What Are Some Results of the Scared Straight Programs for Teens?


Quick Answer

While intended to deter teens from using drugs and engaging in crime, "Scared Straight" and similar programs based on using scare tactics are at best ineffective and, more often, harmful. A systematic review of nine studies that included 946 teenagers throughout the United States who were involved in the programs showed that participation in the intervention resulted in an increased likelihood of offending by 68 to 71 percent.

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Full Answer

A 2007 review of four decades' worth of research concluded that there is not a single clinical trial that validates the effectiveness of confrontational counseling. Among vulnerable populations, such as adolescents, confrontational techniques often lead to detrimental results. One study concluded that the more a counselor is aggressive with an alcoholic, the more alcohol the alcoholic consumes. Of the 19 adolescents who appeared on "Beyond Scared Straight" by 2013 and were not in restrictive environments akin to military school, nine remained engaged in misbehavior.

Given that many young people who use drugs and commit crimes have underlying mental health concerns, studies show that teenagers need psychological or psychiatric care in order to treat mental illness, not scare tactics. The confrontational approaches, ranging from mandatory overnight homelessness or a forced re-enactment of traumatic situations in front of peers, such as rape, to an insistence that a teen lay in a coffin and touch dead bodies, have proven to trigger more intense mental health problems.

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