'Scared Straight:' Did The Famous 1978 Program Work? (Not Really...)

By Jacob Shelton
Left: Teens in the 'Scared Straight' audience. Right: Memorable participant Ali. Source: YouTube

Starting with 1978’s Scared Straight, the TV special that sent at-risk teenagers to prison with adults in order to freak them out and turn them into respectable citizens, programs that claim to save teens by giving them a taste of prison life have been popping up across America. Every few years there’s a new version of the special and more kids are put through the meat grinder. So it must work, right? No way.

If anything, the at-risk youth who are put through curriculum’s like 1978’s Scared Straight are worse off for having spent time in a facility for adults. Even though there’s plenty of research that proves juveniles pushed through the program are prone to criminal activity, that hasn’t stopped the producers of the series from claiming that they saved lives with their show.