Review: ‘Beyond Scared Straight’

'Beyond Scared Straight'

More than 30 years after the original "Scared Straight!" won both an Oscar and Emmy, producer Arnold Shapiro has revived his documentary as an A&E series.

More than 30 years after the original “Scared Straight!” won both an Oscar and Emmy, producer Arnold Shapiro has revived his documentary as an A&E series, without diluting much of its visceral impact. Once again, hardened convicts meet what might once have been called juvenile delinquents, seeking to give them an unappetizing taste of what prison life is like. Think of it as “A Christmas Carol,” only the shadows of what might be to come are tattooed and really, really scary. A&E has carved out a niche with tough-hewn reality, but nothing as raw as this.

Opening with a 90-minute episode, “Beyond Scared Straight” adheres closely (albeit in truncated form) to the original format, which featured those from the Lifers program at Rahway prison in New Jersey.

After introducing the sometimes-cocky kids, teens who in some instances look even younger than their years, they’re ushered into the prison, where the convicts paint a harrowing portrait of life on the inside.

In the premiere, girls visit a California women’s prison in Chowchilla, where their tour guides are every bit as intimidating as at the men’s facility in the second episode.

A convict gets in a girl’s face, threatening to “slap the shit out of you.” When the kids recoil or cower, they’re told by having failed to stand up, “You’re gonna be my bitch.”

“Half of these girls look like guys,” one of them mutters.

If “Beyond” is deficient in any respect, it’s in the minimal follow-up — revisiting the program’s beneficiaries a month or so later, which is hardly enough time to see if their exposure to the potential rotten spoils of being a criminal has yielded the desired effects.

Still, that amounts to a quibble regarding a series that, unlike most of what passes for “reality TV,” feels truly authentic — and sobering. For the network of “Intervention,” this is the kind of intervention that obliterates the camera’s contaminating eye.

Shapiro had the luxury of revisiting “Scared Straight!” several times through the years, but its durability remains impressive. And unlike the kids — who, with menacing bruisers crowding them, understandably yearn to look away — most of those who tune in won’t find themselves able to.

Beyond Scared Straight

A&E, Thurs. Jan. 13, 10 p.m.


Produced by Arnold Shapiro Prods. Executive producer, Shapiro; co-executive producer, Paul J. Coyne; producers, Marlene McCurtis, Abbey Levine; supervising story producer, John Mora.


Camera, Piers Bath, Jim Wright; supervising editor, Rob Goubeaux. 90 MIN.

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  1. Alan price says:

    Love Scared Straight programme when have 15yr old called Chavez ok at fighting, taking drugs and stealing yet the bumble ass can’t even spell straight properly! Wish had in UK I did 4 mths based on first 6 weeks of army training in Detention Center’s used to have and never went back! Kids have it too easy prison in UK like holiday camp so no one cares if get locked up unlike system over in US, NEED same thing here as youths do what they want knowing either be let off or have easy few mths in jail! Wouldn’t be doing it if jail here was like there sadly isn’t! A country that has more black youth in prison than collage also letting done whole black community by not doing these tours younger when not so big and brave so may get though to fools like Chavez 15 ! Great programme both the tour itself and TV but need more as criminals in UK getting younger & younger by the day but police here in Northampton UK say it’s OK to be racist on certain occasions Aslong as Asian being racist, if black or white will be arrested but if Asian then it’s ok have letter proving what I say! I was assaulted twice and threatened with a knife and suffered racial abuse over 3yrs but because they were asian it was ok but if I said anything would be arrested then police wonder why so many problems with asian families because know can get away with it! Need more REAL sentences and no TV, video games, pool, good food anything they want should be a deterrent not a holiday camp to learn other crimes which is at moment in UK prison system and get more drugs in there than on the street but guards like that as keeps people quiet and sedated it’s a joke like a 15 yr old boy who can’t spell straight! Sad way this world going!

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