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Beyond "Scared Straight" – Moving to Programs that Actually Work
by LAURA NISSEN

juvenile-justice-reform_youth-in-hoodieIn the last couple of decades, we've seen an explosion of research that tells us what works in adolescent substance abuse treatment and in helping kids caught in the juvenile justice system turn their lives around. As a result, foundations and lawmakers have raised their expectations: quite rightly, they want to fund "what works."

Which is why it's maddening to see "Scared Straight" held up as a model for juvenile justice on national television in "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a multi-episode series on A&E that premieres on Thursday, January 13, 2011.
 
The original "Scared Straight" program, in which a group of adult prison inmates attempted to terrify a group of teen offenders into "going straight," was the focus of a television special in 1978. Since then, the authors of "'Scared Straight' and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency (Review)," a 2002 meta-analysis of relevant research on nine such programs, found that "not only does it fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior."
 
That's right: "Scared Straight" increases the chance that youth will reoffend, compared to doing nothing. This is retro-programming that went out with other ill-advised approaches years ago. We need to move forward on this issue – not backwards. 
 
Thankfully, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) won't fund Scared Straight programs, or anything like them, because of the lack of research support. And several states, including Oregon, the state I live in, now require that all or a large portion of state monies funding juvenile justice programming must go to evidence-based programs. 
 
But when an ineffective intervention program like "Scared Straight" is showcased on television, we can expect that there will be pressure to replicate it in communities across the country. That's a travesty, and not just because it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Investing in 'Scared Straight'" means investing in ruining the lives of teens across the country – and creating more crime victims.   
 
Rather than focusing on shaming and terrorizing youth to deter them from future crime, we should invest instead in the variety of treatment, supportive services, and community-based recovery support services that teens in the juvenile justice system need to be successful.  
 
One way to do that is to invest in Reclaiming Futures (which is backed by national evaluation results from The Urban Institute and Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago). Our approach helps communities do a better job of getting teens the treatment and community connections they need to be successful for the long term. And a core principle of our work has always been that communities that truly care about their kids should invest in what's been shown to work.
 
But what do you think? Should A&E air a show like "Beyond 'Scared Straight?'"
 
Update August 2011: in spite of overwhelming research evidence and opposition from juvenile judges, federal officials, and juvenile justice experts,  A&E Television is airing a new series of episodes of Beyond 'Scared Straight.'
 
Updates September 2012:
1. Scared Straight continues to air on A&E. 
2. Laura Burney Nissen is now a special advisor to Reclaiming Futures, while Susan Richardson is the National Executive Director.
 

juvenile-justice-reform_Laura-NissenLaura Burney Nissen, M.S.W., Ph.D. is the national program director for Reclaiming Futures. She has led the initiative through conceptualization, demonstration and dissemination. As national program director, Laura has written extensively about the lessons of the initiative, and is a regular speaker at national meetings on juvenile justice reform. Laura has worked with state and federal agencies to encourage system-wide recognition and use of strength-based methods for youth. She is also an associate professor at Portland State University's School of Social Work, where her research focuses on qualitative research methods, system reform issues, and communication tools for social change.

 

 

 

Photo at top: Adam Foster | Codefor.

I am a 33yr old single mom who has a 15yr old juvenile delinquent child.I also have 3 daughters as well ages 17,12,and 9yrs old. My son has been in and out of court,youth detention centers,one group home which he left from without permission and got put out of.Malik has also been placed on probation,ankle monitors,house-arrest,in mentor programs,clubhouse programs so he would stay out of trouble! Nothing so far has worked.He is right now waiting to get approval from whom ever makes the decision to allow Malik to do his ordered time in a Y.D.C because noone wants to take the risk of him flleing from their program if in placement.I have run out of options..I love my son very much and am looking for anyone that can get thru to Malik before he becomes an adult and its too late to change his ways!!CAN YOU HELP ME OR REFER ME TO SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP PLEASE?!

Hi Tanya,
I am a Criminal Justice student and I help people like your son.If you do not get help for your son before it is too late he could harm himself and others around him.
It is very hard to see a child going through what your son is going through believe me I have a set of twin boys and I am a single parent. You must encourage your son that you love him, not just that prove to him you love by sitting down and listening to what he has to say! "Something Happen" you must learn to communicate with him. He is your only son so you must listen he want that male figure in his life.

The program works for some, not for others. Indeed, some children on "Beyond Scared Straight" are much too young to be there. The studies are valid insomuch as this type of program should not be for everybody. But, it is useful for many teens. Visiting a prison in CA worked for me and many of my friends. Yes, anecdotal evidence, but it worked. I find it hard to believe we were the only ones that were changed by visiting a prison. Anyhow, to reiterate, the program should be used for only the older teens.

