A&E’s ‘Scared Straight’ Perpetrates Myths About ‘Tough on Crime’


Writing in the Baltimore Sun, two federal officials have joined the criticism of “Beyond Scared Straight,” an A&E TV series that follows the stories of youths placed in adult detention as a way to frighten them into changing their behavior. “The network portrays such programs as effective in keeping youths from becoming lifelong criminals,” write Laurie O. Robinson, assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs, and Jeff Slowikowski, acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Unfortunately, the research tells us otherwise: ‘scared straight’ is not only ineffective but is potentially harmful. And it may run counter to the law.”

They cite research that teens who go through the training are more likely to offend again, not less. Robinson and Slowikowski, “The fact that these types of programs are still being touted as effective, despite stark evidence to the contrary, is troubling.(). 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.”


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