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.