My name is Rebecca's & I live in Oregon I have a 16 year old son who has been skipping school & his grades are nothing but f's & d's. He is very rebellious. When it comes to authority. From me his step dad & his grandparents he yells & cusses at all of us when he does'nt get his way he has a 13 year old sister whom he pushes around & hits on her & as well does his 5 year old little brother he picks physical fights with everyone who lives in the house he has also made many threats to everyone in the family he has told me that he hares me & will not live by mine or anybody elses. Rules he has been in many fights at school as well. He has punch many holes in the walls of his grandparents house he has also broken many of his 5 year old brothers toys he takes medication for ache but does not stay on top of taking it.he has also been suspended from school for fighting,chewing,smoking, I'm at my wits end & don't know what to do I have tried grounding, taking privalages away, & I have truer couseling & he does not care. Pleasee Help I would really appreciate doing something like this for him I just want my son back sincerely Rebecca's from Oregon.

My son is 11 years old. He has a very bad anger problem ,The doctors say he is ADHD.He has been trowed out of every school where we live.Now he is home schooled. His doctor wrote a letter to the school stateding he needed to be took out of all forsthy county schools because he was a danger to his classmates,teacher and others.I am a morther of three with a 19 year old daughter that is already in the system,a 13 year old that likes school and of course Danny my 11 year old.I feel do to the lack of income im unable to help Dannny as he is needed do to the lack of transportions an income.So if there is anyone out there that can relate to my story or can help me an my family befor Danny ends up like my daughter or wourse.Before its to late.
Sincerly a carring Morther.

I think that if the program isn't going to do the youth any good, just send them back into what they are trying to get them away from, then it shouldn't be televised.

How old do the kid has to be in order be in the program?

Please advise what a Chicago South Suburban parent can do to redirect the lifestyle and aspirations of a second year high school student.
The boy is bright and kind hearted yet comes from a broken family and is fighting at all odds to go live with his addict mother - although not sure if she is currently using. Her behaviors still represent addiction such as not making the child attend school, etc.

The father is looking for an intervention that can help his child see the light and realize his potential in life.

I would appreciate any comments and adivce you can offer.
Every child is an important child.

Thank you.
Michelle

This scared straight program is a very very good idea!!!!! It takes the kids into a world that they have never been into before..These kids think that the world is a joke and that they are invincible!!! With this chance it shows them that there are consequences to every action that they take...They need this program in WV!!!!

i have a brother which is 13 years old currently a gang member and has a very bad behavior in school he smoke marihuana all the time even gets to the point of fighting hes real dad and he has also try to hit my mom hes currently on probation but he doesnt listen plis help

I have a 16 year old son and I have sought assistance for the past 3 years with his behavior. I personally know people who have been through the Scared Straight Program (at least 4 people)and they seem to be doing well in life. I talk to my son about jail but in an inner city neighborhood jail can be a "passage to manhood". Hearing about jail doesn't seem to affect him. My back is against the wall and I am going to try the program because nothing else has worked.

I BELIEVE THAT THIS PROGRAM CAN BECOME EFFECTIVE IF IMPELMENTED PROPERLY. I AM A PARENT OF AN 18 YEAR OLD WITH ANGER ISSUES AND HE HAS JUST BEEN SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL IN HIS SENIOR YEAR OR TERROR THREATS. KIDS LIKE THIS NEED TO SEE WHAT BEING BEHIND BARS WITHOUT FREEDOM AND FIGHTING FOR UR LIFE VS BEING FREE OUTSIDE AND FOLLOWING RULES. NO PROGRAM IS 100% BUT ITS A START.

your saying the programs don't won't so you don't want to fund the them! okay that makes sense. OR DOES IT!!!! let's recap here, you put money into a program yet you don't see positive results. correct??? THEN CHANGE YOUR APPROACH!!! GET MORE STRICT! GET LOUDER! GET MEANER! GET UGLY! it's that easy! stop babying these kids and show them the REAL HARSH TRUTH!!!!

I'm having rouble with my son not wanting to go to school thinks he don't have to go to school I really wanna get him help and scare him. Let my know the best thing to do I would really like for him to see what it's like in jail and prison cause he thinks it's fun and games there

I think with the bad economy, you will see more and more kids getting into trouble, committing petty crimes, etc. The biggest way to help young people stay on the right side of the law is ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY. We need to help them get educated, get jobs, start businesses and be successful so they feel empowered to take control of their own destiny.

I watched many episodes of " Scared Straight " last night and i believed that it will be a great help for the teenagers to think of how to choose the right decision and how to say " no " for the things that is really bad for them. Atleast, they realized the consequences inside the jail.
Keep it up guys!

I saw the Scared Straight documentary when I was in high school. And I can tell you that it scared the living hell out of me. Before I saw the movie, I wasn't concerned about going to prison. After seeing it, I was extremely scared. To this day, I am afraid of going to prison. The program worked for me. I can say that seeing the documentary has had a big influence on the choices I have made in my life. Even now, I am afraid of committing any felony for fear of prison. Whenever I feel tempted to do something criminal, I think about the Scared Straight documentary, and decide it just is not worth it. I recently went to my 30 year class reunion. My classmates were still talking about the Scared Straight show. It is what got them to make better decisions at an important decision making time in life. The program may not work on youths who have already gone bad, but it does work on youths who may be leaning in that direction.

