A&E 'Beyond Scared Straight' features Fulton County Jail April 24

Tonight's episode of A&E's "Beyond Scared Straight" will feature the Fulton County Jail's Youth Intervention Program.

The most dramatic moment: a student caught stealing cars runs coincidentally in his dad, in prison for murder.

"Scared Straight" has been a concept dating back to the 1970s where troubled juveniles visit a jail and meet hardened criminals as a deterrent for future bad behavior.

"Beyond Scared Straight," an off-shoot program,  has been around on A&E since 2011 and visits different prisons around the country. Last week's episode drew 1.6 million viewers. Tonight is the season finale, with one more season before the series ends.

Lieutenant Brian McGee, commander of the Community Outreach Section of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office,  created the monthly Youth Intervention Program four years ago with Sheriff Ted Jackson.

The idea came up organically between Jackson and McGee after a mom asked them to show her troubled 14-year-old what it was like in the prison system.

This will be the third time Fulton County has been featured on the program and a fourth time is set for next season.

McGee, in an interview, said every time A&E airs a repeat, he gets emails from all over the country lauding their work. He also said he does not change the program to accommodate the producers. What is shown is what normally happens any given month. (The only caveat: parents have sign consent forms to allow their kids to be shown on camera.)

He said students who are placed in the one-day program are ages 10 to 18 and have participated in crimes such as drug possession and theft or had been suspended from school repeatedly for fighting. "A lot of the parents say this is their last option," McGee said. "Many are ready to give their kids up to the state."

McGee said they don't just show scary-looking inmates but provide a tour of the court system as well.

First, the parents and 25 kids meet at the Fulton County Courthouse with Sheriff Ted Jackson. Parents can meet with counselors as well. Students then talk to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua, joined by a prosecutor and a public defender. They tour the courtroom and detention areas. Then they go to the Fulton County jail, where they go through a mock "booking process." They dress in jumpsuits and given what inmates eat for lunch. The students are then separated by gender to meet inmates. The inmates tell their stories.

McGee said recidivism is really low among kids who take part in the program, in the area of five percent.

TV preview

"Beyond Scared Straight," 10 p.m., Thursday, A&E

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.