Archive for Controversy

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)


Everyone knows that controversy sells.  Look at what happened with UK’s Celebrity Big Brother.  The show was getting poor ratings until a couple of the contestants made a racist remark towards a fellow contestant, an Indian actress.  The remark received tons of media coverage, which in turn helped boost the show’s ratings.

MTV was hoping that its new show, Skins, based on a hit British show about the “true” lives of teenagers would be a huge hit.  Skins, would cover controversial topics, such has promiscuity and drug abuse.  When people started talking about the show and its risque content, MTV was sure it would become a hit. So it was a major disappointment when the show had to be cancelled due to extremely low ratings.

This website lists the top 20 greatest TV controversies.  All 20 are interesting but #16 clearly tells you that the controversy helped with ratings.  Drama and shock value draw audiences in.  Even though it was unfortunate that one of the contestants of Expedition Robinson committed suicide, we learned in class that the incident caused a stir among the public which in turn drastically increased the ratings for the show.  However, it must not be forgotten that controversy can act as a double-edged sword.  Controversies have the potential to cause the demise of shows.  Recent shows such as NBC’s The Playboy Club and ABC’s V were both cancelled due to the controversies surrounding each show.

I’ve already stated in a previous post that there has been much controversy with Beyond Scared Straight regarding the effectiveness of the various “behind bars” programs in America.  I want to look at how the controversy effected the ratings for the show.

These are the ratings I found for the show.  I got them from TVbytheNumbers; they had the ratings spread across 4 pages and I put them together for easier viewing.  There really doesn’t seem to be a spike in the ratings.  Does this mean that the controversy didn’t really effect the ratings?