“Scared Straight” Remains Popular Even If Evidence Shows It Is Harmful


Despite evidence that scared straight-type programs are ineffective and can even be harmful in the long run, many parents continue to turn to local jails for help when it comes to behavioral issues with their children, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. “The programs are popular because parents think it's a quick fix,” said Lt. Terron Hayes of the Dougherty County, Ga., Sheriff’s Office. Dougherty County runs its own youth intervention program, which has been featured on the A&E show “Beyond Scared Straight.” Since its television debut, Hayes says the Sheriff’s office has had an influx of calls from parents who want to sign up their kids for the program. H's had kids from other counties and from other Southeast states. “Beyond Scared Straight” has had some of the network’s highest ratings and is now in its sixth season.

Hayes knows the county program won't get federal or state funding, and says that the jail tours are only part of his program. He says he incorporates counseling sessions with both the parents and the children, and that following-up is essential. He says that when parents call, they are often at a weak point in their relationships with their child. “I have parents saying, 'I can't do this anymore, you'll need to come get her, come get him – I don’t want him anymore,' Hayes said. Anthony Petrosino, senior researcher at WestEd, has done extensive research on scared straight programs. He said the message that these types of programs don't work isn't getting out to parents. “We found that scared straight, on average, has a harmful impact,” Petrosino said. “There's a disconnect between who's getting the information and who isn't.”

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