Scaring Kids Straight Through Prison Tours

I recently read an article about a program on the West Coast where kids who’ve had a scrape with the law and appear heading for trouble are taken to a local prison where they get a first-hand view of what may await them if they keep breaking the law.

Superficially, it sounds like a great program–to deter kids from lives of crime. But part of me wonders: what effect would it have on these kids? Would it really scare them straight? Or would their defenses go up and they eventually blow it all off?

What is your most humble opinion on the efficacy of such a program? What can “society” do to deter kids from getting into more trouble?

hell, why ask for opinions when studies have been done?

here’s Scared Straight, the original

here’s another

and more

So, while these programs may have appeal to legislators and the folks who vote for them, they don’t seem to work.

Shock tactics might work on the sort of person who is not from the most common offender background.

Unfortunately I doubt that it has much impact on the main populations that offenders come from, it generally takes them until their mid to late thirties before they understand how much they have wasted their lives.

Many offenders do not seem to be able to understand the effect of their offences, not able to genuinely imagine themselves in the place of their victims.

There seems to be an emotional impairment in many of them and complete selfishness.

One thing that long long jail terms does however is keep the offender out of circulation and though I work with them and am supposed to have a more enlightened view I’m afraid that you might as well just use jail as damage limitation for society.

By the time they reach my jail they have had all the counselling, opportunity to educate themselves, gain skills etc and have records inches thick, the majority are simply best kept loked up, not as deterrant, simply for the protection of the public.

As for their children, well growing up without a father is hard but growing up with a drug addict parent is possibly worse, their criminal behaviour just passes on from one generation to the next.

They took about 10 of us on one of these “field trips” when i was in middle school. They yelled at us, told us how good we had it, told us they could kill us with their bare hands before a gaurd could get over there to stop them (which was 100% true, the closest gaurd had to have been like 20 feet away IIRC). Its funny i saw this thread, im actually talking to a guy on AIM right now that was with me. Anyway, all it really did for us was give us something to laugh about now. If it matters I’m a full time college student and I work a full time job and i have no criminal record but then again i think just about everyone else that was on that trip is in and out of jail these days.

Interesting question, Country Squire and GREAT links, wring. I’d wondered about this after seeing the first Scared Straight documentary. As the first analysis said, it just sounds like such a great idea. Then I started wondering if the effects would last.

I’m not saying this well, but part of being young is the feeling of immortality and general belief “it won’t happen to me”. Toss in a hefty dose of natural defiance, add a titch of group face-saving, stir, allow to rise and betcha the general reaction is about the same as car-crash drivers’ ed movies, drug and sex films, etc. Not saying for one second the intent isn’t worthy and needed; just wondering if it really works. “Reefer Madness” Syndrome?

That added precisely nothing to the discussion other than “me, too.” Oh, well.


I have no firsthand experience with such programs, but I’ve tutored high-risk kids on occasion, so I’ll throw in my two cents. If the fear of going to prison is really the ONLY thing that keeps a kid from embarking on a life of crime, that child is already lost. When people can see no positive reason to live in a certain way, fear alone will not make them do so.

I’ve seen dozens of crime prevention and rehabilitation programs rise and fall and here’s the common pattern:

1 - Someone comes up with an good idea.

2 - The idea gets tested out with a small group of criminals. This test group will generally be borderline criminals who ideally fit the criteria of the program.

3 - The program succeeds. The test group achieves significant results.

4 - The program is wildly oversold as a cure-all for crime. Criminals are packed into the program regardless of whether they show any suitability or interest in it. The original staff is overwhelmed and new people are thrown in to run the program who don’t really know or care what’s going on. Everyone just goes through the motions.

5 - Criminals emerge from the over-expanded program without any results. The program now has a rehabilitation rate virtually identical to doing nothing. The program is denounced as a useless waste of tax money. The program is shut down.

6 - Someone comes up with a new good idea. Return to step one.

Thanks Veb - it’s my field ( :smiley: ), plus, I’d specifically looked up that info a while ago when Wildest Bill was on the subject of sex ed in school and was speculating that a ‘scared straight’ approach on sex ed would be effective.

Little Nemo has the scenario pretty well down.

From my perspective (working in the field of criminal rehabilitation), theres a lot of cyclical issues - not the least of which are political elections. In my state, for example, the Governor appoints the head of the Department of Corrections, and that appointment alone can set the tone of the department. Add to the mix, the general legislators who have long realized that the best way to get voted out of office is to appear to be “soft on crime”.

Then, of course, the winds of time shifts, new administrations get voted in, new directors are in place and the tone again changes.

The net result is that many programs aren’t in place long enough to do studies on how well they work. It’s difficult enough to study human behavior outside of laboratory conditions, so when you have massive policy shifts every few years, it makes any realistic assesment of how well things are going pretty difficult.

For example - I’ve watched my state’s policies shift over the past 23 years. In the mid 70’s, nearly all prison releases were done with an intermediate step of a correction center. Those with a drug history had to go to a treatment center. “walk aways” were rounded up only when convenient. By the early 80’s, the treatment centers weren’t used nearly as much, and there was a ‘quota’ on that folks at the correction center would not be sent back until and unless they committed a new felony.

By the 90’s, they were back to the idea of treating substance abuse, but specifically, if some one had ‘dirty drops’ they were returned to prison, walk aways were prosecuted if they were gone for 48 hours, then 24 hours, then 4 hours, then 2 hours.

Presently, any amount late returning to the home (and most are NOT in correction centers, but on electronic monitoring) will result in a new prosecution, and dirty drops are referred for in patient treatment.

So, just in these few examples, we’ve seen dramatic shifts back and forth over a fairly short period of time, without sufficient time to ascertain if any of these approaches actually works.

Don’t even get me started on the boot camps…

Our class went on a trip to the local prison when I was about 14 or 15. We all had a good time laughing and joking because the prison was low security, and so mainly housed pedophiles (“Yeah, trust our cheap school to send us to the pedophile prison”), but it was very interesting.Two outcomes that I know of - at least two of the boys on that trip are in and out of jail these days, so it obviously didn’t impact on them. And I haven’t kept in touch with many classmates, so goodness only knows how many of the others have been to prison.
The other outcome happened on the day. Two or three of the twittier girls in the class huddled together, and decided it would be neat to have an inmate for a penfriend. So they wrote a note and hid it in the cell we were shown during our tour. A guard found it before we left, and hauled them out and abused them for it. He informed them that the man they’d left the note for was a rapist and murderer - that he struck up friendships with young girls, got their trust and then raped and killed them. He congratulated them on giving their names and home addresses on the note.
We don’t know if he was telling the truth, but he could have been. Stupid, stupid girls. I think the hairspray affected their brains, since they all seemed more concerned with how they looked than anything else.

Little Nemo

What you say is absolutely spot on with my experience.

It can be a huge demotivator of prison staff who become jaded over the years when yet another scheme is started.

I used to think of prison as a teen-crime deterant, then a guy from my school was put away and I talked to him when he came out.

His cellmate was a drugdealer, the cellmates best friend was a drug importer and my friend tried three new drugs during his two months of jail time! He was on acid and hash on a daily basis, he did speed and coke a couple of times a week and got some weird pills that made him talk jibberish in exchange for cigarettes. He never even knew what they were.

When I met him he had been out of jail for two days and had already been arrested for theft. He was happy though, 'cause he had stole much more than he was busted for and was about to go inject some drugs with some friends that his ex-cellmate got him in touch with on the outside.

Oh, yeah, he was scaaaaared straight :wink:

— G. Raven