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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  May 28, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. a conversation with nell bernstein. she has spent more than 20 years investigating what happens to children who go through our court system and are put in juvenile prisons. and then we will turn to a conversation with dr. ed o'neill . we are glad you have joined us. ♪ ♪
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♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: the statistic is horrific, one in three children will be arrested by the time they are 23 and many of them will spend time in detention centers. each year, 2 million children are arrested in this country. "burning down the house" is the groundbreaking work of nell bernstein, who spent more than
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20 years tracking what this reality is doing to the nation's children. subtitle -- the end of juvenile prison -- and yet the numbers are pointing in the direction it will not happen anytime soon. >> it is a goal. the numbers are dropping. the reason i gave it that subtitle is the more i learned about what juvenile prison does to kids, the less of a reformer i became. i became thatnced these are institutions that cannot be reformed. tragic. before i came to it as a reporter, i came to it as somebody who had friends who were teenagers who are getting locked up. watching ambitious young spirits get crushed in the system over
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and over. tavis: why are they caught in the system in the first place? >> that is a really good question. i will not share a lot of statistics. my book is grounded in stories, that there is one i cannot get out of my head. between 80 and 90% of all american teenagers in confidential interviews acknowledge having committed a delinquent act serious enough to get them incarcerated. we are not talking about two kinds of kids. i think if we all look back at our own adolescence, look deeply, that will make sense. pass, do just get a not get arrested. they're given some type of community intervention. those kids get over delinquency
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by growing out of it. it is a developmental phase. other kids, and this is a very race and class-based distinction, get arrested and from there, it snowballs. line: who and how is the of demarcation drawn? >> there is a lot of research out there and a lot of statistics, but it really does come down to poor kids of color. whenreally came home to me i went into a prison in oregon, which is a very white state, and did a double take because i had never seen so many white people in prison. in my neighborhood, which is mostly up -- mostly white and asian, there are not police cars cruising the street.
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is my son is on the corner, nobody is going to ask him why. you hear a lot of talk about racial disparity, we have thousands of blue ribbon commissions aimed at studying them. that is far too weak a word. we are looking at conscious decisions made from arrests through sentencing through treatment, behind bars, parole and probation. the research is very clear that at every stop on that circuit, black youth are treated much more harshly than white youths who have committed identical acts. tavis: what does the research tell you that has led to this hyper over criminalization of our children? >> the funny thing is it is nothing new. there is that idea that we once had a rehabilitative juvenile
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justice system, which has become more punitive overtime. the more i read about the history of the system, in the 1800s, those were a way of rounding up irish immigrant kids and getting them off the streets. swings.ycles, pendulum the most recent was in the 1990's with the notion of the super predator, this new kind of kid more savage than salvageable . that was one of the things that was said. it was so deeply imprinted on the american imagination, that fear, that we were just never able to erase it. tavis: my read of the research now -- and you are the expert -- my read of the research suggests there is this moment we are coming into where we are starting to have second thoughts of this notion of zero
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tolerance, which has led to the reality you are talking about in the text. i want to be right about that. >> you are tremendously right. in the last 10 years, we have seen a 40% drop in the number of institutionalized youth. that is great news. in california, a decade ago, we had 10,000 kids and facilities. now we have a few hundred. there have been drops across the nation, although not quite that steep. is that cause for celebration? ok. another thing we know about juvenile incarceration is that it is the greatest predictors of adult criminality and incarceration, more than gang involvement, family issues, or then criminality itself. -- more then criminality itself. this is an intervention that is
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hurting kids and hurting us. like, a guy goes into family court and says to the judge, i am beating my kids 40% less, can i have them back? it is not good enough. it is a damaging intervention. instead of congratulating ourselves that we need to seize the momentum of recent years. some of which is financial, which is scary. if we have more money, it could go the other direction. sees that momentum and really --, -- seize that moment in momentum and really ask -- tavis: there are huge societal cost to the way of doing business. what are the financial costs? that always sad to me sometimes, as a society, we end
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up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. money becomes the arbiter. it is not about the social injustice or doing what is right, it is about money. that argument troubles me. and yet, i am not naïve about the fact that some of the things being considered now have to do with money. it is costing society economically so much. average, it costs $88,000 a year to lock a kid up. he spent about $10,000 to educate a kid. tavis: a70 $8,000 difference per person? -- a $78,000 difference per person? asked you just -- >> you just don't lock up fewer kids, but
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leave them with all of the challenges and problems that led to -- that they had to begin with. take the money you would have spent to incarcerate them and give it to the counties and invested in them at age 8, 9, age 10. when i asked kids, when did things their off track for you? those were the years they named. yet, that notion, which i concur with, assumes you live in a society that cares about its children, that cares about the dignity and the humanity of its children. americans are still a decent people. but i am not convinced that we really care as much as we say we care about all of these children. >> absolutely right. i think we have this notion,
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spoken or unspoken, that these are other people's children, a different kind of kid. even if we do not use the animalistic rhetoric of the super predator, and even though 80-90% of kids will commit a crime -- these are other kids. most people think they are asked murderers. i do not -- most people think they are asked murderxe murdere. prison itself dehumanizes and simultaneously allows us to hide what we are doing. tavis: i wonder what the answer is. you are the author. societyer -- how a deals with a certain group of people of which they are afraid.
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how do you manage the process where the adults are afraid of the kids? whatnse is that part of leads us to certain solutions is because we are scared of these kids and it is easier to lock them up than it is to confront them. >> what do kids do? i am scary, i will scare you. one of the young people, i remember him saying, i wish the older folks in our neighborhood if they thought we were being too loud, would come and tell us. but not call the cops. back in the day, he imagined a time when there were just police and cops and probation officers. another young man dealt with it very directly.