This is just more sensationalized 'reality' TV. If these cable networks could show live sex acts and murder, they would. They don't care if they provide any benefit to society. This is the network that follows around addicts and peeks in on hoarders and calls it entertainment. This is what people want to watch.

I read your comment and I want to thank you for it. You were the first to really explain WHY you felt that inducing additional trauma to already traumatized children may not work.

While I think that the trauma of seeing what can happen if one does not get on the straight and narrow can be useful, I agree that it may not work nor be appropriate for everyone. And certainly the humiliation of being seen on TV and recognized can send an already angry person over the edge.

Getting to the root cause of the issues which seem to be anger, low self-esteem and/or abuse is needed.

In some cases, the children don't need to be in their current home.

I found your comments very informative. I have spent 30 years in the Juvenile Court system mainly focused on child abuse (I have represented children services, children as GAL and currently parents as a public defender).

The scared straight approach reminds me strongly of the old "hair of the dog that bit me" remedy for hangovers. We do know (and my experience is not any different) that trauma often leads to acting out behavior in adolescents. Many sexually promiscuous girls, for example, are acting out scenarios they learned at home by experience at the hands of perpetrators. Although in the few snippets of biography I have seen in a couple of "Beyond Scared Straight" episodes, prior abuse is not discussed, many of those kids have likely experienced repeated physical and sexual abuse.

The core of the scared straight approach is inducing trauma--to frighten the participants so badly that they won't ever be bad again.

So, for those kids who have experienced trauma in their lives, scared straight re-traumatizes them. So trauma causes and then cures--hair of the dog.

I suspect that is one reason why the studies are finding that delinquent behavior increases after participation.

With "Beyond Scared Straight," there is an added element. The humiliation, fear and anger these kids are experiencing, is broadcast nationwide for the entertainment of viewers and income for the media. If they haven't been sufficiently traumatized by the experience, I am certain that seeing themselves, and knowing that friends and neighbors also are viewing them, on national television, cowering and crying, will finish the job.

I think the program Beyond Scared Straight do more good than harm. I saw the original Scared Straight in 1978, and it caught my younger brother attention.I grew up in a rough neighborhood, and this is what they understand. Most of these kids have a lot of hurt, pain and other problems. They will not listen to reasons in most cases ,and giving them this type of raw treatment, they understand.They need to understand what exactly is in store for them. The kids from the original show stated that the program really help out twenty years later and still recall an inmate who made a difference. Twenty years later they thanked him and told him he really made a difference, and without a visit to the prison, their life may have been totally changed for the worst. A lot of kids just need someone to connect with, If these inmates connect with them, the program is a success.

Doctor D - I'm glad it seemed to have a positive effect on your brother - just goes to show you that when it comes to human behavior, there's always exceptions to every rule.

You really hit on something when you talk about kids needing someone to connect with -- they definitely need caring adults in their lives, and mentoring *has* been shown to work. Bear in mind, however, that the inmates on the show aren't simply connecting with kids in a caring way; they're also yelling at them, threatening them with violence, sexual slavery, and more. I think you'll agree that that's not the basis of a positive, supportive relationship.

But you're right about kids not "listening to reason" -- that's typical of adolescent brain development. That also means that appeals to long-term benefits (i.e., staying out of jail) are not generally effective with teens - that's one reason the "Scared Straight" approach is flawed. Remember yourself as a teen? How many times did adults ask you what you wanted to be when you were an adult, or warn you that doing something (taking up smoking, say, or some other risky behavior) would be bad for you in the long run? Did that motivate you to change your behavior? It sure didn't for me, nor for most adults I know.

And in spite of individual testimonials, the research -- which has been done on many incarnations of "Scared Straight" over many years -- consistently shows that it is *not* effective for most kids, and is in fact harmful. I'd rather we put our money into programs that have been shown to work, rather than programs we *think* should work.

You say research, what research and who are doing the researching. I have coached, and mentored many kids in my lifetime, and different things work for different kids. This kids I repeat are at risk kids who parents believe this is what they need. They are there everyday with their children, and do not know what else to do. I have watch all the shows and it seems to me most of the kids said that going through the program helped them. You say that the inmates were threatening the children, but they merely were stating the fact. This is what they can expect if they continue on their negative paths. You have kids pulling knives on their mothers,cussing out their principals,swinging on guards, totally, disrespecting their parents. These kids needed a wakeup call. My brother works at the County Jail and according to him the younger inmates get the most discipline because of their attitude problems. I reiterate my point, this program work for these particular kids.

Doctor D - We agree when you say that different things work with different kids: nothing works with *every* kid. However, bear in mind that the followup on the kids in the show is neither rigorous nor very long-term. That's why rigorous research by professional evaluators has been done by many different people over many different years on many different versions of "Scared Straight"-type programs -- to determine what the long-term results for participants actually is.

In terms of the research, it appears our link to the major research study -- which reviewed the results of 9 separate studies on "Scared Straight" -- was broken. My apologies. I've fixed it above, but here it is again: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002796/abstract.

