Our Story

The Justice Debate League was started in 2017 by a group of former collegiate debaters who connected over their common desire to see competitive forensics move behind bars. 


Though we all came from different states, schools and formats, we shared the vision of bringing the opportunities we had on our debate teams to people for whom the skills, knowledge and opportunities would surely be life-changing and liberating.


We are not the only debaters who know how impactful debating can be, and we are not the only debaters who believe that bringing debate behind bars is a powerful move toward justice and equality.  So we started working. 


In April of 2017, we began coaching in our first facility: a youth prison outside of Chicago.  The team has been successful, they love the opportunities they have had to compete, and their competitive success has fueled dreams of accessing higher education as well as the confidence that they can.


In fall of 2017, we started in our first adult facility.  The experience has been incredible. The men in Stateville Correctional Center love the chance to learn.  They had been asking for a debate team in the facility for years – something, we have found, is true in lots of correctional centers. 


Since beginning our first teams, we have grappled with the system, developed training for coaches beginning new teams in prisons, developed resources for incarcerated debaters, and navigated a variety of correctional systems so that we can confidently lead others in doing the same. We hope that you share our vision of making debate accessible to anyone who wants to participate, and that you want to be a part of making this vision a reality.