Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scared Straight programs are ineffective, possibly harmful

From the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's March/April 2011 newsletter:

Established in the 1970s, Scared Straight programs are used throughout the United States as a means of deterring juvenile crime. They usually entail visits by at-risk youth to adult prisons, where youth hear about the harsh reality of prison life from inmates . . . However well intentioned these prison-visit programs may be, decades of research have shown that this approach is not only ineffective, but possibly harmful to youth.

. . . [OJJDP staff] emphasized that the U.S. Department of Justice does not support Scared Straight-style programs, and instead focuses on programs that research has proven effective, such as mentoring programs, which use positive relationships to modify youth's behavior.

Scared Straight-type programs have proven ineffective for reducing youth substance abuse, as well.  Mentoring is an example of a prevention activity that is based on a strategy of promoting positive social development.  Effective youth-focused prevention activities help build interpersonal and social competency skills and provide youth with opportunities, skills, and recognition for pro-social involvement at home, at school, among friends, and in the community.

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