HAGERSTOWN — Film crews were at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown earlier this month shooting a segment for A&E Television’s “Beyond Scared Straight,” a program that teaches troubled youth about the realities of prison by putting them behind bars for a day with hardened criminals.
Producer Arnold Shapiro said the series is different from his 1978 Academy-Award winning documentary “Scared Straight” because the program features a one-on-one counseling component between the youth and inmates.
The original documentary showed prisoners using intimidation tactics that were intended to frighten young people about the ramifications of continuing on a path of crime.
“Inmates have a unique ability to reach troubled teens,” Shapiro said. “No matter what a teenager is thinking ... These inmates have done it all, so they can relate. Young people open up to inmates. They’ll tell them something they’ve never told anyone.”
“Beyond Scared Straight” debuted at 10 p.m. Jan. 13. The series is filmed at correctional institutions across the country.
An hour-long segment that was shot at the Maryland Correctional Institution near Jessup aired Jan. 20. That episode featured inmates using a combination of intimidation and counseling to reach a group of troubled male teenagers, one who was 13 years old.
Shapiro said film crews came to Hagerstown a few weeks ago and spent four days taping the segment at MCI. He said he would like to return to film there if the show is picked up for a second season.
“I really believe in these programs,” he said. “It’s really trying to get at the core of why those children are acting out. I’ve always tried to do documentaries that help young people. If the program saves one teenager, it’s a success.”
Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Shapiro saw a number of youth-related programs that the prison system sponsors and “was absolutely impressed.”
“Maryland has three programs in this series of documentaries: MCI’s (Prisoners Against Teen Tragedies) and two programs in Jessup, one at a medium-security men’s prison and the other a girl’s-only program at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women,” Vernarelli wrote in an e-mail. “All are heavy on counseling and talking, not yelling. The sit-down session with inmates can go an hour or much longer.”
Vernarelli said he believed the students who participated in the filming at MCI-Hagerstown were from surrounding states, rather than Washington County Public Schools.
Brian Getz, who teaches health education and life skills to 10th-graders at Smithsburg High School, said he has taken students to participate in the PATT program at MCI-Hagerstown. He said the prisoners never try to intimidate his students like the prisoners do in some of the “Beyond Scared Straight” segments that have aired on A&E.
The inmates in the PATT program go one on one with his students to talk civilly about the stark realities of prison life.
“The inmates do a wonderful job,” Getz said. “I’ll always have a trip where one of the kids starts crying. It hits close to home ... The kids can actually go in there and open up.”
Shapiro said he wasn’t certain, but believed the segment that was shot neat Hagerstown would air Feb. 24.