

Shen 2012:
As the AP explains, these remarkable profits come in the wake of an equally remarkable lobbying campaign. In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits. 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored Arizona’s now mostly invalidated immigration law — which would have landed many more people in detention — received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA and GEO. According to a report released last year, CCA spent over $900,000 on federal lobbying and GEO spent between $120,000 to $199,992 in Florida alone during a short three-month span in 2011. $450,000 went to the Republican national and congressional committees, while Democrats received less than half that number. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were also among the private prison lobby’s top benefactors.

For those who wish to extend the impacts of this contention, I suggest going back and reread the January 2013 PF topic on the Citizens United decision.  The amount of political influence corporate America can "buy" is virtually unlimited if politicians are willing to open their hands.

Civil Responsibility

Corporations as well as people and governments have a responsibility to be good citizens under the social contract.  This generally means no one has the right to infringe the basic civil and human rights of others in society.  Many feel that prisoners give up their rights when they enter the penitentiary but that simply isn't true.  Many basic rights are retained founded in fundamental human rights.  For example, they retain the right to be safe, to not be denied health-care, to continue to receive basic human needs including sufficient sustenance. After all, the constitution does grant everyone should be free from cruel or unusual punishment. When these things are denied, social organizations along with prisoners will sue.  Some authors note an increasing number of lawsuits being filed charging private prison facilities with various civil offenses which many believe result from poorly constructed contracts between the government and the corporation and cost-cutting measures in the interest of increasing profits.

I am not going to include specific articles for this contention.  You will have no trouble finding many specific examples which speak to the horrors experienced by some prisoners and the lawsuits brought before the courts.  One import thing to consider, however is what happens if the corporation decides to shutdown a facility or files bankruptcy?  Think about it.

The Normative View

Until now we have tended to look to the practical measurables of cost, quality, and so forth.  We may also include in that evaluation, recidivism or numbers of violent incidents.  In most cases and as exposed by scholastic researchers, there are very few "good" studies from which one may draw an overwhelming conclusion.  The Pro may leverage these facts to conclude there is no reason to believe that for-profit prisons are capable of solving harms more effectively than government facilities.  Since the resolution states "should be banned" we are open to explore the normative question as to why for-profit prisons "should" be banned.  What important values are being harmed or is there a moral imperative to ban these corporations.

At the root of the value debate is the some-what repugnant notion it is okay for individuals to profit from the misery of others. On face it is a clear violation of Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative and the prohibition against using individuals as a mere means to an end. Most moral theorists recognize the necessity to punish criminals. This issue is, how the punishment is carried out and by whom is it carried out?  This is a tricky contention because addressing philosophical issues in Public Forum debate is not common so I caution against diving deeply into the discussion and losing the judge.

For example, consider the theory of justice espoused by John Rawls who suggested a thought experiment to determine if choices are just or moral.  If one was placed behind a veil of ignorance and did not know when the veil lifted would she be a free citizen or stand guilty of some crime, what choices would be made as to how the punishment should be carried out. Behind Rawls' veil where no one knows their status until the veil is lifted, people will tend to make choices which favor the least advantaged.

Dolovich 2005:
Behind the veil, the parties know nothing of their own social position or personal particulars, but they do know that they will have some conception of the good that they will want to realize. They also know that they are choosing principles of punishment for a partially compliant society, that is, a society with some measure of crime, where innocent people are sometimes wrongfully convicted and punished, and in which social goods are unjustly distributed. The parties will thus anticipate a threat to their security and integrity from both crime and punishment, and they will seek principles that best protect these goods...The parties will thus select those principles of punishment that provide the greatest possible protection for the security and integrity of the worst off. This means the parties would not agree to principles that could compromise the security and integrity of the worst off in order that other better-off members of society might satisfy their less urgent interest in accruing financial advantage—an interest that is less urgent because it is unconnected to the protection of anyone’s security and integrity.[page 465-466]

The impact for a government which allows its criminal justice system to operate in a way repugnant or immoral to its citizens is a loss of public trust and ultimately loss of legitimacy. Under the social contract, citizens have delegated the responsibility for criminal justice to the state to act as a neutral, unbiased administrator of justice.  Is it just or moral to hand that responsibility over to private concerns whose first motivation is profit? That is the basis of the normative debate.


