SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — California and Maryland prison officials said Friday they have suspended youthful offender diversion programs featured on the television show “Beyond Scared Straight” after the U.S. Justice Department warned they could lose federal funding.
A prison agency spokesman in South Carolina, the only other state featured on the A&E Network series, said the diversion program there will be reviewed by the state’s incoming corrections chief.
The A&E series, which started Jan. 13, is produced by Arnold Shapiro, maker of the Emmy- and Oscar-winning 1979 television special, “Scared Straight.” Like that show, it documents visits by troubled teenagers to prisons where intimidating inmates deliver in-your-face lectures about the harshness of life behind bars.
The Justice Department said a study of nine such programs concluded they don’t deter teenagers from offending. In fact, the youths were more likely to offend in the future, according to Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski, acting administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
“In light of this evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice discourages the funding of scared straight-type programs. States that operate such programs could have their federal funding reduced if shown not to have complied with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act,” the federal officials wrote in an op-ed piece published Monday in The (Baltimore) Sun.
Slowikowski said Friday that his office recently expressed these concerns to the state offices in California, Maryland and South Carolina that administer his agency’s funds
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services suspended its diversion programs for review Jan. 25, spokesman Rick Binetti said. He said Corrections Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer ordered the review after learning that A&E was taping episodes on three different programs at three Maryland prisons.
“His decision to review and suspend was based on making sure in the future these programs have educational benefits to the youth involved,” Binetti said.
The suspension was reported Thursday by The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail. Binetti said it was prompted by Stouffer’s desire to make sure all his Maryland diversion programs follow state policies.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation suspended its diversion programs Jan. 11 to ensure that they comply with the federal law, spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.
A&E Network spokesman Dan Silberman declined to comment on the suspensions or the Justice Department’s actions.
“We just document what these programs do,” he said.
The first episode of “Beyond Scared Straight” was shot nearly two years ago at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup. It included a scene of two inmates appearing to throw an 18-year-old visitor into a utility room to demonstrate how easily inmates can be attacked by other prisoners out of the view of guards.
Binetti said the scene was planned and staged.
“What the cameras don’t show is, along with the inmates are correctional officers and the youth counselors right there in the hallway with full view of any interactions with inmates,” he said.
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