Blog: Scared Straight

Beyond Scared Straight: Still Going Strong in its Fifth Season

Beyond Scared Straight is, unfortunately, still on the air despite the research that shows it's ineffective and damaging to kids. In fact, Scared Straight programs actually INCREASE the likelihood that teens will reoffend. Why we're trusting the future of our teens to a television network whose other shows include Storage Wars and Duck Dynasty is beyond me. 
We've written quite a bit on (Beyond) Scared Straight in the past:

Scared Straight Continues, Despite Misgivings; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Scared Straight Continues, Despite Misgivings (JJIE.org)
    This week, the fourth season of the A&E TV show “Beyond Scared Straight” follows two young sisters to the adult jail in Douglas County, Ga., where one inmate tells one of the sisters how she could beat her up “and make you not so pretty no more.” Plenty of critics pan the show, saying it publicizes a discredited, harmful practice. Neither Georgia nor the feds will fund such jail tour programs, citing both evidence that it doesn’t work and the liabilities jails take on when they invite minors to meet with inmates.
  • Announcing the New AATOD Blog (AATOD.org)
    "This represents a slightly more informal way of communicating what AATOD is doing in representing the collective interests of our field. AATOD released its most current Five Year Plan in 2012. Three of the most prominent issues affecting the existing system and the future of or field are Health Care Reform; work with the Criminal Justice System; and prescription opioid use and addiction."
  • OP-ED: Troubled Young People Deserve Compassion, Not Punishment (JJIE.org)
    More than 2,500 Californians are serving life sentences in prison for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18. At San Quentin, it is all too common to come across young men serving 35 or 40 years-to-life for crimes they committed before they were old enough to drive — meaning they would be in their 50s before their first parole hearings.
  • National Guard Program Gives Forest Grove, Hillsboro High Dropouts a Second Shot at Education (OregonLive.com)
    Oregon Youth Challenges Program is an alternative school for high school dropouts aged 16 to 18. The program includes a five and a half month residency in Bend, followed by a year of mandatory check-ins by a student mentor and program leaders. The program is voluntary and free for students and their families.

Top 5 Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | 2012

And this is it, folks, the end of our countdown! We've already shared the top 25, top 20, top 15, and top 10. And now, here are the top 5 blog posts of 2012!
5. Scared Straight Programs Are All Talk
After "Scared Straight" became popular in the 1970s, a number of research reports evaluated children who went through the program compared to control groups and found that many of the youth who attended “scared straight” programs were actually worse off than the youth who had no intervention.
4. Punishment vs. Rehabilitation and the Effects of Trauma on High-Risk Youth
Studies show that 75 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced traumatic events; 50 percent have endured post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts of August

We realize that many of our readers spent at least part of August traveling and spending time away from the computer. So, we've put together a little recap of our most popular juvenile justice blog posts of August 2012.
10. A Look Back on 11 Years of Juvenile Justice Reform
Earlier this summer, the National Conference of State Legislatures published a report detailing the progress made in the juvenile justice arena at the state and national levels.
9. Funding Opportunity: Improve Outcomes for Boys of Color
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a new call for proposals for 10 grants of up to $500,000 each. The Forward Promise initiative is looking for innovative, community-based projects working to strengthen health, education and employment outcomes for middle school and high school-aged boys and young men of color.

New Financing Tool for Social Programs Opens Doors for Juvenile Justice

Identifying the best programs for solving serious social problems is challenging for governments in the best of times, and all the more so in a constrained fiscal environment where every dollar must count. This is particularly true in areas like juvenile justice where the most effective interventions may involve combining approaches that governments currently support through separate funding streams—and where politicians’ personal views may steer disproportionate amounts of funds to programs that sound good on paper but don’t deliver results.
But an innovative new financing tool called Social Impact Bonds may help solve some of these challenges. Social Impact Bonds, or SIBs, take traditional government funding structures and turn them on their head. Instead of paying costs upfront for a prescribed set of services, SIBs allow governments to define outcomes they want to achieve—and not pay a dime if those goals are not met.
At their core, Social Impact Bonds are a straightforward concept. A SIB is an arrangement between one or more government agencies and an external organization where the government specifies an outcome or set of outcomes they want to achieve and promises to pay that external organization a pre-agreed sum if it is able to accomplish the outcome(s). For a SIB agreement to work, the contracting agencies must place few, if any, controls on how the external organization seeks to achieve the outcome. This allows the external organization to use a combination of approaches to achieve the outcome.

