We've Got Hollywood Covered

Disney, Please Take ‘Beyond Scared Straight’ Off the Air

If you think screaming at kids until it gets your stomach churning is inspiration to make a lasting change, then you have a problem

Robert A. Iger, as CEO of the Disney Corporation, it’s time for you to get A&E TV’s "Beyond Scared Straight" off the air.

Put in a call to your two A&E equity partners at the Hearst Corp. and NBCUniversal and tell them that the show doesn’t meet the core principles of the Disney Corp.

I am sure you have read those core principles, maybe you even helped write them because they are front and center on your website. Let’s take them one at time, starting with Disney’s first core principle:

Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions.

The evidence is in, the "Scared Straight" program where kids are sent into prisons to be scared straight, does not work. Legions of experts and volumes of research echo Joe Vignati, director of Justice Programs at the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in Georgia. He recently wrote at our Juvenile Justice Information Exchange that: “The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short- and long- term harm and actually increases the likelihood of re-offending among some participants.”

Of course, you are free to argue with Mr. Vignati and the scores of researchers, but if by chance, you might believe in empirical evidence, then you might ask yourself and the folks at A&E if you have acted in an ethical manner and considered the consequences of your decision to subject these kids to the public humiliation they receive on the show.

That brings us the second of Disney’s core principles:

Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors.

Does that principle include having several hulking adults surround individual teenagers and scream at them until the teens break down into tears? Does championing their well being include dressing them up in prison stripes and have then duck walk across the prison floor in front of your two million-plus viewers who watched the show last week? Does it include threatening to toss one of the teens into a cell with a prisoner who eyes the boy up and down and smiles big — or coupling him with a big ugly guy who wants to make him his girlfriend with the complicity of the guards?

You know what Mr. Iger, I found it down right disgusting and I do believe it tarnishes your image and Walt Disney’s legacy that has been put in your trust.

The final Disney core principle:

Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world.

If you think screaming at kids until it gets your stomach churning is inspiration to make a lasting change, then sir, you and Disney have a problem.

Enough, please do me a favor, pull this show off the air now. Then apologize to everyone who really cares about kids and then invest some real money in the kids who have been in the program and get them the help they need to lead productive lives. 

Leonard Witt is the publisher of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, and the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, outside of Atlanta, where he holds the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication and was named an Eminent Scholar by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in 2008.