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our office was in the financial district and i would see, when i was with them, the purse clutching, the street crossing, the crowds parting when they came through. made that saidt no, white lady, i don't want your purse. that was the amazing thing, .obody laughed they would go ok, ok. the person would relax a little bit. what that tells me, we need to know them. i have talked about stats today, but the book is mostly comprised of stories. it is so much easier to be afraid of somebody you don't know. tavis: stories are what make books bestsellers. nell has written a wonderful
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book. it is chock-full of the kinds of stories that will move you. recommend "burning down the house," the new book from nell bernstein. >> thank you very much. tavis: a conversation with ed o'neill. stay with us. ♪ for five seasons, modern family has consistently and at the top of the ratings list while grabbing multiple emmys, 18 wins so far, 57 nominations. the sitcom has won two best four yearsthe last in a row. a big contributor to that streak is ed o'neill. we will start our conversation
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with a clip from the season finale. >> how are you holding up? asked i have had better days. >> we are cool, right? this is not your fault, by the way. the fire was an act of god. this is part of god's plan. click save something for the toast, dad. tavis: are you still having fun? you are the man. -- 11ed with children" seasons. that is an actor's dream in this town. you are on to long-standing series. >> very lucky. i kind of saw this one coming. in the first one, i just -- everyone told me not to do it. they said, don't do it.
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no one ever heard of fox. i had a couple of tentative things going on. they said, don't do this, this is a horrible character and family. it is funny, though. said,mas was coming and i we will do six and they will cancel us. tavis: 11 years later -- i was show, i told them not going to do it. i met with them. i am not doing half hour. meet with them. i said, why did we do this? that is why they do it. i like them. i will watch it. and they sent me the script and i read it. this is a hit show.
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tavis: what did you see on paper that let you know it was going to be a hit show? seems -- with themes that are ahead of some americans. >> i noticed right away that the show had potential for what we call legs. the three separate families, it is not so one family and one room. i knew it had a construction that i liked. i thought they were dealing -- the way it was written was very clever. tavis: i read a quote the other day from you. you are very good about acknowledging the writers. that thesee point writers have done a brilliant job of balancing comedy with a motion. -- emotion. >> when i worked with david on a couple of shows, i learned a lot
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. he is a great writer. david used to say, if you want the drama to work, it has to be set up properly. you have to earn it. our show is 22 minutes without commercials. to get it to earn it in that brief period of time takes great writers. otherwise, it is melodramatic. i think they have done a wonderful job. for the most part, it is earned. tavis: what do you make of the fact about the good fortune you two had to be in long-running series? family units, is functional as they may be -- dysfunctional as they may be. families,oth about how do you -- what do you make of that?
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>> i do not know what to make of it. when they hired me in this one, i am not sure they knew quite what to do with me. the guy was aten, successful businessman. they are thinking, al bundy, she shows him and -- shoe salesman? one of these guys that works -- a self-made guy. but then they went away from that. the show, my job is to let everything roll around me. i am more or less reacting. in the first one, i was driving. it is two different styles of acting and i prefer this one. -- a self-made guy.
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tavis: why do you prefer it? >> i am not sure. scenes. to underplay sometimes you have to do that. . like the more natural style tavis: what do you think it says about the nation, the millions who watch you guys, that the ?ountry has embraced the show >> it is remarkable because i remember when the presidential election was happening and i that michelle obama and the girls would watch it in the white house. and that misses romney -- mrs. romney, it was there favorite show -- it was their favorite show. the only thing they had in
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common, probably. it is probably because of the conservativeness of the gay couple. and my character is a little more a business guy. i don't know. large spectrum of the country. tavis: because you have been through this once before, and because you put your finger on the pulse that this was going to be hit, what does your crystal ball tell you about how long this show can run successfully? >> i would say eight. we are going into six. it would make sense to go eight. with an outside possibility of a ninth year.
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think that is probably reasonable guess. fine with me. tavis: let's assume you're had twout when you have -- you have hit gold with two ain'tsful series, you , yougot a work again could've have played for the pittsburgh steelers. unless you are like most athletes, when you get done, i assume you will never have to work again in life, do you still love what you do enough to still want to do it? >> i go back and forth. i have a place in hawaii and sometimes i think, i could hang out here longer than three weeks. i do like to do the work.
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it depends on what the work is. best actor in america who's never done a movie. i have done a couple of movies, but i have never done a big-time movie. i got into it -- i am not complaining -- i got into television and i am a television guy. i have never really had a movie career. tavis: does it even interest you at this point? >> if it was the right part, of course. it is tricky. tavis: at the risk of touching a sensitive spot, i was -- it never occurred
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to me that you had been in the nominated multiple times. -- in the nominated -- emmy nominated multiple times. not mean, it it does anything to you. they are hard to win, you know? never -- i tell young , what, i had one actor can i do to win one of these things? you do not want to worry about it because then you will start guessing what people want to see and it is the wrong way to approach it. i have never had a publicist. it is almost like -- tavis: there is the answer. >> i do not know. it does not really -- i think about it sometimes.
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this is odd. but it does not -- i do not go to bed at night thinking of that or wake up in the morning -- it does not concern me that much. modern family just wrapped its fifth season. the'neill is part of brilliant ensemble cast. that is our show for tonight. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for conversation with nomi prins and musician ziggy marley.
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♪ ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more. pbs.
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