The Success and Failure of Scared Straight: A Reassessment of Juvenile Delinquency Deterrent Methods and their Measurements

By Michael Royster.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Scared Straight was piloted in the late 1970s as a program with the intent to prevent juvenile career criminals from continuing on the path of delinquency. The success of the trial program produced favorable results, such that all except for a few made a permanent behavioral change. Similar Scared Straight programs have been further incorporated across the U.S. in correctional facilities as a result. Today, several empirical results have produced contrary results, with slight increases in delinquency for juveniles who were former participants. Critics later have charged that the pilot program was not scientifically based. However, assuming that the pilot program was free of fraudulent or misleading data, there are some factors that demonstrate a disparity in results. Assuming reliability in the methodology, ethnography and pure quantitative are extremely different approaches to collecting results; therefore, the variations in the findings do not equate to an inconsistency. Second, the participants in the pilot program were not randomly selected, and due to laws juveniles needed permission from parents or legal guardian’s prior to participation in the study. Third, because the pilot program was documented and televised, the “Hawthorne Effect” became a greater possibility. As their identity became revealed to the community, the youthful participants were increasingly surveiled and they collectively modified their behavior because they were aware they were being studied. Finally, this paper considers cultural changes over the past thirty years that may have produced spurious correlations. Some of the changes consist of a shift in the effectiveness of utilitarian punishment, and the socially constructed factors that have altered the cost-benefit ratio with respect to youthful criminals, such as rationality being trumped by the intense drive for street-level “respect.”

Keywords: Recidivism, Juvenile Delinquency, Scared Straight, Deterrence Theory

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 8, pp.145-152. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 744.909KB).

Michael Royster

Faculty, Division of Social Work, , Behavioral and Political Science, Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, TX, USA

As a faculty in the Sociology program at Prairie View A&M University, my teaching and research interest includes Criminology with an emphasis on the following subdisciplines: Juvenile Delinquency, Corrections, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and the effects of Religion on Intergroup Relations both domestically and globally.


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