You are still saying long term research, but the original Scared Straight went to a show with members from that show with a follow-up. They still remember what one inmate told them, that I can show you better than I can tell you. That inmate explained to them that he came in with a nobody could not tell him anything atittude. But he told them that other inmates showed him the reality of prison life. He said that he wished someone had tooked the time to talk to him. That same inmate stood in their minds twenty years later. He was not the biggest nor the baddest,but the way he expressed himself stood out. He was very raw,very threatening, and told them what they needed to hear,in the way that they needed to hear it.So do not tell me this program is not working. We had a seventeen year old kid in my state that just killed both of his parents. Maybe if he had went to this program this could have been avoided. This kid plotted for months with his friends and even had code words for when they were to carry out their plan. Sometimes all the reasoning in world do not work. Maybe if he saw what was waiting for him in jail he might had thought twice.

What happens when you do everything the "expects suggest" with little or no results. My daughter who is now 15 steals and lies and recently began taking pictures of herself to send to some boy (which I found). I've taken away privileges, (she's openly stated she knows there is nothing I can do to her) gone through extensive counseling (she was diagnosed with ADD, medication has been prescribed, she WILL not take, I have to almost force it down her throat) sessions which advocated positive reinforcement, that worked for about a month. I even took her to the police station who told me there was nothing they could do until she does something to harm someone. Beyond that, she's a minor if I put her out, then I'm in trouble for child endangerment.

I've lost jobs, and housing due to her behavior (no I'm not low income). What's worse I was advised against yelling at her and being angry for her pictures!!!

I for one would love to put her in a scared straight program, as nothing to this point has worked!!! Please don't tell me to try counseling, don’t tell me anything about positive reinforcement, don’t tell me anything about enforcing consequences, I've done it all with no sustained results.

there is a lot of 'professionals' who say do this & do that! how bout everybody go back & read the history books and discipline these kids like our grandparents did! with good ol tough love! it worked then, and it will work now, providing that we all stop listening to these so called "professionals"!

Dear Anonymous - I can see why you're frustrated - of course you're at the end of your tether! You're describing a youth who clearly needs skilled intervention from a team -- cooperation between schools, therapists, parent(s), and so on. Is your daughter making stupid choices that could harm her? Clearly. Does she make you angry? Yes.

But you're also describing a young person who's not high-risk from the point of view of community safety, and if that's correct, the juvenile justice system simply isn't the place for her.

We tend to hope the juvenile justice system will straighten kids out (even if we're not putting them in a "Scared Straight" program), but the system is an incredibly blunt instrument: it's slow, highly variable, it can be expensive, and it has long-lasting consequences, including making your kid more likely to be unsuccessful in life.

And, too, the juvenile justice system doesn't really have any more tools at its disposal than the rest of us do -- to help kids turn lives around, the best juvenile justice systems divert kids who don't belong there, and for the rest, they try to put them on probation, connect them with therapy and mental health assessments and other services, and so on. Yes, they can lock kids up, but that often means the young people end up hanging around and learning from other delinquent kids, seeing their own misbehavior as "normal," and so on, none of which helps their long-term success.

All that said, I'm sure you don't get a lot of support -- being the parent of a kid who misbehaves in the way you describe is incredibly lonely and frustrating, and what services there are tend to be focused these days (because of lack of funding) on the kids who present the highest-risk to community safety. Again, I'm not surprised you're ready to ship her off to a "Scared Straight" program. But as you know from reading posts on our site, the research is clear that it's not helpful, and in fact likely to be harmful.

You asked me not to recommend counseling, but it's the best option you have -- and I mean family therapy, where you're both participating, along with anyone else in your home. Plus, the quality of therapy varies widely, as do assessments -- and part of what you're dealing with is the brain of an adolescent, which simply takes time to develop.

Frankly, it sounds to me like it would be helpful if your daughter could be assessed by someone trained in the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN), an evidence-based assessment that's *incredibly* thorough and often very helpful to clinicians in identifying issues that are often missed by more casual assessments. (I'm not sure if you live in a metro area, but if so, you'll have a better chance of finding someone who can administer it.) There are other comprehensive assessments that could be effective too - but I'd ask if there's a solid evidence-based behind whatever the clinicians are using.

I also recommend the posts below - there may be some resources you find helpful. They refer to treatment for substance abuse, but much of it applies to finding other types of behavioral healthcare as well:

Adolescent Substance Abuse: Advice for Parents
Teen Addiction: Helping Parents Understand, Connect and Navigate Services
How to Find Effective Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment + How to Train Treatment Counselors

Best of luck -

I love how everyone keeps saying to take these kids to counseling. I guess that would work IF you could force your child to go to sessions – my son is 17 and a half and if he refuses to go there’s nothing I can do about it. Most of these kids don’t think they need help or just plain don’t want it. Get counceling for yourself and your family anyway.
The advice here feels a lot like the well meaning advice I receive from other parents who have no clue what it’s like to deal with a child that is oppositional defiant day and night. It’s a day to day struggle of picking your battles. I’m down to letting my son learn from natural consequence. He’s never been in jail but now at the age of 17.5 if he has a run in with the law he will go to jail and be charged as an adult. He’s well aware of that as well as the fact that mommy won’t be there to bail him out.
The one peice of sound advice given here is to reach out and connect with other parents who are in or have been in your shoes. These are the people who will give you strength and who can share strategies that may work.
Try not to feed into your Childs manipulating and don’t allow them to push your buttons. Bask and breathe during the fleeting calm moments showing them your love and gather energy to carry you through the daily storms. The biggest thing is to always try to point out and praise the good when you can.
The best to all of you, who are in my boat stay strong, don’t give up hope and remember they do love and need you no matter what they say.

