Disney, Take Beyond Scared Straight Aff the Air

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Leonard Witt

Leonard Witt

An Open Letter to

Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company

Dear Mr. Iger:

I know Disney is a large company and you, like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, can’t oversee everything. So I want to let you know about one of your company’s investments -- Disney’s one-third equity stake in the A&E Television Networks. Since it is not fully under Disney’s control, maybe that’s why you haven’t been watching A&E’s "Beyond Scared Straight." Certainly if you had, you would have intervened and pulled it off the air, but alas last week marked the beginning of its second season.

I am calling your attention to "Beyond Scared Straight" because it doesn’t at all fit the core principles of the Disney Corporation. I am sure you have read those core principles, maybe you even helped write them because they are front and center on your website.

Here, I will reprint them as a reminder:

Three core principles help guide our daily decisions and actions:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions
  • Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors
  • Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

Let’s take them one at time:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions

scared_straight_seriesThe evidence is in, the Scared Straight program where kids are sent into prisons to be scared straight, does not work. Experts  writing for JJIE.org and at other reputable publications have made it very clear that volumes of research have shown the Scared Straight approach does not work. Here is what Joe Vignati, director of Justice Programs at the Georgia Governor's Office For Children and Families, recently wrote: “The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short- and long- term harm and actually INCREASES the likelihood of re-offending among some participants.”

Of course, you are free to argue with Mr. Vignati and the scores of researchers, but if by chance, you might believe in empirical evidence, then you might ask yourself and the folks at A&E if all of you have acted in an ethical manner and considered the consequences of your decision to subject these kids to the public humiliation they receive on the show.

That brings us the second of Disney’s core principles:

  •   Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors

Does that principle include having several hulking adults surround individual teenagers and scream at them until the teens break down into tears? Does championing their well being include dressing them up in prison stripes and have then duck walk across the prison floor in front of your two million-plus viewers who watched the show last week? Does it include threatening to toss one of the teens into a cell with a prisoner who eyes the boy up and down and smiles big -- or coupling him with a big ugly guy who wants to make him his girlfriend with the complicity of the guards? You know what Mr. Iger, I found it down right disgusting and I do believe it tarnishes your image and Walt Disney’s legacy that has been put in your trust.

The final Disney core principle:

  •  Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

If you think screaming at kids until it gets your stomach churning is inspiration to make a lasting change, then sir, you and Disney have a problem.

Enough, please do me a favor, watch the program, then call your equity partners at the Hearst Corporation and NBCUniversal and pull this show off the air now. Then apologize to everyone who really cares about kids and then invest some real money in the kids who have been in the program and get them the help they need to lead productive lives.

One thought on “Disney, Take Beyond Scared Straight Aff the Air

  1. I am supervisor at a treatment facility for teens with severe behavior problems. I deal with teens who have an utter disregard for rules, laws, respect and authority figures. I couldn’t be more satisfied with the teachings or the methods of ‘beyond scared straight.’ I watched my first episode the other day and I would be overjoyed if two of the girls I picked up from jail and brought back to our facility this evening could attend a ‘beyond scared straight’ session. I applaud A and E for the series and I would suggest that you sir volunteer with troubled teens, or simply change the channel.

    sincerely,
    Jon