Posts Tagged ‘behind bars program’

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.

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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.

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.

Ratings

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?

What do you think?

1. Why do you like watching Beyond Scared Straight? 

Here are some questions to consider: Are you curious on how the inside of a prison/jail looks like?  Did you know someone that was going to be on the show?  Do you just want to see these kids break down? (Because that’s actually why I watch it…I enjoy watching the aggressive inmates giving a reality check to these arrogant kids who think they know everything & are untouchable).

 

2. How do you feel about the various behind bars programs in America?

Do you think the whole “scared straight” concept works?  Does it make a difference?  Do you think these programs help in decreasing teen delinquency?  Should it be used as a form of parenting?  Does how you feel about the program affect whether or not you watch the show?

Presentation Proposal

Beyond Scared Straight is an hour long show on A&E that follows at-risk teens during their visit at a local jail or prison.  These teens range in age from 11-19 and have been getting into trouble for drinking, fighting, doing drugs and engaging in other illegal or harmful activities.  During their visit, these teens get a first-hand look at how life is “behind bars.”  Inmates and correctional officers threaten and intimidate these teens to show them that they need to veer from the destructive path that they are on.

This show has gotten a lot of mixed reviews from the public.  On the one hand, there are many who applaud the show and the various “behind bars” programs that exist in the United States.  They feel that the show and such programs help our youth change their ways for the better.  On the other hand, there are many who feel that the show portrays a program that is not effective.  They claim that studies show that those teens who participate in such programs are more prone to a life of crime.

Do such controversies help with ratings?  I want to explore how shows such as Beyond Scared Straight gain popularity among viewers.  What makes this show so popular?  Are people simply curious about America’s prison system?  Do people enjoy watching delinquent teens suffer and squirm?  Or is the show popular because people care to learn that the lives of these law-breaking reckless juveniles get turned around for the better?  I will conduct a literature review, explore the show’s discussion boards, get fans’ perspectives and attempt to speak with producers from the show to gain more insight.

Just the beginning

For my project, I would like to explore the show Beyond Scared Straight.  It first aired in January 2011, on A&E.

According to MSN Entertainment, this show is: “Based on the multiple award-winning documentary “Scared Straight!” from executive producer Arnold Shapiro, “Beyond Scared Straight,” much like the original, profiles unique juvenile crime prevention programs in prisons across the U.S.  Each hour long episode follows a handful of at-risk teenagers as they attend a program, which includes an intensive one-day session in a prison.  A month later, the teens are asked what, if any, lasting impressions the program had on them.”

I am still not 100% sure on how I want to analyze the show.  I might look into why society would find such a show entertaining.  Or I might investigate marketing techniques and product placement.

This site is a work in progress…so stay tuned for sporadic updates!