Posts Tagged ‘Beyond Scared Straight’

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.

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?

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?

Ratings Record

According to deadline.com regarding the series premiere on January 13, 2011:

The premiere of A&E’s new unscripted series Beyond Scared Straight last night became the most watched and highest rated original series debut on the network ever. The series, based on the award-winning documentary Scared Straight! and executive produced by Arnold Shapiro, drew 3.7 million viewers, 2.2 million of them in the 18-49 demographic and 2.1 million in 25-54 for the 90-minute premiere, which aired at 10 PM.

Detailed Research Methods

To find out why exactly the show is popular, I will talk to fans about their perspective.  I will ask them why they enjoy watching the show and then tally the answers.  I will also read through the various Beyond Scared Straight discussion boards to see what exactly people are saying and how they are reacting after each episode.  What I have gathered so far from these discussion boards is that people enjoy watching these “tough” teens break down.  They find entertainment in watching these deviant teens walk into the program all big and bad, thinking they are tough and untouchable, go through the program and end up crying and being broken down to show their vulnerabilities.  People seem to like watching these teens truly get a reality check; that they are not as tough and invincible as they think they are.  The few fans that I have been able to speak to about the show all agree that they enjoy watching how these teens “get what is coming to them” and that they need to get some “sense knocked into them.”

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