2011's top 5 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse

This is it! Here are the top 5 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse from 2011:

#5. Serious juvenile offenders: Do mental health problems elevate risk?
Researchers looked at the relationship between mental health problems and involvement in criminal activity.
#4. Infographic: Balt Salts abuse
The Pat Moore Foundation shared an incredibly helpful infographic on bath salts, that describes what they are, how they can be abused and the side affects associated with their use.
#3. Most effective juvenile justice policy? Practitioners say it's drug treatment
Dr. Jeffrey Butts surveyed 300 juvenile justice professionals to assess their thoughts on combating and preventing juvenile crime. 
#2. Scared Straight: Don't believe the hype (facts from CJJ)
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice explained why "Scared Straight" approaches to juvenile justice are ineffective, counterproductive and costly.
#1. Beyond "Scared Straight" -- Moving to programs that actually work
Rather than focusing on shaming and terrorizing youth to deter them from future crime, Dr. Laura Nissen made a strong case for investing in evidence-based practices of treatment, supportive services, and community-based recovery support services that teens in the juvenile justice system need to be successful. 

"Scared Straight" programs are all talk

“Scared Straight”, the popular 1978 documentary by Arnold Shapiro, has been brought to television as “Beyond Scared Straight.” I avoided watching the new reality television series because all the research shows the scare tactics of taking kids to jail for a day does not work. I was hoping that after one season the show would die and just go away. Unfortunately, it is back for a new season.
How does “Beyond Scared Straight” work? It is easy. You handcuff a few kids, take them on a tour of a jail, and let guards and prisoners scream at them all day until they break. After, the kids go home and never commit a crime again.
Of course, this is the desired end result. In reality, the television series does a follow-up with kids after 30 days and finds that some of the youth report that they have changed, while others say nothing has changed. The show I watched followed up with four kids after 30 days; two said their behavior had improved and two said nothing had changed. Not a very good success rate for 30 days later. I would guess that another follow-up after 90 days might show even worse results.
After "Scared Straight" became popular in the 1970s, a number of research reports evaluated children who went through the program compared to control groups and found that many of the youth who attended “scared straight” programs were actually worse off than the youth who had no intervention.

2011's top 20 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse, part 2

Continuing the countdown of the top 20 most popular stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse of 2011: 

#15. Why police need to better understand trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Lisa H. Thurau explained why it's so important for police officers to understand the effects of trauma on children.
#14. Webinar: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
In this webinar, Judge Steven Teske explained how one school district worked to reduce referrals to juvenile courts while simultaneously addressing disruptive behavior. (The archived webinar is available for viewing.)
#13. "Beyond 'Scared Straight'" returns to promote a discredited juvenile justice intervention (roundup)
Ahead of the second season of "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" we shared coverage discrediting Scared Straight and its methods.
#12. Why more cops in schools is a bad idea
A new report from the Justice Policy Institute found that an increase in the presence of law enforcement in schools coincides with increases in referrals to the juvenile justice system, especially for minor offenses like disordly conduct.
#11. Teen brain development: neural gawkiness
Chris Sturgis explained what goes on in the child and teenage brain and how we can use that knowledge to help youngsters keep out of trouble.

 Stay tuned for the TOP TEN most popular stories.. 

