“Scared Straight” Approach to Prevention Back on the Scene

Posted: January 18, 2011 in At-risk kids, Crime Prevention, Education
Tags: , , ,

Despite the fact that all the research about the “Scared Straight” approach to crime prevention has shown it doesn’t work this idea is getting new attention with a film that will be on A&E. The approach which brings young kids into prisons and has them interact with prisoners assumes that this experience will frighten kids into staying out of trouble. The results are dubious if not down right the opposite. I’ve talked to young guys who have gone through the program and there is a disconcerting glee in their wide eyes as they told me about male inmates screaming obscenities at them, telling them that they’d make a nice “girlfriend” for some brutal thug, that they wouldn’t last a day in jail,  “your ass is too pretty to waste.” The kids loved it. I imagine the dynamic is like riding the roller coaster: you think you’re going to die as your stomach chokes your throats but you know the safety bar is tight and you’ll be getting off soon. “Scared Straight” succeeds in romanticizing jail which is all a part of America’s perverse fascination with what happens in “the inside.” Kids think that jail is really “a cool place to be.” Youth Today— an excellent news source for anyone working or concerned about at risk kids– has a good article on this approach and the A&E showing

  1. Lakia Gordon says:

    Wow, that’s pretty interesting. I know when I was growing up they always talked about being “scared straight”, but it’s interesting to see that this has an opposite effect on the kids. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Janet says:


    I think the “Scared Straight Program” is a prime example of a good conceptual idea implemented badly. I was involved with a milder version called “Hard Facts” which was very successful with my groups of students. The inmates (carefully selected as presenters) act as experienced counselors. They tell it like it is without any screaming or dramatics–much more tearful than tough. I was really impressed and I don’t impress easily.

    A quick and easy option variation could involve teachers of incarcerated youth. Such teachers could give presentations in local schools. If incarcerated students could take part (as well) this can also be beneficial on many levels but such intervention needs to be carefully constructed.

    So what I am saying is, don’t condemn the basic idea without tweaking first. if really want to learn what tactic(s) would work, ASK STUDENTS and even better ASK INCARCERATED STUDENTS!!

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