Austin, J., Coventry, G. (2001). Emerging issues on privatized prisons. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; accessed 11/1/2014:

Cheung, Amy. 2004. Prison Privatization and the Use of Incarceration. The Sentencing Project, accessed 11/3/2014:

Dolovich, S. (2005) STATE PUNISHMENT AND PRIVATE PRISONS, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 55, No. 3, December 2005. Accessed 11/5/2014:

Mason, C, (2012); Too Good to be True Private Prisons in America, The Sentencing Project, January 2012; accessed 11/4/2014:

Melber, A (2014), Presumed guilty: How prisons profit off the ‘war on drugs’, MSNBC, 08/14/13 —Updated 07/29/14. Accessed 11/10/2014:

Shen, A. (2012), Private Prisons Spend $45 Million On Lobbying, Rake In $5.1 Billion For Immigrant Detention Alone, ThinkProgress, Aug 3, 2012, accessed 11/12/2014:

Volokh AS, Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons?, The Washington Post, February 2014. Accesssed 11/14/2014:

Note: the original Volokh report was published in 2013 under the following citation:
Volokh, A (2013), Prison accountability and performance measures, Emory Law Journal, Vol 63:339.  Accessed 11/10/2014:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Con Position

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

For part one of this series, click here.

Con Position

Many of the problems associated with private (for-profit) prisons are non-unique.  Housing individuals who have forfeited their right to move about freely in society is a tough and risky business, so Pro cannot claim many of the issues are strictly due to privatization.

Blumstein et al (2007):
Thus, by way of understatement, privatization of the delivery of governmental services has its critics and skeptics. Yet public management of public programs, such as prisons, hardly reflects a state of nirvana. There have been “widespread problems and deficiencies in many public prisons,” and a survey by the Harvard Law Review concluded that evidence “give[s] reason to be cautiously pleased with private prison performance.” Part of any analysis of the overall role of privatization must include an examination of the practical benefits that accrue from using private entities to provide public services. [page 3]

With that, we begin this analysis of the Con position.

Simplistic Laissez-Faire

A very simple view of the free market economy claims that by reducing barriers to entry into a market and lifting government restrictions, a kind of economic balance will be achieved, through competition, between supply and demand.  The result of this laissez-faire (open market) economy is market efficiency.  There is a view (for sure, a highly disputed view) that if left alone, the market will self-correct for its own deficiencies.  The catalyst for change is competition.  If prices are too high, competition tends to reduce prices. If services are inadequate, competition tends to favor those who provide better services. Thus, ideally, the market evolves and achieves equilibrium in prices, services, etc. I suppose the beauty of this theory of economics is that while cost-reduction in an effort to reduce prices may be the order of the day, the demand for better services will limit the reduction of quality services as a means of cost-cutting. Another important point, is over-sight and management come at a cost and few things on this earth levy a more costly over-sight than the government.

Blumstein et al (2007):
Cost-savings from privatization are generally attributed to (i) productive efficiencies inherent in private ownership and (ii) competition. These cost-savings arise from the relatively lower direct costs from private (as contrasted with public) management. The traditional focus of analysis has been on the cost-saving contribution that accrues directly from the differing incentives15 and institutional constraints16 that face private and governmental management. As a result, the emphasis in analysis and policy discussion has been on the direct contribution to programmatic cost-saving from private management as a competitor of and substitute for governmental management.[page 4]

Obviously, market efficiencies will be disputed by the Pro, who will claim there is no cost savings and the quality of services is less in privately run institutions.  However, all cost comparisons are extremely difficult due to the problems inherent in fully differentiating the source of costs.  For example, in some jurisdictions, the government incurs higher regulatory costs that other jurisdictions.  In addition, truly independent studies are difficult to find.  While Blumstein and his colleagues were commissioned by the Corrections Corporation of America, a supplier of private prison services, the Blumstein reports were published in peer-reviewed journals and are widely cited.  The Blumstein team's methodology has been clearly described and reviewed.  Even if the judge seems reluctant to accept the Blumstein reports, other truly independent studies have been conducted.

