How the Scared Straight Program Works for Troubled Teens

Teens who get into legal trouble often have more options than adults. Fortunately, there are many different kinds of social service organizations that can help younger teenagers before their habits, and crimes, venture into dangerous territory. Under numerous names, the so-called “scared straight” programs operating in the U.S. have been shown to be effective and popular among young criminal defendants. As an alternative to jail, at the very least, a weekend face-to-face with hardened adult offenders can go a long way toward helping youngsters mend their ways. Even though mechanics of the programs vary widely from state to state, the basic components of a scared straight program usually include at least three common goals.

Visits to a Detention Facility

The standard arrangement for most scared straight programs involves groups of teens visiting a jail or prison under the close supervision of an adult counselor. The visits usually take place on a weekend, during the day, and include face-to-face interactions between the youngsters and the detainees. The typical program will last about six weeks, with one or two visits taking place each weekend.

Interaction Between Teens and Convicts

Perhaps the most integral aspect of scared straight programs is the personal interaction between incarcerated individuals and the program’s teens. Sometimes raw and a bit frightening, the meetings are meant to have a lasting emotional impact on the young offenders who visit jails and prisons. Often, tough-talking convicts who have been in the justice systems for years and years can convince teens that a life of crime really does not pay.

Counseling and Debriefing for Teens After the Encounter


Image: Wikimedia Commons/CCO

According to an Orlando violent crimes attorney, after the face-to-face meetings, young offenders speak privately with licensed counselors and try to sort out what happened. It is not uncommon for teens to be upset and emotionally drained by their scared straight encounters. After the fact counseling sessions are the capstone of crime deterrent programs in nearly every case.

Scared straight programs have been an important component of the U.S. criminal justice system for almost 50 years now, and have proven themselves time and again as a workable concept that helps young offenders see the consequences of bad choices. Given their positive track record, it is a good bet that these programs will continue to help teens avoid the criminal life.


Author: Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy.