There is a program on A&E called “Beyond Scared Straight”. The premise is as simple as it is ridiculous. Troubled teens are forced to spend a night in an adult prison where it is the job of staff and inmates to abuse and terrify them. This is intended to deter them from their current lifestyle and steer them onto the “straight and narrow”. As part of this “process”, they are hand-cuffed, locked in cells with actual inmates, threatened and verbally abused.
All of this is based on “tough love”. This of course is a misnomer. There is nothing about this which is loving. It is a purely punitive act based not on love, but on fear. The larger issue has to with results. More to the point, the stunning lack of them. “In fact, a Cochrane review — the gold standard for evidence-based medicine — concluded that kids sent to Scared Straight were 68-71% more likely to commit crimes than those randomized to receive no intervention at all.” That quote comes from a recent Time article on the subject.
The truth is, there has not been a single clinical trial that indicated any positive results from any of the tough love style treatments for anything. None. Ever. Never.
Now I’m going out on a limb here and assuming the executives at A&E and the staff behind “Beyond Scared Straight” are not collectively stupid as oak posts. I know it’s a stretch, but I’m going to run with it. Based on that I’m guessing that someone looked at the results of Scared Straight and similar “tough love” programs and saw the massive failure rate. Why then did they go ahead and promote something so clearly delusional, damaging, degrading and downright stupid?
The word you’re looking for is Profit. That’s the motivator for anything that shows up on advertising funded TV. Not that I have anything against A&E making a profit. That is after all what they’re in business for. What I object to is teenagers being abused and exploited just to drive those profits. If there was any indication that such brutality has any beneficial effect it might be slightly justifiable. The opposite is true. This program of abuse, humiliation and cruelty has no measurable benefit and as such is nothing but reprehensible.
The other part of this equation is the fan base. Those who tune in week after week to watch these “terrible” people get a taste of what they can expect if they don’t get their acts together. They don’t know it doesn’t work. They don’t care. All they want is to watch brutal, Old Testament, frontier justice at work. They’re tired of the liberal wimps mollycoddling young offenders. They believe these kids need just this kind of wake up call. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. What these kids need isn’t more abuse, it’s less. They need years of counseling, therapy, training and all that boring, non-telegenic stuff.
Of course, there’s nothing in that to build a sensationalist TV show off of. Then again that’s probably not a bad thing. Not unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys watching psychological torture for fun & profit.