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A Change to Scared-Straight Programs Proposal

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2019


The rate at which criminal activities happen around the world is alarming. While majority associate these activities with adult men and women, it is surprising to realize the share of the crimes that are committed by children. In most instances, people assume that children are not involved criminal activities.

It is therefore worth noting the depth of Schmalleger’s report on children and crime. In fact, Schemalleger’s report of 2008 revealed that about 10% of the 99,794 juvenile arrests were of children of 12 years and below (2011, p. 542). An approximately 17% of all the arrests made in the United States every year comprised juveniles.

In addition, juveniles are responsible for about 16% aggressive felony acts and about 26% property crimes in the United States. Since children form less than a third of the population, their percentage involvement in crime is disproportional (542). This argument indicates that the prevalence of criminal activities resulting from juveniles has been assumed in the world.

The percentages revealed by such studies like that of Schmalleger are enough to prove that children’s involvement in criminal acts is alarming. In fact, this trend has been increasing over the years especially in the United States. Therefore, the rising trends of criminal acts by children have made it necessary for advocates and law makers to develop ways of reducing incidences of crimes committed by juveniles.

They introduced the scared-straight programs as mechanisms of fighting felony acts by children. Whether they are effective or not has been a subject of discussion. As the paper reveals, removing some aspects such as confrontation and maintaining contact and support to the offenders and their families over an extended period can make the programs effective. However, the share that this strategy can have is insignificant in relation to the weight of the cons of the program, which make it ineffective.

Sacred-straight Programs are not Effective

Scared-straight programs cannot be effective by themselves alone because juvenile crimes continue to rise even after great efforts by the government of the United States to enact legislations to promote it over the years. For instance, in the United States, several acts promoted the establishment of juvenile courts in a bid to separate children in crimes from mature adults. A good example of such a move that has never born any fruits is the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899. This Act initiated a system of juvenile courts in the state of Illinois.

Through the same Act, all juveniles in crimes were to be regarded as delinquents. Because of this Act, judges of the juvenile courts were advised to keep focus on the interest of the children in crimes than on their criminal act (Schmalleger, 2011, p. 546). In fact, no juvenile offender would be regarded as a criminal in such courts. Judges were to regard them as delinquents. This strategy is one of the grounds that made scare-straight programs unsuccessful.

The second effort by the program was to eliminate the guilt of crime from the delinquents in a bid to promote reformation. The move made many juvenile criminals feel pampered to continue with their criminal activities even after being taken through the court process. They would never be remorseful about their acts. In 1938, the federal government of the United States passed another law: the Juvenile Court Act.

This Act had many attributes and incorporations of the previous Illinois Act (Schmalleger, 2011, p. 547), which was followed by concerted efforts by the federal government to ensure that, within the next eight years, the states in America had established legislations on juvenile offenders and their treatment in courts of law (Schmalleger, 2011, p. 547). However, these efforts were not fruitful.

There were certain principals that the juvenile courts were to follow as the guidelines. Such principles included the assumption that the state was the ultimate parent to every child. The state should use non punitive measures to save children since it was worthwhile to do so.

Every state was to nurture children and protect them from formal judicial procedure’s effects by individualizing the process of justice to recognize that every child is different by aspirations, living conditions, and needs. In addition, states were to be guided by the principle of non criminal procedures when adjudicating juvenile cases (Schmalleger, 2011, p. 547). Each state had to consider these factors in handling juvenile cases.

All these efforts flopped. In fact, by 1980s, the rate of juvenile crimes rose to a higher scale (Dammer & Albanese, 2011, p. 264: Nissen, 2011, Para. 3: Schembri, n.d, p. 1), which was an indication that the program was not as effective as it was meant to be. In fact, it had worked against the federal and the state judicial systems.

These alarming trends in juvenile crimes caused another shift in the way legislators and legal advocate perceived juvenile crimes (264). The legal procedures that followed when dealing with juvenile offenders were to be tightened. It was also clear that the major cause of failure in the first efforts to minimize juvenile crimes failed because it was skewed towards the welfare of the child than the actual crime committed.

This strategy would never deter future juvenile offenders. In fact, it promoted a second crime act by many offenders who had gone through the trial system. This issue made policy makers move to becoming tough in a bid to lower juvenile crimes and or to reduce the impact of violence on the juveniles (Schmalleger, 2011, p. 547).

The major goal of implementing these legal principles was to ensure that all children offenders were rehabilitated using non-punitive measures. The general assumption was that reaching juvenile offenders when they are young enough in their criminal acts would deter their behavior (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 256) upon claiming that denial of reinforcement of behavior culminates in demonization.

