In response to the wildly popular new A&E series, “Beyond Scared Straight,” two administrators at the Department of Justice published an editorial in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week. “Beyond Scared Straight” basically follows a group of kids as they’re taken on elaborate tours of state prisons and are cajoled and intimidated by inmates. The editorial’s authors, Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski, say that there’s nothing productive about exposing kids to harassment. Kids, they say, cannot be scared straight:
“Unfortunately, the research tells us otherwise: “scared straight” is not only ineffective but is potentially harmful. And it may run counter to the law.
Anthony Petrosino and a team of researchers from the Campbell Collaboration, an international research network, analyzed the findings from evaluations of nine scared straight-type programs. In contrast to the claims of proponents, Mr. Petrosino and his colleagues found that these programs did not deter teenage participants from offending; in fact, they were more likely to offend in the future. Across the evaluated programs, participants were up to 28 percent more likely to offend than youths who didn’t participate. To add insult to injury, a number of youths reported to evaluators that adult inmates sexually propositioned them and tried to steal their belongings. Not only was scared straight found not to deter criminal behavior, the study strongly suggested the program caused harm.
The fact that these types of programs are still being touted as effective, despite stark evidence to the contrary, is troubling.”
The DOJ, they go on, does not support such programs and states that use them may be jeopardizing their funding under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. That law, in part, asks states to focus on prevention programs with research-proven positive results. Instead of things that make for good tv, the authors recommend, states should focus on things that are proven to work, which happen to be on the polar opposite of yelling at and threatening kids: like mentoring programs.