Saturday, February 5, 2011

Scared Straight Fails

In this story from the Baltimore Sun, the research results from past scared straight efforts—proving the program concept is a failure, actually making the problem worse in some cases—are meant to discourage those who are trying to rebirth the effort.

This effort has been added to our compilation of failed reentry programs in the April 24, 2010 blog post.

An excerpt from the Baltimore Sun article.

“Scared straight" programs have long been wildly popular in this country as a get-tough response to juvenile crime. They typically involve bringing at-risk youths into an adult prison, where they are confronted — in shocking and brutal fashion — by adult inmates. These programs may include tours of the facility and personal stories from prisoners and may even integrate the youths into the prison population for up to a day. Experiencing the harsh reality of life behind bars is thought to deter kids from a life of crime by frightening them into changing their behavior.

“The A&E Network is currently airing "Beyond Scared Straight," a series highlighting four of these programs across the country. A recent episode followed five youths who were brought to the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup, which houses more than 1,000 inmates. These youths came face to face with what the A&E website described as "menacing inmates, including convicted murderers, [who] surround the kids and taunt them." The network portrays such programs as effective in keeping youths from becoming lifelong criminals.

“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, [at the jump type “scared straight” into the search panel for the report] 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.”