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.
The second season of “Beyond Scared Straight” begins Thursday night and with it come renewed questions about its effectiveness. The reality program follows at-risk teens as they are threatened, screamed at, and harassed by prison inmates in an attempt to get them to change their ways. The show was A&E Network’s most watched debut in its history with 3.7 million viewers. As JJIE reported at the time of the show’s debut in January, juvenile justice experts are concerned the show may be sending the wrong message. They point to studies that say scared straight-style programs are not only ineffective, but also counter-productive.
The controversial reality television program “Beyond Scared Straight” will return for a second season on the A&E cable network. The show follows a small group of at-risk kids as they are taken inside prison where inmates try to scare them away from lives of crime by yelling at them and describing the brutal reality of prison life. Juvenile justice experts have derided the show for advocating a program that many studies have shown to be not only ineffective, but also counter-effective, increasing the likelihood that kids will commit crimes in the future. John Wilson, a juvenile crime expert said at the time of the show’s premier last January, “The research is clear that Scared Straight is a failed program that does more harm than good.”
The show’s producer Arnold Shapiro contends the studies don’t provide an accurate depiction of Scared Straight’s success. He says the best tool to assess the programs is follow-up with the kids.
Angelo Speziale may be the most infamous graduate of Scared Straight! As a scrawny 16-year-old, he appeared in the original Scared Straight! documentary filmed at New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison in 1978. Now he’s back–serving 25-to-life in Rahway for the 1982 rape and murder of a teenage girl who lived next door to him. Proponents of “Scared Straight” claim the program literally scares kids away from a life of crime. In a follow-up show called Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, Speziale echoed this, claiming the experience changed him. Apparently not enough. He was arrested for shoplifting in 2005 and a DNA sample linked him to the 30-year-old cold case murder for which he was convicted in 2010. A New Jersey law enforcement source confirms Angelo Speziale is the same person who appeared in both documentaries.
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is calling on the A&E network to present the facts about the new show called “Beyond Scared Straight.” The judges are joining a chorus of experts who warn that Scared Straight tactics do not work on at-risk kids, and may actually harm them. The show debuted on the A&E cable network in January. It is the fourth incarnation of a theatrical film and television series that takes children inside adult prisons in an attempt to scare them away from a life of crime. JJIE.org has interviewed national experts and reviewed at least ten research studies that say Scared Straight programs are ineffective and a waste of money. Here’s the full statement from the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges:
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is concerned that the A&E program “Beyond Scared Straight” misrepresents the effectiveness of such interventions with youthful offenders.