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Md. suspends programs that send young people into prisons

Commissioner of Correction imposed directive last week to ensure that proper procedures were being followed

February 03, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has suspended programs that sends young people into prisons in an effort to scare them into not committing crimes.

Rick Binetti, director of communications for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Maryland Commissioner of Correction J. Michael Stouffer imposed the directive last week to ensure that the proper procedures were being followed.

The decision to suspend diversion programs was made last month shortly after A&E television entered the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown to film a segment of "Beyond Scared Straight," a weekly series that airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on A&E.

The program places troubled youth among the inmate population under the theory that the experience could deter them from breaking the law.

An episode that aired Jan.  20 after being shot at the Maryland Correctional Institution near Jessup showed inmates touching some of the children. In one portion of the Jessup episode, an inmate grabbed a teenager and threw him into an isolated room to demonstrate the harsh realities of prison life.

Binetti said that although nothing was wrong, and no one filed a complaint with the prison system, Stouffer decided to re-examine the programs to ensure everything was in order.

"There's no indication that anything is wrong anywhere," Binetti said of Stouffer's decision to suspend the programs. "I think it's safe to say just because we're dealing with A&E ... it just sort of got on his radar to make sure everything is good."

The series is produced by Arnold Shapiro, who  produced the original "Scared Straight," which won the 1978 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Shapiro did not respond to a telephone message asking whether he had heard about the youth programs in Maryland being canceled.

Shapiro said in an interview last month that he would like to return to MCI-H if "Beyond Scared Straight" were renewed for another season.

The Prisoners Against Teen Tragedies program, which is offered at MCI-H, also is being canceled.

That won't affect the airing of the "Beyond Scared Straight" episode that was shot at MCI-H in January. Producers said that segment will be televised on Feb. 24.

The Prisoners Against Teen Tragedies program, in part, puts inmates with teenagers to receive one-on-one counseling.

Brian Getz, a health education and life skills teacher at Smithsburg High School, said he allowed his students to participate in the PATT program and was discouraged to hear that it had been suspended.

"I've been doing this for five years," Getz said. "The inmates do a wonderful job. I always have a trip where one of the kids starts crying. It hits close to home."

Getz said one segment of the PATT program focuses on an inmate who talks only to girls, telling them how to recognize and escape from an abusive relationship.

"The kids can actually go in there and open up," Getz said. "The kids relate to the inmates, and the inmates relate to the kids."

Getz said he wrote to state prison officials, asking them to reinstate the PATT program. He said he hadn't received an answer as of Thursday.

Binetti said there was a chance that the PATT program would be reinstated, but said he didn't know when.

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On television

The segment of "Beyond Scared Straight" that was shot at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown will air Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. on A&E television.

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