When behavior is not reinforced, it is likely not to be manifested in the future. Government officials shifted their attention from the legal process to prisons. The federal government focused attention to assist the juvenile offenders to awareness through prison visits. The major focus here was to deter criminals from committing criminal acts before the actual act was committed. The deterrence theory posits that strict deterrence of a certain behavior at an early stage may prevent the repetition of such a behavior.

In 1979, juvenile awareness programs gained publicity when Scare Straight documentary was aired after winning the Oscar awards (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 257). This documentary emphasized the real meaning of juvenile programs thereby earning both local and international interest from the public. This program achieved between 80% and 90% success in deterring crimes commitment especially in the future dates.

For example, in this program, juveniles would be taken to Rahway maximum security prison. Here, the inmates of this prison would narrate to the juveniles some stories of sex abuse, violence, and body abuse that they went through in prison. This strategy would portray life behind bars as unbearable. With such encounters, the juveniles would fear and feel scared about life in prison hence deterring them from committing criminal offences.

When other nations learnt about the success of straight scare program in New Jersey, they also adopted the program (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 257). Juveniles would therefore have routine visits to the prison. They would also be allowed to interact and watch what happens in prisons ranging from confrontations and fighting among inmates, life in a locked cell, and meal sessions.

The scare-straight program was not successful as proven by reports that came from the program officials (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 258). For example, the reports revealed that the program was a flop since criminal acts committed by juveniles that had gone through the program increased by 30%. Juveniles who went through the full scare-straight program committed new crimes just six months from the date of finishing the program (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 258).

Perhaps, the stories narrated to them by the inmates encouraged them to be hardy in their pursuit to perfect their criminal acts. For instance, 40% of the boys in the program committed other criminal offences before the lapse of six months after the training. This was way above 10% crime rate manifested when other programs were used (Harvard Mental Health Letter). It can therefore be argued that straight scare programs are not successful in deterring juveniles from committing crimes.

Other programs indicate better results hence they are definitely better. It was also proved through various studies that the Scare straight program was not successful. For instance, the Harvard Medical Health Letter made a move to prove this point by evaluating nine studies in eight states in the United States. This survey took about 25 years. Researchers in this study revisited follow-ups programs, which ranged from three months to two years.

The study also revisited the issue of whether the juveniles were later on arrested, ever convicted, or had negative contact with the police since they left the program. According to the analysis of this report, the scare-straight program was not effective. In fact, the report indicated that there was no difference in the life of the juvenile offender. Other reports on scare-straight programs have indicated that the difference that could be realized favored the children who never undergone it.

From these researches, a clear contradiction came out. For example, the government officials were for the idea that the only effective way to deter a criminal is by imprisonment and to get very tough. Use of scare-straight programs would just make worse the criminal acts rather than deterring them (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 255: Lockwood, Harris, & Mengers, 2009, p.1). According to (Petrosino, 2003, p. 13), scare-straight programs enhanced juveniles and inmates’ appetite to commit crimes.

Criminals believe that they are achievers on the negative side. They believe that they are the best gangsters, rapists, and top in other crimes. To them, that strategy defines how they made their name in their states. Juveniles will therefore learn tactics of committing crimes as the inmates narrate their stories to them. This case portrays the inmates as role models to the upcoming juveniles (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 255).

The way the juveniles were treated in the camps also led to the failure of the scare-straight program. In most instances, the juveniles were treated like children: with respect, tenderness, and love, which made them even worse. It is also worth noting that, in most instances that the juveniles had to encounter the inmates, it could only take an hour or a few hours, which limited the amount of time that the juveniles were exposed to the inmates to have a notable impact at the end of the program (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010, p. 268).

According to the meta-analysis, scared–straight program did not deter crimes: increased them from 60% to 70%. In addition, it is also worth noting that, before a juvenile is classified as a criminal, his or her behavior is at its peak. This argument means that simple acts of deterring it may not work. In the same way, efforts to use the scare-straight method may not help such a person.

Opposing Views to Scare-Straight Program

According to Kelnowski, Bell, and Dodson, the use of confrontational methods in deterring crimes may not yield positive results (2010, p. 255). In fact, they assert that the societal need to reduce crime by juvenile offenders can only come through the implementation of non-confrontational methods of deterrence. It is quite open now that methods that promote intimidation, confrontation, and fear do not work and have not worked in the past (Petrosino, 2003, p. 13).

It is therefore clear that, if there will be a success in tackling the problem of juvenile crimes, it will have to be done through scare-straight programs. The society can also use educational programs, family programs, community-based programs, reentry programs, and youth recreation. These methods are likely to succeed because they offer ongoing oversight to rehabilitate delinquent behavior (Mulvey, 2011, p. 3).

Researchers have shown that incarceration of the juvenile offenders does not offer any difference in doing the offence again in the future. Various research studies that follow the juvenile offenders after life in prison indicate that the rate of committing another crime has been about 66% second arrest and 33% second convictions (Sells, Sullivan, & DeVore, 2012, p. 40).

