Posts Tagged ‘jail’

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.

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.

Clip from show

For those who have never watched the show before, below is a sneak peek video created by A&E to promote their show.  The show follows teens who love to fight, engage in deviant behaviors and talk back to authoritative figures who are signed up by their parents, teachers or guidance counselors to spend a day in jail being threatened and intimidated by inmates and correctional officers.  The aim is to deter these at-risk teens from entering a life of crime and basically “scare them straight.”