I am right with you on this .I have twins 14 and they refuse medication,counseling,and yell and scream at me .The whole thing is they refuse to hear anyone ,and do not care how I feel .I am frustrated because I was told get a court order and make them do this and that ,who will drag them to the car?They get good grades so obviously they are not to slow to understand what they do the truth is they do not care.The juvenile system will just introduce them to worse behaviors .All of their behaviors are abusing me.One try's to talk after he disrupts the house ,the other just does not care and the only people that he listens to are his age and not capable of helping themselves.This is a nightmare and right now I think they could be helped if they would .The problem is society gives kids the right to just refuse and excuses to use for not doing what they are supposed to do.Why is it we never needed all this pampering to grow up?The real world will not pamper them so in my opinion the kids are fed a false sense of entitlement and when they are 18 they have no desire to work or do for themselves .We had no choice ,someone has told the kids they do ? I frankly am at my wits end with trying to talk them into doing what common sense told all of us.
Suffering with you.

My son is 14. He started smoking weed and now his whole life revolves around it. He constanly steals from us, sneaks out at night and won't show up til the next day, we've had to replace the window latches several times b/c he breaks them for an eaiser sneak out or sneak in when we're not home. We have a lock on our bedroom door and nailed the frame down, we've replaced that too b/c he broke in. I am about to call the police and have him arrested for stealing, but I don't really want to take that route. Do you know of any boot camps or DARE programs in Chicago? I've searched but was unsuccessful.

Not much context is given in the documentaries about who the kids are and what got them to where they are. Scared straight is not appropriate for every kid, depending on their situation, but for some kids it's exactly what they need . . . which is an independent third party who affirms what their parents and others have been telling them all along, which is to get your life together now, while you still have a chance. Stop using excuses. Everyone in life has issues and challenges, that's no reason to waste your life. Life is a gift. This program is only a starting point, but a starting point is THE most important step in getting one's life turned around.

Anonymous - I like the way you focus on finding something to help young people turn their lives around. But "Scared Straight" isn't the way to do that.

For one thing, I'm struck by the huge gulf between the positive messages you want conveyed to kids -- e.g., "Life is a gift," "don't waste your life" -- and the segments of the show that subject the kids to threats of assault, extortion, rape and sexual slavery. Fear and intimidation don't change behavior in the long-run.

Second, as at least one expert has pointed out,, the program doesn't fit teens from a developmental perspective. Yelling at them and telling them they're screwing up only makes them more likely to dig in and resist -- that's the nature of adolescence. And teen brains don't generally think long-term. The point of the intervention is to say, "Keep doing what you're doing, and you'll end up here in a couple of years."

But the teenager's brain is likely to say, "A couple years from now? That's a long way away," and "Not me! I'm too smart for that!"

And for some youth, having an "independent third party" tell them they're worthless screw-ups -- the same message they've been getting from others -- undermines any belief they have in their ability to change. They accept the idea that they could be inmates themselves one day because they don't fit in with the "straight" kids -- and some go a step further and take the threats and intimidation as a challenge, as in, "I'm tough enough to survive in here; you can't scare me!"

Finally, as you say, the program doesn't say much about what brings the kids there. One of the criticisms of the intervention historically has been that it doesn't distinguish between kids whose behavior presents a low-risk to the community and those who are high-risk. Research is very clear that you don't want to mix those two populations in groups (the low-risk kids get worse); and that it's more effective to push low-risk kids out of the system (because pulling them into the system makes them more likely to return -- partly because they become desensitized to it).

Providing individualized sanctions and services for kids -- which is what a good juvenile justice system intervention does -- helps them identify their barriers, work through them with help from supportive adults, and turn their lives around. It takes time, and it doesn't work for everyone, but it works for most.

Hi Anonymous - I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble with your son. I can't speak to specific resources in the Chicago area, but I can tell you that DARE has been shown to be ineffective (and it's a prevention program, anyhow, so it's not longer appropriate for your son, since he's already using), and that boot camps also have been shown to be largely ineffective.

However, here's a couple of ideas:

1. First, check out the Partnership at Drugfree.org site, especially the resources on this page: http://www.drugfree.org/intervene. It should help you, and it can connect you with other parents dealing with the same issues.

2. Also, I strongly recommend family therapy if you can find it or afford it -- it's often the most effective way to address behavior problems.

