The second season of “Beyond Scared Straight” begins Thursday night and with it come renewed questions about its effectiveness. The reality program follows at-risk teens as they are threatened, screamed at, and harassed by prison inmates in an attempt to get them to change their ways. The show was A&E Network’s most watched debut in its history with 3.7 million viewers.
As JJIE reported at the time of the show’s debut in January, juvenile justice experts are concerned the show may be sending the wrong message. They point to studies that say scared straight-style programs are not only ineffective, but also counter-productive.
Joe Vignati is the head of justice programs at the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in Georgia. In January, he wrote in an op-ed on JJIE.org that “the research is clear, once the trauma of Scared Straight has worn off, meta-analysis shows that this intervention actually INCREASES the odds of offending compared to a no-treatment control group.”
“Academic studies don’t work,” Shapiro told JJIE in January. “It’s all about follow-up. I’ve done more follow-up than anyone. Scared Straight: 20 Years Later is the longest study ever done.”
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges issued a statement in January claiming, “’Beyond Scared Straight’ misrepresents the effectivenesss of such interventions with youthful offenders . . . It is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.”