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Research Behind Scared Straight

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Scared Straight Programs

Final Project

Selina Engle

Baker College


This paper explores seven published articles that report on results from research conducted on the various scared straight youth intervention programs across the United States. These programs are designed to help deter youth offenders from maintaining the destructive path that their life is currently on. The general hypothesis for the various programs is that participants of these programs will show a decrease in the amount of delinquent and criminal activities that they partake in. However, there is research that shows that perhaps these programs do not have the desired effect on the participants that the various county sheriffs are hoping for. The research suggests various reasoning and variables for the reasoning behind why the programs may not be successful and why other programs are successful. This paper will examine the ideals, ethics, variables, and hypotheses that revolve around the various scared straight programs that delinquent youth may partake in.

Scared Straight Programs

There is an ever growing increase in the number of crimes committed by individuals under the legal age of 18. Parents, guardians, and law enforcement are all becoming increasingly concerned with the ever increasing presence of juveniles committing and participating in illegal activities. This concern has led many county departments of corrections to create scared straight programs. These programs are designed to show the youth participants where they may eventually be living if they continue their law breaking ways. This paper will discuss the following as it relates to the various scared straight programs: (a) introduction to the problem, (b) research question, hypothesis, and variables, (c) literature review, (d) ethical considerations, (e) proposed method of research, (f) participant characteristics and sampling, (g) procedures, and (h) expected findings and discussion.

Introduction to the Problem

Crimes committed by teenagers have been on the rise in the past years. This has led law enforcement to create programs that are designed to deter the youth offenders from participating in the illegal activities. These programs revolve around the concept that the youth participants will be "scared straight" by the realization of the possibility of being locked in a prison for the crimes that they have committed. The program uses scare tactics from the prison staff and various selected inmates in order to show the participants what life in prison is really like. The participants arrive at the prison, are made to change into prison uniforms, eat prison food, and interact with the inmates. In some programs, the participants are held overnight in solitary cells, are given a tour of the morgue, and some programs even have the participants go with their parents to pick out their own coffins. All of these programs are designed to inform the youth offenders about the path that their life is heading down.

Research Question, Hypothesis, and Variables

There are many questions that can be asked about the scared straight programs. The biggest research question to be asked is if the "scared straight" programs work to decrease the amount of teenagers that become prisoners later on in life. The second research question would be: Does the scared straight program actually work to change the participants mind set as it relates to deviant behavior? The hypothesis for the scared straight program would be: It is hypothesized that the scared straight program has a psychological impact and decreases the deviant behavior of the participants. In this hypothesis the independent variable would be whether or not the teenager participated in a "scared straight" program. The dependent variable would be the criminal activity level of the teenagers. One extraneous variable to this hypothesis would be the home and family situation of the teenager. A moderator variable could be the culture that the teenager is raised in.

Literature Review

One of the most read studies about the scared straight programs is the study conducted by Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino, and Buehler (2003) titled, "Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency: A Systematic Review of the Randomized Experimental Evidence." The objective of the study was to assess the effects of the programs comprising organized visits to prisons by juvenile delinquents (Petrosino, Petrosino, & Buehler, 2003). The hypothesis is that scared straight programs do not have the desired effect on the participants. This hypothesis is supported by the evidence that the author's found within the research. This hypothesis also states a clear association between the variables of the research. The authors clearly state the independent and dependent variables. Also, the author stated that, "We only considered studies that randomly or quasi-randomly (i.e. alternation) assigned participants to conditions. Each study had to have a no-treatment control condition with at least one outcome measure of "post-visit" criminal behavior" (Petrosino, Petrosino, & Buehler, 2003). The authors concluded that the analyses show the intervention to be more harmful than doing nothing. The program effect, whether assuming a fixed or random effects model, was nearly identical and negative in direction, regardless of the meta-analytic strategy.

Andrews and Bonta (2010) suggest that instead of a "get tough" mentality, criminal justice programs should work toward rehabilitating offenders in their article "Rehabilitating Criminal Justice Policy and Practice." The authors studied how over the past 30 years the punitive measures have failed to reduce criminal repetition. The authors suggest that the right tract to make is to place greater effort on models such as the Risk-Need Responsivity model. This model has shown to reduce repeat offenders by up to 35% (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). The authors strongly suggest that the scared straight program and scare tactics are not productive and that programs should be aimed more toward rehabilitation services and the powerful influence strategies for reducing criminal behavior, such as cognitive social learning.

Bazemore, Stinchcomb, and Leip (2004) describe truancy as being a precursor to juvenile delinquency in their article titled, "Scared



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