3. If you obtain counseling of any sort -- whether it's for the whole family or not -- see if you can find a treatment provider who has a lot of experience (and certification) using "Motivational Interviewing" (MI). It's a technique that therapists and health professionals use to increase client motivation to change. A key difference between it and other approaches is that it's based on research on how people make behavior changes (like quitting smoking) to draw on their own motivation for a better life to help them stop doing negative, self-destructive behavior. It's not a complete treatment in itself, but it can be extremely effective way to start work with a defiant teen.

You may also find that having him assessed by a behavioral health provider may help you find that there are underlying reasons for his behavior -- for example, mental health issues, trauma, or alcohol and drug issues.

I hope this is somewhat helpful -

Below is a comment that I proposed on a well-known blog site. I posted this before finding your site and I am so ecstatic that someone else truly sees what I see. Especially, in regards to "Beyond Scared Straight." It took NO research for me to perceive that this program is an embarrassment to the community.

I used to be the delinquent youth, and for me, past rape and abuse was the primary cause. I did drugs, stole, had a temper and was prone to violence, had no qualms about how I treated others or what I said to them, abhorred ALL types of authority and committed a number of crimes that, by the grace of God, I never had to face criminal consequences in regards to. To be honest, had I gone through a program like "Beyond Scared Straight," I am positive that there would have been a horrible backlash. My disgust with authority would have escalated as a result and I would probably be in prison serving a long sentence.

Thankfully, I have since made the best out of what was once " a wasted life". I am 24 yrs old and I am a college graduate with a Bachelor's of Arts Degree. I am currently working on my Master's in Sociology. I have no children, no criminal record and I work full-time to maintain my responsibilities. I not only understand and have witnessed delinquency, I have experienced it firsthand.

Thank you for pointing out a verity that many of us -whether it be hopeful parents who do not want to believe that there is yet another obstacle and one less program that will help their children, skeptics who would rather question upstanding research rather than face the hard facts or those who share a financial conflict of interest with A & E business- are in denial about.

Here is my comment: I watched an episode of "Beyond Scared Straight" where a 13 yr old girl & a 12 yr old boy were taken to a male prison along with other children, mostly male children. They took the children to general population where the male prisoners behind the bars yelled at the kids in an effort to "scare them straight." Both of the kids in question were sent to the program by their parents because they got into a lot of fights. They did not do drugs or steal, they just fought a lot & got suspended from school. The girl fought because other girls picked on her & the boy fought because other boys constantly called him "gay" & he was trying to prove his manliness. During one of their visits to general population the inmates repeatedly called the little girl the B-word (female dog) & told her they were going to gang-rape her & her mom. They also called the little boy the B & H- words (female dog/garden tool) & called him "gay", saying that if he were in prison with them they would beat him, rape him & turn him gay if he wasn't gay already.

In my opinion, this is extremely unorthodox because who knows why the little girl or boy were acting out? Besides being teased, they could have very well been raped or physically abused in the past. Why would anyone think that the way to change a child's behavior is to call them derogatory/demeaning names & subject them to threats of sexual/physical violence? Also, the little boy had already stated that he fought because boys his age incessantly called him "gay" & were violent towards him. How is taking him to prison & having inmates treat him in the same manner going to help him in the long run?

This show should not be called "Scared Straight" it should be called "Straight Degraded" or "Crookedly Humiliated." Who funds this crap? If either of them were my child, I would have looked into the bullying that they were suffering at school, talked to the teachers/faculty & other children's parents or even put them in counseling. I would NOT have sent them to a show where they could have been, would have been, & were publicly belittled & threatened. Does anyone else think that the "Scared Straight" method of "help" does more harm than good?

I know that my comment was not based on complete facts and that a lot of it was my personal opinion. But, I do believe the saying that "for every action there is a reaction." There is a reason why these children are behaving the way they are and until we get to the root of the problem, no degree of humiliation or threats is going to better their behavior. We do not put out a fire by adding lighter fluid to the flame. We do not lower resistance by increasing tension.

In like manner, we cannot solve the issue of delinquency/criminal behavior by placing kids in an environment with criminals that are worse. This is like saying, "I know you think that you are bad but look, they are really, really, really bad." Big difference! Bad is bad! How can we build our kids up and make them understand that they are worth more than what they are giving themselves? We cannot do it by having other people degrade them. We don't fight fire with fire, we fight fire with water. We need to cool the kids down not get them more irate!

Yes, some kids seem to be "scared straight" but in the grand scheme of things, how long will this fear last? Not very long, I assure you. There is an increasingly "immortal" outlook with youth and soon they will forget of their experience in the "Scared Straight" program and become fearless again. Then, what do we do? Who do we turn to? By discovering why your child has behavioral issues we can deal with the issue head on.

After all, if you take the root or the base away from anything, the rest will inevitably tumble. We must take away the root and the tree will no longer grow. If we eliminate the main issue that is causing our child's delinquency the residual behavior will no longer fester.

No, I do not have all of the answers, no one does. I believe that counseling will help to get to the "root" of the problem but I am aware that counseling does not work for everyone. Still, it is worth more of our time and effort than a quick-fix scare tactic that is fleeting at best.

