Dr. Michael Bowman
Introduction to Mass Communication
22 April 2013
Deconstruction Paper: Beyond Scared Straight
The Beyond Scared Straight television show sends this message: “In prison for a day to stay out for life.” It certainly appeals to a television audience. The hit series from the A&E Network became the most watched original series launch in the network’s history with an audience of 3.7 million people. The show is a spin-off of the multiple award-winning documentary films also produced by Arnold Shapiro. But do “scared straight” programs really work to reduce juvenile crime?
I confess, I was one of the judges who accepted the evidence that “scared straight,” programs didn’t work, but I couldn’t figure out why. I thought I certainly would have been “scared straight” after experiencing a day in prison, including being yelled at by brutal inmates, clanging bars, menacing guards, etc. First, “Scared straight” programs arise out of the concept of secondhand prevention. It is defined as avoiding behavior by experiencing what happens to others. Those programs require young people to project into the future. Most teenagers don’t think like that, they don’t think logically or long term. They are impulsive, and think short term, especially when it comes to punishment.
This is a kind of optimism that works against secondhand prevention. Teenagers know how the hit and miss the criminal justice system is. They believe they might not get caught when they think about committing a crime. What young people react to is: how swift is the punishment in terms of the behavior? How certain is it that a consequence will occur? How severe is the punishment? The extreme nature of the punishment shown in “scared straight” programs doesn’t match the expectations of teenagers. They don’t picture themselves locked up.
Scared straight programs are developed by adults for children, but children don’t react the same way as adults. This...
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