Kirchoff 2010:
In 1996, lawmakers instructed the Bureau of Prisons to conduct a five-year demonstration project comparing the cost of public prisons versus a private prison in Taft, CA. The Bureau of Prisons did its own follow-up evaluation and also paid for an independent analysis by consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. The two reports produced findings that were significant enough that DOJ officials in 2008 held a special meeting to discuss approaches in methodology regarding the issue.115 For example, the Abt report said the private Taft facility was cheaper to run than three comparable public facilities, noting that in 2002 the average cost of the public facilities was  14.8% above that of the private prison. The Bureau of Prisons found, however, that the average cost of the public facilities in 2002 was only 2.2% more than the private prison.[page 23]

In her report to the Congressional Research Service, Kirchoff cites a Department of Justice report which concluded a 1% cost savings along with lower quality of service [page 23-24]. Kirchoff also cites the 2007 New Mexico study which showed the state paid more than necessary for private prisons due to unnecessary adjustments for inflation [page 24].  This illustrates the difficulties inherent in price comparison.  Just looking at dollars does not always tell the true story.  Kirchoff continues:

Kirchoff 2010:
Kevin Campbell of independent investment firm Avondale Partners says costs and potential cost savings vary widely from state to state.121 Based on his analysis, some state governments have tight oversight and may post significant savings by contracting out with private firms that pay lower salaries and do not offer pension benefits equivalent to those for public workers. He also says states can realize significant savings by shipping prisoners to existing, private institutions in other states, rather than building new prisons of their own.[page 24]

More specific to laissez-faire economics, does it work?  Consider this report.

Miller (2010):
Following along the lines of the capitalist model of competition previously suggested as a benefit of private prisons, Segal and Moore (2002) show that the introduction of privatization urges managers (both from public and private facilities) to implement cost-effective strategies while maintaining quality of services to remain competitive. They examine 28 studies and report that 22 show a significant savings without impacting quality when compared to public prisons. These 28 studies extensively compared across multiple variables; furthermore, "many of them went to great lengths to compensate for the differences between compared facilities and to develop useful comparison figures" (Segal & Moore). The authors conclude, "it is remarkable that such a wide variety of approaches spanning over a decade and a half of research conducted in states across the nation repeatedly come to the same conclusion: that privatization saves money without reducing quality . . . . Thus the extreme one-sidedness of this literature—near-universal findings of cost savings from privatization—is on its own very persuasive" (Segal and Moore, 2002b). Some quality issues noted include better living environments and improved prisoner-guard relations.

Reason for Banning?

Perhaps Pro can make a very rational argument for-profit prisons should be banned if they are costing society more money than spent on public prisons.  But is that really a reason to ban them?  Pro would need to establish some kind of standard for determining when the costs become excessive.  For example, are the costs resulting in higher than usual taxes? Is there great public outcry about the costs?  I spent a lot of time and space in the previous section to show at worse the cost of privatization is, perhaps, no greater than the cost of managing a public prison system and much of the evaluation of the costs are difficult to compare across jurisdictions. The economics argument is more exacerbated by the public acceptance of the incarceration of non-violent offenders (such as drug users) and longer prison terms which drives up the prison populations at a much greater cost to society as a whole. Other reasons may be found if the Pro can prove there is something inherently flawed in utilization of private services which harms public safety or denies inmates their civil or natural rights more so than what is seen in public facilities.

Dangerous Conditions

Pro will cite unsafe conditions, both for the public, the employees of the prison and the inmates which arise for various reasons; most notably, under-staffed or under-trained employees and improperly designed facilities.  However, while there are several examples of tragedies related to private prisons, it is easy to lose sight of the fact one of the key motivations for turning to private facilities results from extreme overcrowding in substandard, public facilities. These conditions result in danger to staff and inmates, especially when non-violent offenders are not adequately separated from violent inmates.

Consider as well, the situation in California where prisoners "sued the governor and corrections officials for violating their rights under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause because they were being deprived of adequate health care" [Spector 2010:194].

Spector 2010:
Nearly five years after the Plata court placed California’s prisons in partial receivership and after the Coleman court issued more than seventy additional orders to improve mental health care, California’s prisoners remain at serious risk of injury or death because medical and mental health care remain abysmal. There is one primary reason why neither the state nor the receiver has been able to improve prison health care—overcrowding...Severe overcrowding makes the safe operation of a prison system nearly impossible. “Everything revolves around overcrowding. The deficiencies in the classification plan, the deficiencies in the unavailability of staff because they are doing other tasks associated with overcrowding problems to do onsite medical appointments or offsite medical appointments, the wear and tear on the infrastructure.” [page 194]

Spector goes on the describe a state of California proclamation that California was experiencing an over-crowding state of emergency which "“has caused substantial risk to the health and safety of the men and women who work inside these prisons and the inmates housed in them,” making prisons places of “extreme peril to the safety of persons.” {Spector 2010:194]

To ease overcrowding, and when private facilities are not available to take up the slack, government officials are forced to take other steps to alleviate the situation.