I give you all my sincerest prayer in hopes that things turn around for your child and all of the youth today. Once again, I thank you Lauren Nissen for enlightening us on this grave concern. You are greatly appreciated!

im sorry i strongly disagree! yes it's mean & harsh! but it's nothing these aren't already calling each other and/or threatening others just the same! furthermore, jail does not discriminate between who has a hard life or not! that's called the real world and that's what they are showing them. it doesn't matter what you have seen, gone thru, or had happen to you, IT IS NOT AN EXCUSE! yes it's sad and upsetting and that's what counseling is for. but consequences still are consequences! period!!!

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Thanks, Tiffany! Greatly appreciate your perspective. I'll pass on your comment to Dr. Nissen.

Hi My is 11 yrs old he will be 12 in December we recently lost our dad in 2010 and it has been very hard on our whole family, especially on my brother he doesn't to my mother, he is disrespectful to adults, violent to my mother, me n my children, he swears and pretty much does what he wants my mother has health problems and can control my brother PLEASE HELP

Hello Anonymous - I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble. I don't know what sort of resources are available in your area, but if your brother (do I have that right?) is "violent" with your mother, then it's probably time to call the police.

That said, I can't speak to what sort of services he's likely to receive in your juvenile justice system. Given the background you give, I strongly recommend family therapy if you can find it or afford it -- it's often the most effective way to address behavior problems.

As I've told earlier commenters, if you go that route, see if you can find a provider who has a lot of experience (and certification) using "Motivational Interviewing" (MI). It's a technique that therapists and health professionals use to increase client motivation to change. A key difference between it and other approaches is that it's based on research on how people make behavior changes (like quitting smoking) to draw on their own motivation for a better life to help them stop doing negative, self-destructive behavior. It's not a complete treatment in itself, but it can be extremely effective way to start work with a defiant teen.

You may also find that having him assessed by a behavioral health provider may help you find that there are underlying reasons for his behavior -- for example, mental health issues, trauma, or alcohol and drug issues.

I hope this is somewhat helpful -

Does anyone else notice the pretty major conflict of interests here

Hi Anonymous - As I explained to another poster, there is no conflict of interest here. Reclaiming Futures doesn't compete with "Scared Straight" -- we just support communities in investing evidence-based practices of their choice that *do* work to help youth turn their lives around.

The research we cite that demonstrates that "Scared Straight" is ineffective and very costly in the long-term was done independently, and many juvenile justice experts who are not affiliated with Reclaiming Futures have also gone on record saying that it's harmful and should not be funded.

But you don't have to take our word for it: the U.S. Department of Justice has spoken out against "Scared Straight" and so has the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ).

>>More info on the research.

>>Other juvenile justice experts opposing "Scared Straight."

hi i am having problems wit my 12yr old i have tried several times to get help n cant get none could u please tell me how 2 get her on scared straight

Hi Kim, I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble. However, we actually would strongly recommend that you *avoid* "Scared Straight" programs, as research has shown that they're ineffective, and can even make kids *more* likely to commit new crimes.

You don't say what sort of problems you're having with your daughter, and I don't know what sort of resources are available in your area. But I strongly recommend family therapy if you can find it or afford it -- it can often be very useful in addressing behavior problems.

If you go that route, see if you can find a provider who has a lot of experience (and certification) using "Motivational Interviewing" (MI). It's a technique that therapists and health professionals use to increase client motivation to change. A key difference between it and other approaches is that it's based on research on how people make behavior changes (like quitting smoking) to draw on their own motivation for a better life to help them stop doing negative, self-destructive behavior. It's not a complete treatment in itself, but it can be extremely effective way to start work with a defiant teen.

You may also find that having her assessed by a behavioral health provider may help you find that there are underlying reasons for her behavior -- for example, mental health issues, trauma, or alcohol and drug issues.

Just a couple of ideas - I hope this is somewhat helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your daughter.

so what u saying is that if u let another's kid on the show they're going to cause crimes, i believe that because this is the real world......

If you were thirsty and Kool-Aid was all you had to drink, would you drink it? Today’s youth are in trouble and we created the problem. I am a probation officer and I have a Master’s in psychology. I have studied the X, Y and Millennium (Me) generations. The reason there is so much emphasis on evidence based practices is because it’s the only area where there has been a significant investment and data collected; the Kool-Aid. It does not mean other methods do not work. The “Me” generation has entitlement and authority issues. Why? Because they have been hand-fed. If you take a look at crime statistics and gang membership, it has done nothing but grow. The X and Y generations did not have the same issues to the same extent. So my question is what and who are you going to believe? People who have been paid and have a personal investment in seeing the EBP program succeed… or national crime statistics? What do your instincts tell you to do? All those emails that have circulated to each and every person reading this post regarding things we survived in our youth have truth attached to them. Think about this… Why don’t you speed? Because you know it’s wrong? No, because you are afraid of getting a ticket. Accountability, punishment, even fear have been used for centuries to gain compliance (not to the point of abuse); they are tried and true methods. Most are reading this because they are looking for a solution to a problem. There is no easy solution. Most of you turned out just fine and you are wondering why aren’t your kids more like you? I don’t know what kind of environment you were raised in, but if it wasn’t abusive, and you turned out okay… ask yourself if you are treating your kids the way your parents treated you? Even if it’s things you didn’t like… did it work? Do you work? Do you take responsibility for your actions? Be present in your kids lives… hover, invade, they are kids… it is your house… there is no expectation of privacy… don’t coddle… You decide… My thing is there is no “One size fits all.” EBP may work for some, but so does Scared Straight. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid and remember ultimately, they are individuals… they are going to make choices… the question is who is going to hold them accountable… you or the Department of Corrections?

