WFLD Channel 32 - Scared Straight! Chicago Reacts (Part 2, 1979)
Here's Part 2 of Scared Straight! Chicago Reacts, a local interview program hosted by Kathy McFarland that followed an encore presentation of the Academy Award-winning Scared Straight! on WFLD Channel 32. Also featuring Gayle Franzen, Chief of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and Harold Thomas of the Chicago Police Department's Youth Division. Includes:
Scared Straight! Chicago Reacts bumper (voiceover by Ron Beattie)
In this part, Kathy and this group of interviewees discuss the pros and cons of a "Scared Straight!" type program for the Chicago area, noting right off the bat that Mr. Franzen's position is "maybe" and Mr. Thomas' is "definitely."
The first to speak is Mr. Franzen, who says that in a large operation such as the Department of Corrections, his concern is not only for the inmates, but the potential success or failure for the juveniles. He cites a recent Rutgers study of Rahway State Prison which suggests that the program's effects have been largely negative on the teens who went through it, and that from his department's own research and experiences with a similar program at the Menard Penitentiary in southern Illlinois as conducted by Southern Illinois University, there was a similar negative impact, with three times as many youths reconnecting with the police as who hadn't been through a "Scared Straight!" type program, and that his job is to separate himself from what he calls "Hollywood hype" over this kind of program. Mr. Franzen considers the theory behind this program "very, very old," noting that this kind of approach has been used on people arrested for drunk driving; as for the impact of "Scared Straight!" programs, he says many teens actually walk away seeking even more to emulate the "lifers" who were berating and humiliating them in terms of the path they take, only "learning" how not to get caught - and this is the main thing he considers.
Then Mr. Thomas starts on his position of why such a program could be a success by citing an unofficial survey conducted after WFLD's first airing of Scared Straight!, which found many youngsters in the Chicago area recognized the "Hollywood hype" irrespective of it being filmed in the Rahway State Prison, and that regardless such a program would make a difference to them beyond the state's juvenile detention system; he cites his more than two decades' worth of dealing with juveniles by stating they need to be shown "the facts of life" including the harsh realities of prison life, and brings up a developing trend of trying juveniles as adults for certain crimes. His stance is to continue the juvenile justice system, but add a "Scared Straight!"-type program to the mix, to show them what lies ahead if they continue on the path of crime, given how increasing "sophisticated" young people have become, with some juvenile officers having dealt with offenders who are "12 going on 20." He does say such a program has to be done properly, and mentions that he admired the honesty of a sergeant at the Rahway State Prison whom he'd met, and also speaking of meeting police officers in Eastern states (including Florida) as part of a trip arranged by the National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, but pleads unawareness of studies showing negative impact.
Mr. Franzen next says he agrees with Mr. Thomas' basic points of starting a program such as "Scared Straight!" but still raises questions, based on unofficial studies and surveys, as to whether there was any truth to Scared Straight! narrator Peter Falk's claims of 80 - 90% success rates, and cites a study by the New Jersey Department of Corrections which actually started the program, that suggests there is no scientific research whatsoever to back up the claims in the film, that the figures cited in the film weren't their own, and warning other states to think long and hard before considering their own start-ups, and go slow. He says states shouldn't be guided by their emotions as stirred up by the film, but look "scientifically" at the potential real-world impact. He does say that the film accurately portrays the brutal realities of prison life and is "entertaining," and Kathy brings up the scene where the kids had to give up their shoes; Mr. Franzen then notes that his department has several different "diversion" programs including social services, but no programs as "explicit" as the "Scared Straight!" type, and emphasizes that one has to keep away from the "emotionalism" one gets after seeing the film (as he himself admits to having had), and doesn't want to be responsible down the road for hurting kids more than helping them.
Mr. Thomas next speaks of having seen some repeat offenders, but says kids younger than 15 have been arrested for more serious offenses, and recognizes the chances of seeing them go through the juvenile justice system again are very high, in spite of all the "diversion" programs. He agrees to a certain extent with Mr. Franzen's cautiousness about starting a "Scared Straight!" type program, but says it's worth the chance to forge ahead. To a question Kathy poses about dealing with Cook County Sheriff Richard J. Elrod viz juveniles, Mr. Thomas says he doesn't work directly with him, but rather deputies working under him, and they agree they should try some experiment on this order to help young people. He notes there has been a re-emergence of gang activity in the Chicago area, and that juveniles are arrested at a very young age for serious crimes, but still says that a "Scared Straight!" type program would work for them.
Mr. Franzen then chimes in that Sheriff Elrod would have great difficulties starting such a program, and that his department doesn't have "lifers" to the extent Rahway has. He does admit that whatever positive contribution a "Scared Straight!" type program would emit would be for the inmates already in, and wonders what effect the program has on discipline in the prisons. He then mentions how, in a group setting, the inmates have poured out their frustations of prison life, and how doing so has had an impact on communication in the institution - but (and with him, there's always a "but") he wonders what impact such a program would have on the kids in his state.
Kathy then reads a letter from a 19-year-old inmate of Stateville Prison who'd been there since aged 17, and who had seen the March 11th screening of Scared Straight!; he wrote that his 17-year-old brother was never affected by letters he'd written to his sibling about prison life, and how his brother would benefit from a "Scared Straight!" approach. Mr. Thomas notes he received many calls after the first airing from agencies asking when this kind of program would be started in their communities; and Mr. Franzen closes this interview segment by mentioning that, after all the research is said and done, his department will decide within a month from this airing whether to start a "Scared Straight!" type program, but wants to keep his department out of any studies to avoid any perception of prejudice one way or the other on his part. Kathy then says she hopes to hear from both of them if and when such a program is started, and previews the next guest, Hon. William Sylvester White.
Scared Straight! Chicago Reacts bumper
PSA for Chicago Urban League urging parents to get involved with their kids' education (voiceover by ??)
PSA with singer Freda Payne for Safer Foundation - a non-profit designed to find jobs for ex-offenders and provide basic literacy training, to help reduce crime in Chicago area (font used for phone number suggests this PSA may have been produced by, and originally aired on, WBBM Channel 2)
This aired on local Chicago TV on Sunday, May 20th 1979 during the 10:00pm to 11:30pm timeframe.
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