Daily Mail 2013:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end despite warnings by Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials that a public safety crisis looms if they're forced to open the prison gates. A majority of justices refused an emergency request by the governor to halt a lower court's directive for the early release of the prisoners to ease severe overcrowding at California's 33 adult prisons.

The obvious solution for many states has been and continues to be to turn to the competitive market place for solutions.  Private contractors are willing to build the facilities, train the staff and house the inmates for the opportunity to make a profit.

Montague 2001:
Without new prisons, law enforcement officials will be forced to make difficult decisions about which dangerous criminals should be incarcerated and which should be allowed back onto the street. Unfortunately, because of tight budgets and other pressing needs, building enough government run prisons to safely hold the increasing inmate population is not financially feasible. A new study from the Washington Policy Center offers a sensible solution to this problem. "Private Prisons: A Sensible Solution" suggests allowing private contractors to compete for prison construction and management contracts. Allowing private companies to compete does not mean giving over control of prisoners to big corporations. Sentencing and oversight would be managed by the state, but taxpayers would benefit from the competitive pressures introduced by private competition.

Lessor of Evils

Generally, the public has little interest in how prisoners are treated.  I mean, everyone has a certain expectation that prisoners within the U.S. will be treated humanely but few people expect prisons to be pleasant retreats.  Often, when a convicted criminal is led from the court room to his or her fate, the public turns its gaze away from the inmate.  It's only when the "distant" world of prison justice intrudes upon our lives with requests for higher taxes, or when a prison riot erupts, or when an escape occurs does the public react.  Without for-profit prisons, the government must still deal with ever-increasing prison populations one way or another and over-crowding presents risks to staff and public as well as violate the human rights of the prisoners.  We also see that one obvious solution, the release of prisoners, is not favorable to the government or the public.  Private prisons provide a solution to a very real problem which in and of itself may introduce other kinds of problems the case is made it is the lessor of two evils.


Daily Mail (2013), Nearly 10,000 California prisoners to be released early to ease severe overcrowding, accessed at Mail Online 11/11/2014:

Kirchoff, S (2010), Economic IMpacts of Prison Growth, Congrssional Research Service, 7-5700., R41177 , April 13, 2010, accessed 11/2/2014:

Miller, DW (2010), The Drain of Public Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization: An Analysis of State Correctional Systems, ProQuest Discovery Guides, Released February 2010, accessed 11/4/2014:

Montague, E. (2001), Private Prisons: A sensible solution, Washington Policy Center, August, 2001; accessed 11/12/2014:

Segal, GF; Moore, AT (2002) Weighing the Watchmen: Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Outsourcing, Correctional Services, Part I: Employing a Best-value Approach to Procurement, Reason Public Policy Institute, Policy Study No. 289., Accessed 11/4/2014:

Spector, D (2010), Everything Revolves Around Overcrowding: The State of California’s Prisons, Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 22, No.3, February 2010, accessed 11/10/2014:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Introduction

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.


The reason for this resolution is pretty straightforward.  The prison system in the United States is part of the U.S. Criminal Justice System, which is comprised of three major institutions: law enforcement, the courts system, and corrections, which most commonly consists of probation or incarceration. (src: FindLaw)

It is the incarceration (imprisonment) portion of the criminal justice system we are dealing with in this resolution.  For relevant background, no doubt you have heard of the social contract, the philosophical idea that people form governments to protect their rights and liberties from infringement by others.  Thus people relinquish some of their absolute freedoms to an authority which in-turn agrees to defend those freedoms which are not relinquished.  As a result the government ends up protecting its citizens from foreign invaders and other citizens who are inclined to deprive the rest of the citizens of their lives, properties, or rights; by breaking laws established to prevent such activities.  The law often requires violators to be imprisoned (presumably as a deterrent) for a prescribed length of time.  So...all of these responsibilities, enforcing the law, determining if there have been violations and acting to correct those violations are considered responsibilities of the government. It is a huge, expensive undertaking which requires budgets which are derived either from taxes or deficit spending and so, there is a major incentive to reduce costs, just like in the private sector. Therefore, when private companies offered to provide prison services at a lower price, and considering, that other countries successfully contract prison services to private firms, it seems like a no-brainer way to reduce costs and provide the same level of service.