What J. Edgar Hoover and Scared Straight get wrong about juvenile justice

Recently, I wrote about how locking up youth in juvenile hall only increased the chances that they would reoffend. This was based on the new study, “No Place for Kids.”
Another report that came out earlier this year, “Evidence-Based Interventions for Juvenile Offenders and Juvenile Justice Policies that Support Them,” takes a look at what works and what doesn’t. According to the study, only 5 percent of eligible youthful offenders are treated with an evidence-based service. Evidence-Based services are ones that have been demonstrated to be successful.
Many juvenile offender services are not effective and some methods, like “shock incarceration treatment,” such as Scared Straight, actually worsen anti-social behavior. Unfortunately, with TV reality shows touting such interventions, communities continue to support these high-profile, ineffective programs. The thinking is: ‘We will just scare them into changing their ways.’ Only by looking at the studies do we see that mixing youthful offenders with adult criminals, or with like-minded peers, only increases the chances that they will commit another crime.
What works to turn kids’ lives around?
Research shows that addressing key risk factors like improving family functioning, developing relationships with caring adults, and improving school performance in the youth’s natural environment decreases criminal behavior. Behavioral treatment such as multi-systemic therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT) not only improve outcomes for children but are less expensive. Unfortunately, time and time again, we see juvenile justice policy driven by communities that don’t like the idea of “coddling” juvenile offenders and want them locked up. Their focus is punishment, not change.
Digging through my files, I came across an article written by J. Edgar Hoover for the defunct The American Magazine in January 1955. In his article, “You Can Help Stop Juvenile Crime,” the former FBI director warned that the undermining of traditions, customs and a lack of respect was creating kids who did not recognize the difference between good and evil.

The Many Things Wrong with A&E’s “Beyond Scared Straight” Program

juvenile-justice-system_painting-of-tough-toddler-with-cigarette-lighterThe "Beyond 'Scared Straight'" message, "In prison for a day to stay out for life," certainly appeals to a television audience. The hit series from Disney’s A&E Network became the most-watched original series launch in the network’s history with an audience of 3.7 million people. The show is a spinoff of the multiple award-winning documentary films also produced by Arnold Shapiro.

But do "scared straight" programs really work to reduce juvenile crime?  
“No,” claimed Professor James Finckenauer, Ph.D., from Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, in his address to the National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in New York City in July. Finckenauer, author of Scared Straight! and the Panacea Phenomenon Revisited, cogently explained why those programs don’t work by examining the concept of “deterrence” as applied to teenage thinking and behavior.
I confess I was one of the judges who accepted the evidence that “scared straight” programs didn’t work, but I couldn’t figure out why. After all, I thought, I certainly would have been “scared straight” after experiencing a day in prison, including being yelled at by brutal inmates, clanging bars, menacing guards, etc. Why wouldn’t it work on at-risk teens?  What was wrong with the headline, “They think they’re fighters. Will it change when they can’t fight back?”

Less Scared Straight, More 'Talk Therapy'

juvenile-justice-system_teen-staring-through-chainlink-fenceThe other day I watched the A&E program Beyond Scared Straight for the first time. I'm familiar with the original 1979 Academy Award winning documentary, Scared Straight!, that inspired many states across the country to institute similar programs in an attempt to deter juveniles already involved with the criminal justice on some level from a future life of imprisonment. These kids are taken on a tour of a jail and introduced to prisoners who recount horror stories of their time behind bars. The hope is that once given a taste of the grim reality of prison life, these 13-19 year old kids will want to go "straight" and avoid incarceration. Executive produced by the director of the original, Arnold Shapiro, this new "reality" series is the highest rated original program in A&E's history.
The show has been met with harsh criticism. In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, director of Justice Programs at Governor's Office for Children and Families in Georgia, Joe Vignati wrote: "The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short -and long-term harm and actually INCREASES the likelihood of re-offending among some participants."
A January op-ed for the Baltimore Sun titled "Scary -- and ineffective," written by Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski, two Justice Department officials, sites research that says those who participated in a scared straight type program were 28 percent more likely to offend than youths who had not participated. The Campaign for Youth Justice is calling for the show to be pulled from A&E.
In the episode I saw, there was a young man named Brandon who lived in Detroit. Brandon sported a tattoo on his right forearm of a skull and the word "Heartless" underneath and said he lived by the creed "MHD," which stands for "Money, Hoes, Drugs." Money brings women, and drugs bring money, Brandon explained. The worst he had ever done, he admitted, was shoot someone.

