“Scared Straight” programs have been around for decades. The premise of the Scared Straight model is to keep adolescents from engaging in a criminal lifestyle by giving them a taste of the harsh realities associated with being sent to prison. The youths are sent to a real jail or prison where carefully selected inmates are coached to scream and threaten the also carefully selected group of teens. The inmates use intimidating bullying tactics to scare the juveniles “straight.” Often the teens sent to a Scared Straight program by the court have not committed a crime, but are regarded as having a “bad attitude” or have skipped school.
Most teens that are selected to participate in the Scared Straight program are considered “redeemable,” that is, they are not so entrenched in criminal behavior that going to jail would have little effect on them. Scared Straight-type programs are wildly popular among certain segments of society that believes such interventions will reduce juvenile crime. Unfortunately, that is just not the case.
The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) reports that Scared Straight programs do little to keep adolescents from committing crimes. Critics of the program claim that several studies have shown that such programs are ineffective. Advocates for juvenile justice reform say that money is better spent on support programs for youth, and on evidence-based practices.
There is certain irony that A & E television has renewed its contract for “Beyond Scared Straight” for a fourth year, while public service ads promoting anti-bullying campaigns fill the airways. Bullying a child under the guise of “helping” them not only is ineffective, but is also harmful, says JJIE.