Discussions On The Scared Straight Program

The recent media obsession with the scared straight program, juvenile boot camps and other scare tactics has lead to the question as to whether they actually are beneficial or not in treating adolescent criminal recidivism. On television programs like Maury (Pauvich) the answer to treating the troubled young girls who are brought to the show is boot camp. Those in charge take these girls to prisons, dangerous streets at night and often morgues to make a visual argument as to where they will end up as a result of the path they’ve taken. They also go through a rigorous run with drill sergeants to break down their egos. Of course it only last one day as opposed to any length of time a judge would sentence, but they get a small taste of it. Without surprise, at the end of every program of this nature, all the girls are rehabilitated and promise to go back to school, quit drugs, stealing, prostituting, and stop the abusive behavior.
Adolescent criminal acts, which include but are not limited to murder, rape, armed robbery, violent assault, mugging, arson, vandalism and robbery are a large portion of the crimes represented in the media. Alternative options to throwing these kids in juvenile detention centers is a rehabilitative boot camp where they have no control over even their own bodies or programs similar to scared straight where they see possible consequences to their actions. The importance of the success or failure of these programs is important because right now it is the popular solution. If these programs are going nowhere, time should be invested in creating new ideas and methods to treat these children before they become adults in the prison system.
This paper will address mainly the James Finckenauer study of the Scared Straight program created by the Lifer’s Group in the Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. Many of the sources for the information in this paper referred to the same study by James O. Finckenauer. Few studies have been done on this topic, but many of the references discuss problems and positives of the Finckenauer study.
The Lifers’ Group originally consisted of inmates in the New Jersey Rahway State Prison who were sentenced to twenty-five years or more. The original president and creator of the Lifer’s Group was Richard Rowe (Finckenauer 1982, pg. 67).
The Lifers’ Group was created in part to counteract what these inmates saw as a stereotyped, Hollywood-type image of prisons and convicts held by the general public. This image, they felt stigmatized convicts as immoral and inhuman. In order to dispel what they saw as a false image, the Lifers’ wanted to try to prove that they could be useful and worthwhile people even though locked up in a maximum-security prison. (Finckenauer 1982, pg. 67).
September of 1976 was the first time the program occurred. According to the Lifers’ group own letter to parents of adolescents who took part in the program (copy of form letter on page 80 in Finckenauer’s book), only one person out of over 155 juveniles was taken into custody after their meeting with the Lifers’ Group. A. Petrosino criticized this letter by saying that it wasn’t an actual study with a control group and experimental group (Petrosino 1997, pg. 12). The issue that did not go unnoticed was that “a large number of kids participating in the project had admittedly been neither delinquents nor even predelinquents”(Finckenauer 1982, pg. 79). This lead to the study conducted by Finckenauer of future kids sent to the program by different youth organizations for delinquent behavior. If the kids are not delinquents or will not be delinquents in the future, it is difficult to discover the actual success rate of the program.
In Part three of Finckenauer’s book on the scared straight program, he discussed his study methods. Many of the criticisms of this study were based on his skepticism of the program. L. Sherman when mentioning studies on shock treatment cited the Finckenauer study as biased (Sherman 1997, pg. 8).
The specific goals of the research were to evaluate the psychological and behavioral reactions the juveniles experienced as a direct result of their involvement in the project, the recidivism rate of these juveniles, and the extent to which