I think it worth noting, that prison systems were pretty much always intended to operate in such a way that they covered their costs.  Paying for the food and housing costs of criminals at public expense has never been a popular idea.

Austin & Coventry 2001:
For most of the correctional history of the United States, prison labor was expected to generate a profit for the institution. If generating a profit was not feasible, it was incumbent upon the prisoner to pay the costs of incarceration and become self-supporting. The “managers” of early detention facilities charged their inmates for food and clothing, while providing substandard service. The income generated by inmate labor, however, was not sufficient to cover the high costs of operating correctional systems, despite persistent and intense efforts to make the system pay for itself (Feeler, 1991). Without independent oversight and monitoring, the convict labor system eventually succumbed to bribery and corruption.

In the 1970's more and more facilities were operated by private firms to "house" juvenile offenders and in the 1980's the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued contracts to private concerns to detain individuals who had entered the country illegally, followed by the first county-level corrections facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in Hamilton Country Tennessee (Austin & Conventry, 2001:12)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at the end of 2013 an aggregate of 8% of the prison population was housed in private prisons.

"The total number of state and federal prisoners housed in private facilities decreased 3%, from 137,200 at yearend 2012 to 133,000 at yearend 2013. Private prisons held 7% of the total state prison population and 19% of the federal prison population on December 31, 2013."

It seems privatization of the prison systems has not grown into a huge industry and I think student researchers will find there has been a lot of opposition from unions and existing justice system employees who are opposed to privatization for obvious reasons.  Government jobs can be nice, with good pay and great benefits and no one wants their job outsourced.  Of course, this resolution is not about how big the industry has become, but rather about whether these kinds of for-profit systems should be allowed to operate in the first place.


Profit, For-Profit
Something that is designated "for-profit", according to Merriam-Webster, is established, maintained or conducted for the purpose of making a profit and "profit" is money made in a business after all expenses are paid. We could qualify the definition somewhat and state the intent of a for-profit entity is to earn a profit even though they may fail to do so.  Nevertheless, even if a concern is operating in the "red" (i.e. losing money) if it intends to make a surplus of money as soon as possible, it is considered a "for-profit" concern.

We pretty much all know and understand what a prison is and its purpose.  A prison is a place from which one cannot escape. In the context of criminal justice, it is place of confinement in which people are held pending trial or held after conviction as a form of punishment.

For-Profit Prison
Based upon the previous definitions, we can define a for-profit prison as a prison who purpose is to make a profit. Profits should not be considered evil.  It is through the use of profits that corporations can expand and offer more services or additional facilities which employ more people.

United States
No doubt we do not need to define the United States because the majority of people debating and judging this debate will understand the meaning.  However, for what it is worth, we can note that "United States" is not restricted to the fifty states. It includes all states and territories under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Criminal Justice System.  We need not split hairs over federal versus state-level justice systems.  All U.S. government (federal, state, local and military) justice systems are fair game.

to ban
The verb to ban basically means to prohibit something and we can infer from the context, the prohibition is a matter of law.  In other words, the U.S. should outlaw for-profit prisons.

should be banned
Recently, I had a brief discussion of this kind of wording of PF topics with another coach in our district who is concerned about the use of "normative statements" in Public Forum debate. The problem with normative statements is they require value judgements which can never be objectively proven right or wrong.  Normative statements are common in Lincoln-Douglas debate, not Public Forum. For example, if this resolution was worded "The disadvantages of for-profit prisons in the United States outweigh the benefits" it would likely engender the intended debate without the normative component.  Typically, this has not been a real problem in debates I have seen, which tend to hold to traditional PF intentions and the language of the resolution wording is rarely debated except when issues of scope or context are at stake. Nevertheless, I think for this topic a value framework could provide a reasonable weighing mechanism for judges.

The Pro position is here.
For the Con position click here


Austin, J; Coventry, G; 2001; Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons, Bureau of Justice Assistance, February 2001 Monograph NCJ 181249