Applying scare-straight program facilitates reformation of the offender so that he or she lives a crime-free life to become a respectable citizen (Sells, Sullivan, & DeVore, 2012, p. 40) hence offering an opportunity to engage juvenile offenders into activities and relationships with good role models (Peters & Myrick, 2010, p. 33).

Scare-straight programs offer an opportunity for the delinquent offenders to work, go to school, or continue with other productive activities hence reducing their attraction to committing another crime (Mulvey, 2011, p. 2). This provision is very necessary because researches indicate that most of the children that become delinquent are brought up by uneducated parents and neighborhoods (Mathur and Schoenfeld, 2010, p. 21-22). This predisposes juvenile offenders to abuse, poor attitude to academics, and drug abuse.

My Opinion

In my opinion, the scare-straight program was a good program to use in deterring juvenile offenders. However, the implementation procedure was the cause of its failure. It is worth noting that the program has failed due to poor control and implementation strategies. One cannot expect that, when mature inmates are left to narrate a story on their criminal past and the atrocities of prison, they will do it in a positive light. In most instances, the criminals would want to involve juveniles into becoming people of their caliber.

They would show them how to become famous through crimes by indicating that theirs was only an accident that led to their arrest. Such moves would not deter criminal activities by the juveniles: they would in fact promote them. The will of the inmates to guide and counsel the juveniles is also questionable since the juveniles that were exposed to the scare-straight programs became either worse or had no positive attributes.

The use of involvement methods like discussions, open forums, and family therapy can be very effective because there is no exposure of the juvenile offender to criminals. In fact, using discussions helps the offender to understand that there are people who care about them.

The program also ensures that the juvenile offender is not completely separated from his or her immediate family members and the environment. This provision will enable him or her to open up to those who are close to him or her. The understanding here is that the offender is still part of the society, and he or she cannot be neglected because of his or her past atrocities.

It is also a positive message that the society is ready if the victims change their behavior. On the other hand, the use of scare–straight method may end up encouraging delinquency since the juvenile offender is put in a point where he or she can interact with other criminals like him and even the senior criminals in maximum prisons. This case exposes him or her to more dangerous role models as they continue narrating their ordeals.

It is also worth noting that, when criminals interact, the juvenile offenders are made to view their crimes as the least that one can commit thus making them not remorseful about the crimes they commit since they have met other people who committed worse crimes. Therefore, the scare-straight method of deterring crime is not effective. In fact, it may lead to hardening of juveniles who would have been reformed if the appropriate alternative method was applied.


In conclusion, the scare-straight program of deterring juvenile offenders is not effective compared to other programs because, as it has been discussed above, various researches have indicated that the juveniles that undergo these programs remain the same, grow worse, or are worse than those juveniles who did not undergo the program. Instead of exposing the juveniles to hardened criminals in maximum prisons for guidance in the name of scaring them, it would be better to use interactive methods.

Such methods like family therapy and discussions may yield better results since the juveniles would be more ready to open up and share their worries. Such methods are also more involving. Juveniles feel that the society is still ready to accept them back when they reform. This provision may completely deter their will to commit a crime again.

Reference List

Dammer, R., & Albanese, J. (2011). Comparative Criminal Justice Systems. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Klenowski, M., Bell, K., & Dodson, K. (2010). An Empirical Evaluation Of Juvenile Awareness Programs In The United States: Can Juveniles Be “Scare Straight”? Journal Of Offender Rehabilitation, 49(4), 254-272.

Lockwood, B., Harris, W., & Mengers, L. (2009). A CJCA White paper: Defining and Measuring Recidivism. London: Routledge.

Mathur, R., & Schoenfeld, N. (2010). Effective Instructional Practices In Juvenile Justice Facilities. Behavioral Disorders, 36(1), 20-27.

Mulvey, E. (2011). Highlights From Pathway to Desistance: A Longitudinal Study of Serious Adolescent Offenders. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Nissen, L. (2011). Beyond Scare-Straight-Moving to Programs that Actually Work. Web.

Peters, C., & Myrick, S. (2010). Juvenile Recidivism-measuring success or Failure: Is there a difference? Corrections Today, 73(1), 32-43.

Petrosino, A. (2002). Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency. Campbell: The Campbell Collaboration.

Schembri, A. (n.d). Scared Straight Programs: Jail and Detention Tours. Web.

Schmalleger, F. (2011). Criminal Justice Today: An introductory Text for The 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sells, S., Sullivan, I., & DeVore, D. (2012). Stopping The Madness: A new Reentry System For Juvenile Corrections. Corrections Today, 74(2), 40-45.

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