Conclusion

I looked up the ratings for each episode of the show to see what, if any impact the controversy may have had on the ratings.  What I found was that compared to other shows during the Thursday night time slot, Beyond Scared Straight was unfailingly fairing well.  It was consistently being ranked as being one of the top ten shows for the night.

I also noticed that ratings have been dropping with each new episode.  For example, Season 1 premiered with 3.7 million viewers, Season 2 premiered with 2.7 million and Season 3 premiered with 2.1 million viewers.  I do not believe this is necessarily in relation to the controversy.  I believe there are other outside factors that could explain for the drop in ratings.  It simply could be that the show is no longer a “new” concept and people have somewhat “grown tired” of the show.

After speaking with several fans of the show, I discovered that most people tuned in every week because they enjoyed watching the teens break down.  After getting a short introduction to each child at the beginning of the episode, they were curious as to how the program would effect each teen.  None of the fans were aware of the controversy and were somewhat shocked to hear that states were taking steps to suspend the programs.  Each person I spoke with felt that the program did more good than harm and that these at-risk teens needed to get such “harsh” reality checks because obviously more subtle means had proven less successful.  None of the fans I spoke with agreed with officials wanting to pull the plug on the programs.  They all believed that the show has proven that the programs do offer high success rates and that even if one teen was saved, it was worth the time and effort of all those involved.

Though there are many arguments for and against the program, government officials have decided that the programs have proven ineffective and such programs should cease running.  The government relies on studies and select organizations/individuals to advise them in policy making.  An overwhelming number of studies have shown that such juvenile awareness programs do more harm than good for teens and our society.  Studies show that the programs actually increase recidivism, decrease deterrence and may encourage deviant behaviors.  Studies have also found that such programs cause emotional and mental harm.  Juvenile advocacy groups have gathered together and created petitions asking A&E to cancel the show.  They believe airing the show helps promote a program that does not work and encourages people to invest in programs that they shouldn’t.

I believe the main factor that has pushed states such as California and Maryland to suspend their programs is the fact that the programs may violate federal laws, which prohibit court-involved youth from being detained, confined or otherwise having contact with adult inmates in jails and prisons.  Funding is very important to correctional facilities.  If they do not obey federal laws, these facilities may face fines and a drastic cut in funding.  In fear of losing funding, I believe states have begun suspending the scared straight programs and turned to conducting meticulous evaluations of such programs.

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Pros vs Cons

Even though I have provided you with various links that give you information regarding the pros and cons of the program, I decided to create a chart for easy comparison.  I used 3 sources to compile this information: (1) the study conducted by the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, Anthony Schembri, (2) a book written by William Chambliss about juvenile crime and justice, and (3) a fact sheet released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

All information on this chart is based on public opinion and the results from the various studies that have been conducted on the behind bars programs.

I have highlighted in red, the one negative factor that I believe is the real cause on why a couple of states have decided to suspend their programs.

Inside Scoop

In the beginning, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do something with the show Beyond Scared Straight.  I wanted to explore the ways in which the show was engaging; so I thought I would look into why the show was so popular.  I was going to conduct interviews to figure out what exactly about the show people liked.  Did more people tune in when the inmates were more aggressive?  That is why I questioned those 2 episodes I posted on my blog, one from season 1 and the other from season 2.  Season 1 was definitely more “subdued” than season 2.  I was wondering if the production team had anything to do with that difference.  But then I found a video of an interview that Shapiro did with the VP of A&E talking about how there was no script whatsoever and that the inmates and correctional officers received no instruction on how to act or what to say.  Then I found a transcript of another interview that Shapiro did, talking about what viewers should expect in the “new” season (season 2) of the show.  That is when I found out that in season 1, he had showcased programs in prisons whereas season 2 showcased programs in jails.  He wanted to show the public that jails can be as hardcore as prisons.

I dug a little deeper, I asked fans for their perspective and I read each and every post on a blog, discussion board and forum.  That is when I discovered that there were an even amount of people who did not like the show to those who did.  Being that I like the show, I was curious as to see why people disliked it.  That is when I realized that people were arguing and discussing in these various chat rooms about the effectiveness of the “behind bars” programs.

When I conducted a little more research, I found that this controversy was much bigger than I had originally thought.  There were juvenile advocacy groups and other organizations that were appalled by the show and were adamantly against the programs.  I had no idea the show was getting such attention.

I decided to ask fans if they knew about this controversy and if this debate encouraged/discouraged them from watching the show.   If so, I wanted to look into how exactly controversy works for/against ratings.  But after interviewing fans, I found out that most of them did not know of the controversy.  They simply watched it because of the entertainment value in watching cocky teens get a harsh reality check.  When I asked these fans if they would stop/continue watching the show now that they knew of the controversy, they all told me that it did not effect their choice to continue watching the show.

