Article: Scared Straight

Publication: The Encyclopedia of Corrections

Publisher: Wiley

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Related WestEd Authors: Anthony Petrosino, Pamela MacDougall

Related WestEd Project: WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center

Related WestEd Program: Learning Innovations


Scared Straight is a program that brings juveniles to correctional facilities to interact with inmates. This program is designed to deter future delinquency and crime by juvenile participants by depicting the harshness of prison life.

The original program in New Jersey, run by men serving a life sentence at Rahway State Prison, was the subject of an award-winning documentary that spurred wide interest by jurisdictions in implementing it. Several iterations of the New Jersey program have been implemented, and later versions have been less harsh and more educational. The program became widely popular during the late 1970s–1980s due to its low cost and perceived effectiveness.

Subsequent research has shown that Scared Straight and other similar programs are ineffective and likely increase juvenile recidivism rates. Despite this mounting skepticism, however, Scared Straight remains a popular option that local jurisdictions implement in an attempt to address juvenile crime.

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