The Follow-Up Special
By Arnold Shapiro, Creator and Executive Producer
Tonight's special 90-minute episode of "Beyond Scared Straight" is unique. Going back as far as our first season in 2010, our production staff has talked about producing a follow-up special to see the long-term impact of the various "scared straight" programs on the teens we've profiled. And now we've done it.
Of our 47 produced episodes, this one has been the hardest one, taking the most time to put together. Instead of looking at one jail or prison deterrence program in one location, which is what our other shows do, this special follow-up had us returning to more than a dozen locations across the country to follow up with 13 teens. There was more travel involved in tonight's show than an entire season of regular episodes of "Beyond Scared Straight."
We started with a list of approximately 30 teens we wanted to follow-up on - far more than even a 90-minute episode could accommodate. The list was narrowed down to the teens you'll see tonight, based upon these factors:
(1) Teens we were most curious about.
(2) Teens we were actually able to locate. (Many teens no longer have the same addresses or phone numbers, and we have no way of finding them).
(3) Those families who were willing to share what's happened to them since the jail or prison experience.
We also wanted to make sure we had a balance of boys and girls, ethnicities, and outcomes. There are stories of success and 180-degree turnarounds, but there are also stories of teens who were not changed by the jail tour. I think you'll be surprised by many of the positive and the negative outcomes.
I have been a believer in the impact of teens being shown a preview of their future if they continue doing dangerous and illegal acts. Being inside a jail or prison and treated like an inmate is a scary and emotional experience. And emotional experiences tend to leave a more lasting impact upon people than intellectual experiences (being told about consequences vs. seeing the consequences for yourself, where you smell the smells, eat the food, and see the size and behavior of real inmates).
One of three outcomes occurs for each teen who visits any of the programs we have profiled over the last three years.
(1) Some teens dramatically change during or immediately after the jail program. Their parent(s) report a complete behavior change. Their son or daughter was literally "scared straight."
(2) For some teens, behavior changes are more gradual; they happen over weeks or months, but they do happen. Or for some, it's two steps forward and one step back as they struggle to rid their lives of alcohol, drugs, gangs, dangerous friends, and/or uncontrolled anger issues.
(3) Some teens are not impacted by the jails, inmates or officers. For them, the programs are a waste of time, not real, or they believe they will never wind up behind bars. Unfortunately, a few of the teens we've profiled with this attitude have wound up incarcerated.
There is no one program, no one solution, and no one approach that can turn teens and pre-teens away from dangerous, destructive, and illegal behavior. But if these jail and prison programs under the overall heading of "scared straight" did not work for many young people, the programs would not continue to exist. In fact, they are successful for many young people. And tonight's episode will demonstrate that as we see teens up to three years after their day behind bars.
As the producer, director, and writer of the original 1978 Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Scared Straight;" and the executive producer along with Paul Coyne of "Beyond Scared Straight," I am grateful that A&E gave me the opportunity to produce three seasons of our series for a new generation of 21st Century young people and their families. We are proud to profile programs that are changing lives and saving the lives of countless teens. And I am personally grateful to each of you who watch "Beyond Scared Straight."
In closing, I'd like to answer a question many people have asked me over the years: Where did the name "Scared Straight" come from?
Answer: It came out of my head in 1978 as the best description I could think of to describe my original documentary. I never dreamed it would become an iconic name that continues to be used 35 years later by numerous deterrence programs, critics, references in TV shows and magazine articles.
And how do I feel when I see the numerous satires that "Saturday Night Live" has done on "Scared Straight?" I love it.