Cochrane Summaries

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'Scared straight' and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency

Petrosino A, Turpin-Petrosino C, Hollis-Peel ME, Lavenberg JG
Published Online: 
30 April 2013

Programs such as 'Scared Straight' involve organized visits to prison facilities by juvenile delinquents or children at risk for becoming delinquent. The programs are designed to deter participants from future offending by providing firsthand observations of prison life and interaction with adult inmates. This review, which is an update of one published in 2002, includes nine studies that involved 946 teenagers, almost all males. The studies were conducted in different parts of the USA and involved young people of different races whose average age ranged from 15 to 17 years. Results indicate that not only do these programs fail to deter crime, but they actually lead to more offending behavior. The intervention increases the odds of offending by between 1.6 to 1 and 1.7 to 1. Government officials permitting this program need to adopt rigorous evaluation efforts to ensure that they are not causing more harm to the very citizens they pledge to protect.