"Beyond 'Scared Straight'" Program “Incoherent” According to Conflict Management Expert

juvenile-justice-reform_beyond-scared-straight-North-CarolinaThe premier episode of the new season of the controversial reality show, “Beyond Scared Straight,” adheres to the themes that made it A&E’s most watched show: a small group of at-risk youth spend the day in prison where they are yelled at, intimidated and humiliated by sheriff’s deputies and inmates alike. The screaming and threats of prison rape are followed by emotional conversations with the inmates as they describe to the teens where they went wrong and how the teens can avoid the same fate.

The episode features Mecklenburg County, N.C.’s “Reality Program,” created by Sheriff Daniel “Chipp” Bailey.
“Our Reality Program stresses education, not intimidation,” Bailey is quoted as saying on the program’s website.
According to the website, the mission of the program is to “provide the community with a program which will help educate young people about the long-term effects of participating in criminal activity.”
After watching the show, non-violent communication and conflict management expert Dr. Heather Pincock was baffled.
“There is no coherent approach in the diversion program,” Pincock said. “Most of the episode they [the deputies] were there to intimidate the youth or break the youth down or humiliate them. Then they suddenly start saying. ‘We’re your friends, we’re here to help you.’ There are very mixed messages around their role. It doesn’t make any sense.”

On "Scared Straight" -- From a Personal Experience

juvenile-justice-system_televisionI just watched the first episode of this season of A&E’s “Beyond Scared Straight.” This was my first exposure to the show. JJIE.org has covered the details of this program and experts have weighed in about it in this space, from knowledgeable, yet slightly removed positions. [Scroll down for related posts on the Reclaiming Futures blog. -- Ed.]
For me, however, it was a strange and personal experience. Watching the show I was flooded by memories of my own time in prison, both as a young man and as an older prisoner in contact with “at-risk youth.” I felt waves of emotion, mostly negative, as I watched fear and intimidation used, along with a smattering of humane connection, to bring about change in these young people.
When I first arrived at the youth prison in Alto (a notorious prison at the time in north Georgia) in 1985, I was placed in a dorm. The officer told us that if we were fighting and refused to stop when he called “break,” he would “bust our ‘tater” with his billy club.
This same officer, after catching me in an infraction, had me squat and walk around the dorm, quacking like a duck. I did this because I feared refusing and facing more severe punishment. This memory came back to me as I watched a similar scene on the show. The use of mindless exercise as punishment seemed similarly sadistic to me. I do not recall that this experience had any positive effect on me. Conversely, I instead became more skilled at not getting caught.

"Beyond 'Scared Straight'" Returns to Promote a Discredited Juvenile Justice Intervention (Roundup)

juvenile-justice-system_scared-teenMuch to our dismay, A&E Network will air a second season of "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" its hit reality-TV show, beginning August 18, 2011. As you may know, the program exposes a group of teens who've committed offenses to a group of adult prison inmates who scream, yell, and talk tough, in an effort to convince the kids to "going straight." 
There's a lot of problems with this approach, but the chief one is this: it doesn't work. There's not a single piece of independent research that indicates it's effective, and quite a lot that shows it isn't -- in fact, an overview of nine studies shows that youth who participate are more likely to commit crimes than kids who don't.  That may make for great television, but it's not good for the kids or our communities. 
We've given a lot of coverage in the past to why "Scared Straight" is a bad idea, so I'll just link to it here:

Photo: anna gutermuth under a Creative Commons license.

Is the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" and More: a Roundup

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TVIs the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" U.S. Attorney General Asks
    Attorney General Eric Holder wants to see the juvenile justice system shift from prosecution and punishment to prevention and intervention, as he made clear in a March 7th speech to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference. Among other things, he pointed to the evidence showing that "scared straight programs" are ineffective, and the high rate of sexual victimization of detained youth. 
     