This led me to look further into the controversy and that is when I read all the different studies that have been conducted on the various programs across the United States.  I found more websites of advocacy groups and agencies that condemned the usage of the programs.  These groups were doing everything they could to get the show off air and to have all states stop running the programs.

This whole process was like peeling the skin off an onion.  The more skin I peeled, the more skin I found.

That is when I decided to look into the controversy issue.  I wanted to see what exactly these organizations were doing to get the show pulled off air.  I also wanted to see what they had done or planned to do in order to get each state to stop running the scared straight programs.

Strong Ratings

Season 3 of Beyond Scared Straight premiered on Dec 8th.  Based on the ratings provided by TVbytheNumbers, the show pulled in 2.1 million viewers, 0.9 being in the Adult 18-49 group.  Compared to the other shows that aired that Thursday night, Beyond Scared Straight did very well with ratings.  If it wasn’t for a football game and a couple of Christmas themed movies, Beyond Scared Straight would have been the top rating show for the night.

Agree To Disagree

There seems to be a lot of debate on the effectiveness of the program.  There is no straight right or wrong answer.  Everyone seems to have their own reasons/perspectives on why the program works/fails.  Based on the information that I have come across, this is what it boils down to:

For the program: Teachers, parents, police officers, prison/jail wardens, school guidance counselors, teens who went through the program or knew someone who went through it

Against the program: Academia, researchers, government officials, juvenile advocacy groups

A blog dedicated to helping parents improve their parenting skills talks about the scared straight program.  In the blog, they are not for nor against the program.  It simply states the facts that have been presented for both sides and asks the parents to weigh their options and make an informed and thoughtful decision.

Arnold Shapiro has stated many times that the program should be used as a last resort.  In an interview with Youth Today, Shapiro spoke about his take on the effectiveness of the program.  He believes the program does in fact work based on the follow-up results from his Scared Straight! documentary and based on the fact that so many teachers, parents and counselors eagerly continue to utilize the program.

No matter which blog site or forum you are on, the same inconsistency appears; half of the public seem to praise the program while the other half condemn anyone who uses it.  But who is right?  What matters more: public opinion or statistics?  What measures should be used to assess the effectiveness of a program?  If a study proclaims fail but someone has personally seen it work, does that mean the program is still an epic fail?  Some believe deterring at least one teen is worth the effort while others believe people should focus on all those teens that the program didn’t work on.  Will this issue ever be settled?

Program Doesn’t Work

The Secretary of the Florida Dept of Juvenile Justice compiled a bunch of studies that were done on the behind bars programs.  All the studies found that the programs actually increased recidivism rates, decreased deterrence rates and did not effect the teens in any positive way.

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) which is a non-profit organization that works at the state and national levels to advise government officials during policy making, created a fact sheet on how the program does not work.  They state the program doesn’t deter a teen from being deviant, the program actually costs the tax payers a lot more money than what is let on and simply, the program is not effective.  In addition, the CJJ put out a position statement to advise and warn people that the program is actually harmful to our teens and our society as a whole.

In an article written in The Daily Beast, the author writes: “In addition to Maryland’s action, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation suspended its program as a direct result of one of three episodes filmed there, a spokesperson told The Washington Post, but Shapiro said that, like in Maryland, California’s programs are reviewed regularly and “are coming back” after making sure “the programs are in compliance.” He added, “What the media or critics or anybody has made out of this thing—the shows are airing and programs are getting shut down—it’s just not true.”   States are suspending their behind bars programs but Shapiro insists that the suspensions have nothing to do with the studies.  He argues that it is routine for programs to be evaluated and it is simply a matter of time before the programs are restarted again.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) feel that the program definitely does more harm than good.  Arnold Shapiro reacts to the statement released by the NCJFCJ and argues that the program does in fact work because if youth counselors, teachers, parents and police officers didn’t believe in the program and they “saw no results they would stop doing it.”

There are even juvenile advocacy groups that are calling for the cancellation of the show.  They believe the show promotes child abuse and are appalled at the fact that these “graphic” images are used for entertainment purposes.  Such advocacy groups have created petitions for people to sign to push A&E into pulling the show off air.

Real Life Drama

“Real life. Drama” is the slogan that A&E uses.  Arnold Shapiro repeatedly mentions that his show Beyond Scared Straight is not a reality show and does not go for a “wow” factor.  It is not in any way scripted and it captures actual events as is.  He adamantly expresses that none of the officers, teens or inmates are directed to say or act in a particular way.  Shapiro pushes the fact that his show has authenticity and that the cameras are simply there to capture what normally happens at these behind bars programs.

Season 3 of Beyond Scared Straight started on Dec 8th.  In this episode, you will see just how intense the program is.  Teenage boys, as young as 12 years old, spend one night at a South Carolina jail where they are continuously woken up every 2 hours to do various PT (physical training) drills.  Throughout their stay, the officers are literally screaming in the ears of the teens, trying to teach them that every bad action has a consequence.