Anonymous - Thanks for your thoughtful, passionate comments. You're absolutely right that evidence-based practices are not the only things that work, and that there is no "one size fits all."

But as you know, we're not arguing that people should heed the research and use a program that works at the expense of programs that *might* work -- we're pointing out that the research is remarkably consistent in showing that Scared Straight does *not* work, and, in fact, makes kids more likely to reoffend.

It's in the nature of research that it can't predict how every single kid will fare in a given program; but good research can show whether the program works in a statistically reliable way, for the majority of participants. In this case, repeated studies and and a rigorous meta-analysis have shown that Scared Straight doesn't work for the vast majority of kids who go through it, and it even harms them.

Our responsibility to the public (never mind to the kids themselves) is to invest our resources as wisely as we can, to do the greatest good for the greatest number. And this is a situation where the research really could not be clearer.

I also want to point out that juvenile crime rates overall are not rising, and have actually declined dramatically in the past decade, according to data collected by OJJDP. (You can drill down on specific types of crimes here.) I saw a presentation in March -- I'm sorry I can't link to it -- that showed that juvenile drug crimes have actually gone up, but it wasn't clear why, and in any case, they're an anomaly.

My son was always rebelious.I belived he was possibly using marijuana but could pinpoint it exactly.Now tat he has reached the age of 19, he uses it more and more. I know he needs a lifechanging event to wake him up. But if he's incarcerated or worse, injured because of his actions.He has no concept of his wrong doing and thinks everybody else is wrong and he is right.I don't know what to do because he is an adult and an arrest will ruin his careers forever.I'm at a loss of what to do because I really have no control over him any more. I believe I lost control after I became handicapped many years ago.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Get as much info as you possibly can from organizations that offer rehab, whether inpatient or outpatient, personalized substance abuse counseling, and/or group substance abuse counseling. Show them to him, but don't harass him into getting help. He will recoil and rebel more.

My son started out like your's. After Hurricane Katrina wiped us out in 2005 (New Orleans), by the end of 2006 after his stepdad died, he turned to heroin. He was on heroin 4 short months, drug dealers were looking for him, and he begged me for help him to quit using heroin. I started scouting non-profit rehabs, and my son ended up at BridgeHouse. He loved it and we made lifelong friends. He was clean 1.5 years, he reached out to his substance abuse counselor, she was out that day, he relapsed, used heroin one last time, and died the day after contacting his counselor (10/20/09). He was 24 yrs old.

Get your son the help he needs by showing him as many options as possible. Don't stop showing him options. Let him decide which to take. Eventually, he will. You can't push him to get help, but you can show him the options and which roads he can take to a healthier life.

Good luck.

Beyond Scared Straight & Reclaiming Futures
Mr., Chambers I felt compelled to read the Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency report before commenting. I want to acknowledge that I have been impressed with a lot of the material that has resulted from the Reclaiming Futures Initiative. This being said I believe it is erroneous to be stating that programs following the “Scared Straight,” methodology have been found to increase criminal behavior among those who participate. After carefully reading the meta-analysis report I found one sentence that provides a strong argument to discredit the findings. It is where the authors note that Scared Straight and other juvenile-awareness programs are not effective as a stand-alone crime prevention strategy.

I am actually surprised that reclaiming Futures or those associated with the initiative would be so quick to discredit the “Scared Straight” treatment methodology. Even the authors of the meta-analysis you directed readers to acknowledge that these were stand alone interventions that apparently increased criminal activity versus no treatment individuals. Gifford-Smith, Dodge, Dishion & McCord (2005), reviewed literature and concluded that juvenile delinquents placed into group treatment programs are exposed to deviant peer’s influences and delinquent behavior. These findings sugest that youths will have an increased risk of recidivism. With this in mind, yes I would expect increased criminal activity from the participants only experiencing a “Scared Straight” program. The work from Reclaiming Futures initiatives, as I understand it, incorporates addressing the complex needs or issues associated with an offending youth. This is done by providing services addressing respective areas i.e. substance abuse, mental health, positive youth development and family counseling. My point is what happens, or have there been studies, that show the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of reducing juvenile recidivism rates when a “Scared Straight” program is incorporated into a multi-dimensional treatment plan.
Work Cited
Mary Gifford-Smith, K. A. (2005). Peer Influence in Children and Adolescents: Crossing the Bridge from Development to Intervention Science. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology , 255-265.