Before bare-assed shots became commonplace on such television shows as “NYPD BLUE” the late ‘70s aired a program of its own that was extremely controversial for its content and language. “SCARED STRAIGHT” aired in 1978. It was a documentary that went on to win 8 Emmy awards, and acclaim for its raw depiction of life in one of the toughest State Prisons in the U.S., Rahway State Prison.
“Lifers”, prisoners serving “life” sentences developed a program, intent on saving juvenile offenders from continuing down the same road as they have, by having them visit their prison for a lengthy, enlightening discussion/confrontation, which if successful, would have them leaving “SCARED STRAIGHT”.
While many have argued over the probability of long-term success for such a program, one thing that can’t be denied is the visible change of the typically cocky teenage delinquents shown here. The documentary reveals them to be laughing about their expectations of their visit to the prison, unsuspecting the confrontations they’re about to face.
The “lifers” straighten out the visiting delinquent’s attitudes immediately. Unlike the drill sergeants on a Jenny Jones program, it’s made obvious that these “lifers” have nothing to really lose by hurting these visitors, if pushed too far, and they demand attention!
In the ‘70s television audiences were definitely more innocent than those of today, so when the kids and audience hear graphic details about boys being raped in prison, its shock value can’t be overstated.
The original documentary runs less than an hour, and is offered in its entirety here. Also included in this release from DOCURAMA, is “SCARED STRAIGHT! 20 YEARS LATER”. It’s a terrific addendum, following up with the original participants of the program two decades later.
It makes for terrific viewing. The kids are grown up, in their late ‘30s, some having served in the military and other responsible ventures. The majority has had no other problems with the law. Perhaps even more inspirational is the visit to the former “Lifers”. Most have found god, and continue to work with other children needing guidance. Holding no punches, the documentary reveals one of them still behind bars, apparently beyond saving.
DOCURAMA has presented the show in its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, its source material wasn’t that great, and it looks extremely grainy. Colors are often muted too. The follow-up documentary fares much better, offering stable color values, and virtually no grain.
The audio mix is imperfect but adequate. Of course the original program has some muffled dialogue at times, but is generally intelligible. The follow-up documentary is perfectly fine, and always intelligible.