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Empirical Evaluation of Juvenile Awareness Programs in the United States: Can Juveniles be "Scared Straight"?

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 49 Issue: 4 Dated: May-June 2010 Pages: 254-272
Paul M. Klenowski; Keith J. Bell; Kimberly D. Dodson
Date Published
May 2010
19 pages
This study examined whether there is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that juvenile awareness programs reduce recidivism or deter criminal behavior among at-risk youth.
Juvenile awareness programs like Scared Straight became popular crime prevention strategies during the 1970s. Juvenile offenders and at-risk youth who participate in these programs are taken to prisons where inmates use confrontational methods to recount stories about violence, sex, and abuse perpetrated by fellow inmates while living a life behind bars. These "get tough" policies have wide public and political appeal. Empirically speaking it is unclear whether juvenile awareness programs help to reduce recidivism or prevent criminal behavior. The purpose of this article is to use an evidence-based approach to determine if there is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that these programs are effective crime prevention tools. This investigation includes a comprehensive review of the studies that have examined juvenile awareness programs. The studies are evaluated using the most widely accepted tool for assessing scholarly works in criminology, the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale. The results of this study indicate that juvenile awareness programs that use confrontational techniques do not work. However, their nonconfrontational counterparts may show some promise. Table, references, and appendix (Published Abstract)