Beyond Scared Straight: Entertainment or Reality?

scared-straight-2Imagine walking down a hallway full of hands grabbing at you while screaming in your face. You are in prison. All these inmates are locked behind doors for a reason. The television series “Beyond Scared Straight” is is a modern day spin off from the 1978 “Scared Straight” documentary. In both films, a group of juvenile delinquents are thrown into the prison system for a day to see if being locked up is where they want to end up because it is the path they are headed down.

I remember watching this documentary in my introduction to law class and being scared for the kids as a viewer. These inmates are told to purposely scare the juveniles so that they stop the illegal behavior they are engaged in. The kids visiting the prisons are kids who have been arrested for small law infractions that are on a downhill path towards spending their life in jail.

Many are gang members, kids sneaking out, excessive drinking, drug users, and thieves. These kids typically come into the show thinking that they are the tough and cant be scared by anything. As they go through the simulation, although not real many break. One of the most effective situations they are put in, is real life talks with inmates similar to their own life. The point of this is to show kids that life in prison is not where they want to end up. They hope to “scare them straight.”

Many of these kids do not realize how tough life in a real jail can be, I know I would not be able to handle it. But for some.. this is real life.

To make an entire show devoted to the crime of juveniles, must mean that juvenile crime is a prevalent issue in today’s society. Reported by U.S. Department of Justice, the statistics for juvenile crime is:

“In 2014, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made an estimated 1 million arrests of persons under the age of 18 “

The majority of juveniles are arrested for non-violent crimes such as vandalism, drug use, and theft. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 373,300 juveniles are arrested for non-violent crimes while only 53,500 juveniles are arrested for violent crimes. The scary reality is that while these kids get to leave these prisons, many kids are locked in them for life. The actors, not actors anymore. After religiously watching episodes of Beyond Scared Straight I could never imagine being locked in a jail with adult offenders. Some of these inmates are put in the same jail as juveniles. Reasons for this are:

Although juveniles in America can not be given the death sentence for capital offenses, they can still be tried in an adult court for capital offenses. Unfortunately this problem is relevant in todays society in other countries. screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-8-24-00-pm

This means that repeated juvenile drug users who are in and out of the juvenile system could be thrown in general population with grown men rapists. In my opinion, this is extremely dangerous. The inmates might be purposely scaring the kids in the show but they are using real life threats that happen in their prisons.

This show shows how scary these prisons are for young children and baffle the viewers, yet in real life we still put kids in these dangerous situations.

The podcast below explains the many differences between the juvenile and adult court system.


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