Next week two fine examples of local documentary-making find their way to air time across the country. Both tackle relevant subjects in a nonexploitive way. Both are constructive, problem-pinpointing, solution-oriented studies of subjects that need attention by Americans: children and criminals in our society.
Seen But Not Heard (Wednesday and other days, check local listings for times, days, and stations)m is an absorbing series of variations on the role of children in our society, produced by the 8th Decade Consortium. Each of its five stations provides an incisive, although unfortunately and perhaps necessarily brief, local segment on interlocking children's topics such as human rights, fears of nuclear war, education of the gifted, sexual abuse, and an unconventional juvenile-delinquent facility (a wilderness camp).
What results is an overview of the problems of young people in America. If the solutions are not always there, at least there is an honest look and a forward look at the constructive way some members of our society are dealing with a need for change.
Going Straight (Saturday and other days, check local listings for times and stations)m is a refreshingly unhackneyed investigation of the alternatives to prison in cases of criminality which do not involve violence.
Produced by Paul Bockhorst for David Bell in cooperation with ABC's five owned stations, this incisive look at three cities that are experimenting with innovative punishments is hosted by George Kennedy. He points out that each cell ultimately costs the state $50,000 to build, that it costs more annually to keep a prisoner in the cell ($14,000) than it does to send a son or daughter to Harvard. Thus, from strictly an economic point of view, it is wise to search for practical alternatives for those for whom jail is not the best solution.
The program delves deeply into the pilot projects of three cities - Quincy, Mass.; Pasadena, Calif.; and Elkhart, Ind. All three have devised programs that vary to some degree but which allow the criminal to compensate for his act with either public service or direct compensation to the victim. All three cities force the criminal to confront his victims so that he understands fully the pain he has caused.
In one instance, the program dramatizes a crime - a mistake in a documentary where total credibility is essential. Fortunately, the producer decided to use the gimmick only once.
''Going Straight'' is a practical look at what prisons can accomplish, what they cost in terms of money and the waste of human talent, and effective alternatives being developed.