There are various “behind bars” programs all across the country.  Some of the programs focus on counseling and mentoring while other programs use fear tactics and intimidation.  Those that believe in the behind bars program feel that the program works no matter which tactic is used: intimidation or counseling.  Based on the show, various discussion boards and forums, those that support the programs seem to be those that are in contact with the teens on a daily basis.  They have witnessed first-hand the attitude and behavior changes and would quickly recommend this program to anyone seeking assistance.  Others that support the programs are those that actually went through it themselves or know of someone who went through it.  This blog post argues that the programs are ineffective and that they are glad that some officials have decided to no longer fund the various scared straight programs.  But what I find more interesting are the responses written by the people.  Most of them argue that the program does work and the comments made by “Doctor D” are of particular interest.  In one of many responses, Doctor D posts: You say research, what research and who are doing the researching. I have coached, and mentored many kids in my lifetime, and different things work for different kids. This kids I repeat are at risk kids who parents believe this is what they need. They are there everyday with their children, and do not know what else to do. I have watch all the shows and it seems to me most of the kids said that going through the program helped them. You say that the inmates were threatening the children, but they merely were stating the fact. This is what they can expect if they continue on their negative paths. You have kids pulling knives on their mothers,cussing out their principals,swinging on guards, totally, disrespecting their parents. These kids needed a wakeup call. My brother works at the County Jail and according to him the younger inmates get the most discipline because of their attitude problems. I reiterate my point, this program work for these particular kids.  There are many other discussion boards, where people speak of the wonders of the program.

 

A vast majority of those that are against the programs seem to be from academia.  They reference studies to prove that the programs do not work.  The studies show that teens become more prone to a life of crime after they have been exposed to prison life.  Teens grow up idolizing inmates and aspire to gain the power and respect that the inmates show off during the prison visits.  For a teen, it is cool to be feared, respected and have done time in jail.

Cesare Beccaria, the father of classical criminal theory argued that punishment needs to be swift, certain and severe in order for a behavior change to occur.  If a punishment is not swift, certain AND severe, a person will not learn the cause and effect of bad behavior and its consequences.  Critics argue that the behind bars programs focus ONLY on the severity of an action; they do not deliver swift or certain punishment.  Studies also have found that teens live in the now and are only preoccupied with instant gratification/punishment.  So how can they learn if these programs make them think about the future when they are only capable of thinking about the present?

However people may feel about the effectiveness of the programs, the government relies on studies to determine how much funding to provide to various agencies and correctional facilities.  Based on the show, the outcry from the public but mainly based on the studies that have been conducted, the government has determined that such programs are not effective in reducing deviant behavior among teens and some officials have gone as far as threatening to cut funding to correctional facilities unless they cease the operation of the behind bars program.  California and Maryland have already suspended their behind bars programs.

“Behind bars” program

The individuals that are for the program are mostly those that are directly in contact with the at-risk teens (parents, teachers, counselors, police officers, etc).  There are many sources, such as books, websites and Shapiro himself who feel that the programs are effective.  They believe the programs do in fact increase the rate of deterrence and that the proof is in the changes that occur within the teens immediately after the prison visit.

Those that are against the program feel that it does more harm than good for the teens.  They feel the program mentally and emotionally hurts the teens and that the intimidation and fear evoking tactics are “inhumane.”  Many refer to studies that have been conducted that prove these programs show no effectiveness towards deterring a teen.  These studies have pushed government officials to suspend such programs in their states.

Controversial Shows

Here is a list of controversial shows, past and present.  As stated in a previous post, controversy can act as a double-edged sword; it can help a show gain ratings or help it get cancelled.  From these shows, which are the ones that got hurt by controversy?

Beavis and Butthead (1993 – 1997) – promotes dangerous behavior, violence, sex

The Simpsons (1987 – Present) – Bart (poor role model), dysfunctional family

Ren and Stimpy (1991 – 1996) – violence, harsh language

Cops (1989 – Present) – focuses on crime among poor

The Smothers Brothers (1967 – 1969) – racist, Vietnam War

Married…with Children (1987 – 1997) – sexist, dysfunctional family

Southpark (1997 – Present) – harsh language, violence, dark humor

Family Guy (1999 – 2002 & 2005 – Present) – racist, offensive language, violence

Jackass (2000 – 2002) – promotes dangerous behavior

$64,000 Question (1955 – 1958) – rigged quiz show

Jersey Shore (2009 – Present) – promiscuity, binge drinking, portrayal of Italian-Americans

Expedition Robinson (1997 – Present) – Sinisa Savija committed suicide

Welcome to the Neighborhood (never aired)

Scared Straight! 1978

I watched the original documentary done in 1978 to see how it compared to the show on A&E.

Here are a couple of clips from the documentary:

Warning! – it is not censored so there WILL be offensive material and language

 

Part 2 of 10

 

Part 4 of 10

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