  • States Try Fewer Youth in Adult Court  
    Only a few states -- New York and North Carolina among them -- continue to treat 16-year-olds as adults when it comes to the justice system. Money's an issue, because it's more expensive to try them in the juvenile justice system. However, a new analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice finds that the fiscal benefits outweigh the costs.
  • States Back Away From Punitive Drug Laws
    The high cost of imprisoning low-level drug offenders is adding momentum to efforts to reform punitive drug laws that incarcerate people without addressing their underlying treatment problem.

"Scared Straight" Programs on Hold in Two States

juvenile-justice-reform_thank-you-signPrisons in Maryland and California have put their "Scared Straight" programs on hold in the wake of warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that federal funding could be cut for states using the discredited intervention.
Two DOJ officials, including Jeff Slowikowski, the Acting Director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), wrote in an editorial published last week that the "Scared Straight" program was "scary -- and inffective," and that it "could run counter to the law."
They cited studies showing that  "Scared Straight" youth are more likely to commit new crimes.

U.S. Department of Justice: Scared Straight is "Scary and Ineffective"

juvenile-justice-reform_young-woman-with-scissors-at-her-eye"Traumatizing at-risk kids is not the way to lead them away from crime and drugs,"write Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski of the U.S. Department of Justice in a January 31st editorial published in The Baltimore Sun responding to A&E television network's reality show, "Beyond 'Scared Straight.'" (Hat tip to the Justice Policy Institute on Facebook.)
Robinson is assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Slowikowski is acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
They point to the research showing that "scared straight" programs actually make youth more likely to commit new crimes, not less. They go on:
"The fact that these types of programs are still being touted as effective, despite stark evidence to the contrary, is troubling. In the decades following the original scared straight program, states across the country developed similar models in the hopes that this get-tough approach would make an impact on their impressionable youth. As it turns out, the impact was not the one they had hoped for.
"Fortunately, in recent years, policymakers and criminal and juvenile justice practitioners have begun to recognize that answers about what works are best found in sound research, not in storytelling. Evidence from science provides the field with the best tool for sound decision-making. This 'smart on crime' approach saves taxpayer money and maximizes limited government resources — especially critical at a time of budget cuts."
We applaud them and the rest of the leadership at the Department of Justice for adding their voices of opposition to scared-straight programming for youth in the justice system. Their voices now join the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the National Council of Juvenile and Famliy Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Campaign for Youth Justice, and of course Reclaiming Futures -- we're glad to see so many arrayed publicly against an intervention that wastes money and lives.

Update August 2011: in spite of overwhelming research evidence and opposition from juvenile judges, federal officials, and juvenile justice experts,  A&E Television is airing a new series of episodes of Beyond 'Scared Straight.'
 
 

Scared Straight -- or Just Scared? Judges Speak Out Against "Beyond 'Scared Straight'"

juvenile-justice-reform-line-of-young-menThe National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) is calling on A&E television network to stop misrepresenting the facts about  the effectiveness of "Scared Straight" interventions with young people involved in the justice system. "Scared Straight" exposes youth in the juvenile justice system (from runaways to violent offenders) to adult prisoners, who intimidate, harrass, and humiliate the teens in an effort to scare them into "going straight." The intervention is now the subject of a reality show , "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" on the A&E network.
In a statement published January 27, 2011, NCJFCJ wrote:
Although advertisements for the show claim Scared Straight! is "an effective juvenile prevention/intervention program," social science research clearly demonstrates the opposite. In fact, research strongly suggests Scared Straight! and similar programs have a harmful impact on youth and are associated with increased risk for continued delinquent/criminal behaviors. Further, it is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.
 
The judges want "A&E to provide a meaningful opportunity to present the facts around Scared Straight! and similar programs." They have joined Reclaiming Futures, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Campaign for Youth Justice, and many other juvenile justice advocates in their opposition to the program.
NCJFCJ's research arm, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), has also released a position statement, "Scared Straight or just Scared? The False Promise and Potential Danger of Scared Straight Programs for Youth." NCJJ takes the reality show to task because it "falsely claims that “Scared Straight” will result in better outcomes and less delinquency among youth participants" when research shows the opposite.

National Mentoring Month and More - a Roundup

positive-youth-development_old-TV-that-says-newsJanuary is National Mentoring Month

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