Douglas County, Ga., is about 40 miles from Kennesaw State University, where we publish the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. However, it is light years away, really light years behind, what our reporting and commentary have been saying about Scared Straight programs since 2011. Scared Straight programs don’t work. More Scared Straight kids end up as recidivists than similar kids who don’t go through these programs.
So we are perplexed why Douglas County would run a Scared Straight program and even more perplexed why officials there would agree to let the “Beyond Scared Straight” A&E TV crew tape an episode that will air tonight. It features two teenage sisters who are humiliated and intimidated in a way that if you and I did it to our own kids in public we would be the ones thrown in jail.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s office is so far out of touch with present day reality and research that officials there literally use a mace, a medieval weapon, to symbolize their Scared Straight program. I am not making this up. Right on the web page explaining what their M.A.C.E. (Making A Change Early) program is all about, is a drawing of a mace with this caption: “The overwhelming usefulness of the mace was its ability to generate enormous swinging force that could bring a tremendous blow to an opponent.”
The mace in the drawing is a club with a chain on the end tethered to a steel ball with spikes. See, you swing that club and crack your opponent’s skull open with the spiked ball. Now, we have been wielding the best practice research and our commentary as kind of a gentle club, but alas, we are apparently dealing with some very thick-skulled and thick-skinned policy makers in Hollywood and in Douglas County.
First there are the executives at the Walt Disney Company and Hearst Corporation, the parent companies of A&E TV, which produces the disgusting “Beyond Scared Straight.” It’s a program built on demeaning and threatening young boys and girls, apparently in a quest to build audience and reap profits. Why else would Disney and Hearst back the long discredited Scared Straight programs?
We are not so sure of Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller’s motives. His mission statement for the M.A.C.E. program, which will be featured on “Beyond Scared Straight” tonight, reads: “The basic premise for this program is one of deterrence; the belief that realistic and aggressive exposure to prison life and inmates will cause youth to refrain from delinquency due to fear of the consequences of the bad behavior and ensuing incarceration.”
Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director at the Coalition of Juvenile Justice, a network of organizations dedicated to keeping children and youth out of court, told our JJIE.org reporter Maggie Lee that these tactics don’t make the kids more timid. In fact, it will “harden their bravado” and make the kids want to affiliate with the nasty talking inmates who have the most power.
In other words, it is more likely to have them pick up a mace and pop someone upside the head to demonstrate who has the power.
So, as I did two years ago, I call on the Walt Disney Company CEO, Robert A. Iger, to pull “Beyond Scared Straight” off the air because it touts a program that does not work and also demeans the very children Disney claims to shower with wholesome programing.
Here is a promotional blurb for this season’s “Beyond Scared Straight”: “Returning inmate ‘Hustle Man,’ a ferocious incarcerated killer, is dragged away from the teens after he tries to attack.” Is that promotion about wholesome programing or about greed of the worst kind? Come on CEO Bob Iger, give us an answer.
I also invite Sheriff Miller down to Kennesaw State University to meet the folks who run our Master’s and Ph.D. programs in conflict management. They can tell you a few things about how violence begets violence and why piling trauma on kids who have suffered trauma their whole lives is not such a smart approach. Ever hear of programs like restorative justice? Come on down, Sheriff Miller, and when you do, please lock the Scared Straight cell door behind you -- forever.