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|Directed by||Arnold Shapiro|
|Produced by||Arnold Shapiro|
|Written by||Arnold Shapiro|
|Narrated by||Peter Falk|
|Editing by||Bob Niemack|
|Running time||52 minutes|
Scared Straight! is a 1978 documentary directed by Arnold Shapiro. Narrated by Peter Falk, the subject of the documentary is a group of juvenile delinquents and their three-hour session with actual convicts. Filmed at Rahway State Prison, a group of inmates known as the "lifers" berate, scream at, and terrify the young offenders in an attempt to "scare them straight" (hence the film's title) so that those teenagers will avoid prison life.
The documentary aired on television in the late 1970s, uncensored; it marked the first time that the words "fuck" and "shit" were broadcast on many networks. The cast includes a drug dealer and counterfeit document manufacturer from Westchester County (Mikie C), a gang member from Jersey City (Jerome Watts), an arsonist and bomb builder from Bridgeport (Jon Shipiro), the son of a Mafia informant (Carlo Gallo), and a 17-year-old chop shop parts dealer and car thief from the Bronx (Jesus Rodriguez). At film's end, the teenagers say that they have decided that they don't want to end up in jail. The film ends with a "roll call" of the teens, revealing that most were "scared straight", though a few were said to have reoffended.
Teenagers in this documentary and the 1980 sequel, Scared Straight! Another Story, ranged from 15- to 19-year-old repeat offenders of crimes ranging from petty theft and public intoxication to gambling, counterfeiting, and racketeering. None of the individuals in the original documentary were ever convicted of a felony, except for Angelo Speziale, who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the rape and murder of his neighbor, Michele Mika. Most were from the tri-state (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York) area and agreed to accept the experiment in lieu of jail time and/or probation/public service. The producers asked for a range of youth that came from poor inner-city neighborhoods to the affluent suburbs of New York City. The recidivism rate of the original two casts was less than 10%. Of course, it must be remembered that the program was the brainchild of a film maker, not a psychiatrist specializing in the rehabilitation of felons; therefore, the focus was on whatever theatrical value could be obtained by filming a group of hulking inmates scaring relatively young teenagers.
As a result of the film, many states introduced "scared straight" programs in an attempt to rehabilitate young delinquents. The effectiveness of such programs has been questioned, most significantly by a peer reviewed meta-analysis report of seven such programs by Anthony Petrosino et al. (2002, updated 2003), which indicated that "scared straight" programs not only failed to deter crime, but actually led to more offending behavior.
On January 13, 2011, A&E introduced the new series Beyond Scared Straight, executive produced by Arnold Shapiro. According to the A&E website profile for the series: "Each one-hour episode focuses on a different inmate-run program in the U.S., and follows four or five at-risk teens before they attend the program, throughout their day inside the prison, immediately afterwards, and then follows up with them one month later to see the lasting impact of the experience on their lives. Beyond Scared Straight is about transforming the lives of young people through intervention and second chances." In addition, each episode ends with updates of the teen participants since the taping of the program, citing both successes and some failures in their post-prison behavior.
On February 1, 2011, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reported that one of the graduates of the original Scared Straight! program at Rahway, Angelo Speziale, later became a convicted felon. In 2010, Speziale was convicted of the 1982 rape and murder of Michele Mika, a teenage girl who lived next door to him, and is currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life in Rahway. In Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, Speziale claimed that the Scared Straight! experience changed him. He was later arrested for shoplifting in 2005 and a DNA sample linked him to the 1982 cold case rape/murder that led to his imprisonment. A New Jersey law enforcement source has confirmed that Speziale is the same person who appeared in both documentaries.
On August 18, 2011, A&E premiered the second season of Beyond Scared Straight, once again in the midst of controversy. Joe Vignati, director of Justice Programs at the Governor's Office for Children and Families in Georgia, writes at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: "After becoming the highest rated program in the history of the Disney-owned (sic) A&E network, a new season of this 'reality' show returns to titillate the curious and misinformed." Also, in light of the Speziale case, the Campaign for Youth Justice has petitioned A&E to cancel Beyond Scared Straight, as they claim that the show promotes "the spread of a noxious program" and may be in violation of federal law and standards set forth by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
A third season of Beyond Scared Straight debuted on Monday, August 20, 2012 on A&E.
