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Review: Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency: A Systematic Review of the Randomized Experimental Evidence

Reviewer: Sarah Krantz, Esq.

Article to be Reviewed: Petrosino, Anthony; Turner-Petrosino, Carolyn; and Buehler, John. “Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency: A Systematic Review of the Randomized Experimental Evidence.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 589 (September 2003). http://users.soc.umn.edu/~uggen/Petrosino_Annals_03.pdf.


What is Scared Straight?

Scared Straight programs began in New Jersey in the 1970s and featured aggressive presentations by inmates to juveniles visiting the prison. By the end of the decade, these programs were active in 30 jurisdictions nationwide. The program’s goal was deterrence.

Beginning in 1982, a randomized controlled trial of Scared Straight was initiated and reported minimal effect on the criminal behavior patters of participants in the programs compared with those who were not scared straight. In fact, those who had been through Scared Straight were more likely to be arrested. These results were echoed in other studies nationwide. In 1997, the University of Maryland produced a study of 500 crime prevention methods; Scared Straight was highlighted as a program that was not effective. In 2000, a report found that Scared Straight and similar interventions generally increased crime between one and 28 percent when compared to a no-treatment control group.

The Study of Scared Straight

Education expert Anthony Petrosino[i] complied data from nine studies conducted in eight different states. The studies used juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17 from diverse backgrounds. All of the juveniles in the various studies had participated in either Scared Straight or a program that was very similar. Petrosino’s analysis found that:

  • The 1967 Michigan Department of Corrections study found that 43 percent of the participants in the study’s experimental group recidivated—compared to only 17 percent of the control group
  • A 1979 Illinois study showed that 17 percent of the experimental participants had further contact with police versus 12 percent of the control group.
  • A 1979 Michigan study showed that the offense rate for control group participants decreased from .69 compared to .47.
  • A 1981 Virginia study was the only study with statistically insignificant positive findings.
  • Texas studied the Face-to-Face Program in 1981 and found that the control group outperformed the treated juveniles.
  • A 1981 study of the New Jersey Scared Straight program showed that 41 percent of the juveniles in the program committed new offenses versus 11 percent of the control group participants.
  • The SQUIRES program study in 1983 concluded that 81 percent of participants were arrested versus 67  percent of the control group participants.
  • A 1986 review of the JEP program in Kansas reported that the program had minimal effect on its participants.
  • Mississippi Project Aware study in 1992 found little difference between its experimental group and its control group. Both groups improved from 12 to 24 months, but the control mean offending rate was slightly lower than the experimental group’s offending rate.


The various studies, conducted over a half of century, show that Scared Straight programs have failed juveniles. The programs have not kept juveniles from committing crimes; instead, these Scared Straight programs have increased the likelihood that its participants will commit crimes.



[i] This study is further explained in the full paper with detailed discussion on how the various studies were compiled by the three authors.