'Beyond Scared Straight' tries to keep saving lives


In 1978, Arnold Shapiro produced the Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning documentary "Scared Straight!" in which inmates confronted troubled youth with the shocking reality of prison life.

The film inspired several sequels on different TV networks and several more, similar programs in prisons around the country.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, A&E Network -- which has helped addicts confront their issues in the hit series "Intervention" -- premieres "Beyond Scared Straight." Launching with a 90-minute episode, the seven-episode series -- Shapiro says it was originally five, but then A&E added two more -- follows at-risk youth of both sexes, from 13 to 18, as they go through intensive, one-day sessions with inmates.

"It's kind of sad, isn't it?" says Shapiro of the fact that more than 30 years since the original "Scared Straight!" the interventions are still needed. "I started wondering what the 21st-century versions of these programs were like. How are they the same? How are they different?"

The show is different from the original in that it features far more extensive interviews with the teens and the adults in their lives, along with more follow-up on the results of the program.

"Some make immediate changes," says Shapiro. "Some do not make immediate changes. But they are more open to listening to the counselor or the police officer or maybe even their parents, who are finally able to reach them, because of the prison experience.

"There are really inspiring success stories, and there are a few shocking stories of kids who didn't change."

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