Beyond Scared Straight Good or Bad?

Beyond Scared Straight airing on the A&E Network has stirred up controversy from those thinking the confrontational tactics seen on the show only make things worse for at risk kids.

Beyond Scared Straight which is being shown on the A&E Network which shows teenagers being confronted at prisons by inmates telling them what to expect if they are imprisoned.

The inmates are very confrontational with the teenagers especially with anyone that smiles or has a smirk on their face. They tell them in no uncertain terms what they can expect if they are given a prison sentence.

The inmates also talk to the teenagers one on one giving them guidance and what to expect in a more low key conversation simply telling them about the mistakes they made and how some of them in for murder will spend their entire life in jail.

I have seen some followup stories on some of those kids after they return home from their prison visit and the ones I have seen seem to have changed their attitudes. They also have learned to say no to those who might lure them into situations which could land them in prison.

One teenage boy is looking into qualifying for the Marines after graduating from high school. Joining the service sometimes is the only option for some teenagers to avoid a life of crime and ultimately a prison sentence.

An even younger boy was shown working in the yard and was telling how if others teenagers wanted to do something that could get him in trouble he told them no.

Speaking for myself  I think this is a good program but there are those who oppose the program saying it will only make things worse for them.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has issued this statement regarding the broadcast of shows which bring kids into a prison environment to scare them.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is concerned that the A&E program “Beyond Scared Straight” misrepresents the effectiveness of such interventions with youthful offenders. Although advertisements for the show claim Scared Straight! is “an effective juvenile prevention/intervention program,” social science research clearly demonstrates the opposite. In fact, research strongly suggests Scared Straight! and similar programs have a harmful impact on youth and are associated with increased risk for continued delinquent/criminal behaviors. Further, it is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.

My viewpoint is that these shows cause no harm and if they keep one teenager out of prison they are worthwhile. Sometimes being scared is a good thing if it keeps someone from a life of crime.

Producer Arnold Shapiro of Beyond Scared Straight was the producer of  Big Brother from 2001-2006. He defends Beyond Scared Sraight with this statement:

“The kids in Beyond Scared Straight are chosen by youth counselors, teachers, family members.  If these people saw no results they would stop doing it,” Shapiro adds.  “The kids show an array of reactions in the prison.  But they didn’t just walk out and forget about it.”

He goes on to explain, “We talk to the kids on a weekly basis, sometimes up to a year after filming, before we lock the final edit. We checked in with them and they were doing just fine.”

Shapiro also admits that Scared Straight shouldn’t necessarily be the first choice for those seeking to help troubled kids.  “It’s a last resort.  Counselors will tell you it’s a valuable tool in an arsenal of tools,” he says.

Now California and Maryland have suspended the “scared straight” programs in those states after the U.S. Justice Department warned they could lose federal funding if they continued the programs.

If all else fails the U.S. government will and in this case has pulled out  the old “we will stop your funding threat” card.

Whether these programs continue or not apparently is at the mercy of the federal government. Threatening to withhold federal funding will probably bring any scared straight programs to a screeching halt.

Once more the federal government has decided for us what is good and what is bad for us. The families who have seen a change in their kids after they participated in the prison visits can only be thankful they were able to enroll their kids in the program before the Justice Department decided we don’t need programs that help our kids change into law abiding citizens before they embark on a life of crime.

My opinion for what it is worth is that the scared straight programs serve a useful purpose in preventing kids from hanging out with the wrong crowd and appreciating their parents and other adults who are looking out for their best interests.

Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

4 thoughts on “Beyond Scared Straight Good or Bad?”

    1. Stevi…It probably would be best to check with the juvenile court system in your state to see if they even have a program like that in your state. It sure seemed to help most of the kids on the Beyond Scared Straight after coming back from the prison.

  1. Society as it is now, in its entirety, has failed to properly and socialy educate its youth when it comes to distinguishing right from wrong. Youth have been allowed to roam wildly without the fear of consequences. Unruly youth only respect those who help them drop out of school and join “Families who will “take care” of them,” such as a gang. Schools are blamed for not educating the unruly student who does not want to be in a classroom. Students with high absenteism with there parents are called before the truancy boards, but the it is the parent who is punished for the students behavior. If the government won’t stand with the counselors, psychologists, law enforcement agencies, prison authorities, and or the inmates themselves to help others make better choices for themselves, then this world is headed straight to hell. The government should start finding more locations to build more prisons to encarcerate those who could have been saved. I believe that with the lack of direction our youth are faced with, that a mandatory ONE YEAR of military service be instituted to all youth male and female to begin to think about their futures.
    I have a daughter serving time for her aggressive, violent, drug addiccted behavior, and for breaking and entering, she smiled and thought everything was funny. She would not head advice from anyone. I have not had any contact with her since August of 2010. I do not plan to communicate with her until she has changed her life style. I’m prepared for the possibility that she may neveer changed, but I keep praying for her. I love her, I brought her into this world, but she fell in the wrong crowd.
    Soyla Reyna-Smith

    1. Thank you Soyla for your comment. Your comment is one of the best I have ever read regarding the youth who hang with the wrong crowd and the consequences which go along with that lifestyle. Those close to the situation like you can say it better than anyone who has not been in that situation having a child in prison. Only you know the pain that goes with knowing your daughter is in prison. A great idea about having all youth serve a year in the armed services and some may even stay and make a career in the armed services.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s