Lake County’s not-so-scary jail tour gets recognized by A&E.

Lake County’s jail tours for teens in trouble has become the subject of an A&E program airing on Thursday. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

TAVARES – For quite a while, Stephanie Glass said, it was about fear, and intimidation, and literally terrifying a child.
Today, she said, that’s no longer the approach – and, as it turns out, she said, that’s for the best.
The fear that she and other members of her staff hoped to instill into kids, she added, is not something they pull out around Halloween for entertainment value, but rather as something they do on a monthly basis for dead-serious reasons.
“We get quite a few of the kids who say it really makes a difference, and it is one place they never want to go back to,” she said.
Glass is a program specialist with the Lake County Teen Court Program. Their purpose is to show first-time youthful offenders the realistic consequences of continued criminal activity, when Lake County Detention Deputies conduct an educational tour of the Lake County Jail for Teen Court participants.
“The tour is primarily for Teen Court kids who have gotten in trouble for the first time and been sentenced for the first time,” she said. “Families can call the jails sometimes, and just request a tour on their own. We do it once a month.”
The Lake County Jail tour program is also about to get national recognition, and will be featured in the A&E Program “Beyond Scared Straight.” This is a follow-up to the 1978 “Scared Straight” documentary by Arnold Shapiro, which shows efforts to frighten youth offenders about the idea of life behind bars, in an effort to “scare them straight.”
The upcoming episode of “Beyond Scared Straight” will be aired on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 10 p.m. on A&E, and will feature two Teen Court youths as they tour the Lake County Jail.
It will not, Glass said, show teens being screamed at by inmates. Since 1978, she added, a lot has changed – which may be why A&E chose to put a focus on their local efforts, she added.
“I like to think it’s because our jail tour is a little different than most of them,” Glass said. “It’s not that typical, ‘Beyond Scared Straight’ screaming and yelling at the kids. This is about inmates pulling the kids aside, being positive, showing them that they care — and they don’t want them going down this path to jail. It makes our program different — and it’s a more effective approach.”
Why does a positive approach work? Glass said because it shows jail in a realistic light – tedious, unpleasant, miserable to be in – rather than as a place where a teen could go to prove how tough or cool they are.
“It’s not a pleasant place to be, and you’ve got a lot more going on in your life and you don’t want to waste it behind bars because of a stupid mistake,” she said. “One inmate said to me once, ‘I wasn’t scared then and I’m not scared now, but I am tired of this place.’ You don’t have any privacy, you don’t have any choices, you don’t get time with your parents and family. And there are better ways of doing things.”
The A&E program will reinforce that, she said.
“Through the program, Lake County deputies hope to show the youth that adults care about them and their future and don’t want to see them behind bars,” said Glass. “They emphasize improved decision-making and good behavior choices. Inmates share their stories and encourage the youth to set goals for themselves.”
Lake County’s Teen Court Program gives first-time offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 a second chance, while holding them accountable for their actions.
Glass said it’s quite impressive that A&E chose a fairly small and rural county like Lake for this kind of recognition.
“It’s quite an honor that they would pick us,” she said. “We are much smaller than a lot of the area counties, and we get to highlight the positive things we’re doing with the kids, and get recognized for the work we do each month helping our youth. One thing I really like about it is it’s a Teen Court, and they are not giving them the jail tours just to be vindictive. They really want them to see what the jail is like, so they don’t end up there.”
For more information about the Lake County Teen Court Program, call Glass at 352-742-6511 or email sglass@lakecountyfl.gov.

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