Two Justice Department officials have written an op-ed piece describing scared straight programs as “not only ineffective but is potentially harmful” to the kids involved. The op-ed appears in the February 1, 2011 edition of the Baltimore Sun, written by OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and Laurie O. Robinson. They say that, "when it comes to our children," policymakers and parents should "follow evidence, not anecdote."
A 2002 meta-analysis of the results of a number of scared straight and similar intervention programs found that they actively increased crime rates, leading to higher reoffence rates than in control groups that did not receive the intervention.
In 2004 the Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimated that each dollar spent on Scared Straight programs incurred costs of $203.51.
In popular culture 
A brief parody of Scared Straight was included in the television series The Office in the 2006 episode entitled "The Convict". Steve Carell, playing office manager Michael Scott, performs as a character of his creation, named Prison Mike, who acts out a toned-down version of the type of speech given in the original Scared Straight.
On Mad TV, Will Sasso & Aries Spears play as two convicts in a program called "Scared Straight Anywhere" in which they are literally used to Scare People straight anywhere such as shown in the Skit a Business Meeting, Boy Scout Meeting & Hollywood.
Several Saturday Night Live episodes have featured the "Scared Straight" program. One Saturday Night Live skit features Kenan Thompson's character Lorenzo McIntosh hired by a jail in their "Scared Straight" program. McIntosh tries to scare the juvenile delinquents by using movie references such as being arrested because he tried to hide an alien trying to phone home from the government.
In Arrested Development, George Bluth, Sr. is sent to a "Startled Straight" tent, only to actually present at a tent intended to change repressed homosexuals.
On an episode of Married with Children, Al Bundy told his family a story about a group of troubled high school students who were bussed to his shoe store and forced to watch his daily activities as part of the "Scared Rich!" program. Al added that it wasn't long before the most "hardened punk" was on his knees sobbing.[episode needed]
In episode 2 of Freaks and Geeks, after Bill doubts Neil's claim that someone who doesn't pay attention in high school will have a poor future and end up "dead or in jail", Neil asks him if he was asleep during "Scared Straight!".[episode needed]
In episode 42 of Beavis & Butt-Head, "Scared Straight", Principal McVicker restarts a Scared Straight program, and the duo find themselves, at first, scared in prison, but later have fun. They befriend two prisoners, who are Iron Maiden fans, and play air guitar to the Iron Maiden song "The Prisoner" with them.
In the "Long Drive" episode of Malcolm in the Middle, a day in jail tests a defiant Reese who faces a Scared Straight encounter.
The Boondocks television series used the documentary in the episode "A Date with the Booty Warrior" to remake it into an episode where Riley and Huey participate in a Scared Straight program at a local jail. Some lines and examples were even taken from the documentary and used in the episode.
In the Will & Grace episode "Prison Blues", Jack mentions this documentary while visiting Karen's husband, Stanley, in prison.
In The Venture Bros, Dean and Hank Venture find themselves in a Scared Straight program at a prison that held many of their father's enemies, including the Monarch.
||This article uses bare URLs for citations. (May 2012)|
- "Scared Straight! (1978)". The New York Times. All Media Guide, LLC. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- The Record (Hackensack, NJ): "Neighbor sentenced in decades-old Ridgefield Park murder", April 1, 2010.
- Gil Jawetz (12). "Scared Straight!". DVD Talk. DVDTalk.com. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- Petrosino, Anthony; Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino; and John Buehler (2003 November). "'Scared Straight' and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency. Campbell Review Update I.". In: The Campbell Collaboration Reviews of Intervention and Policy Evaluations (C2-RIPE). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Campbell Collaboration. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
- Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: "Scared Straight! Graduate Plays Starring Role in Cold Case Crime", February 1, 2011.
- Vignati, Joe. "Joe Vignati On Beyond Scared Straight and the Irresponsibility of the A&E Network". Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, accessed August 19, 2011
- Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski. "Scary -- and ineffective". Baltimore Sun. January 31, 2011
- Petrosino A, Turpin-Petrosino C, Buehler J. "Scared Straight and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency"
- Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M., & Pennucci, A. (2004) Benefits and costs of prevention and early intervention programs for youth. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
- "Saturday Night Live Transcripts: Season 33: Episode 11". Saturday Night Live Transcripts. http://snltranscripts.jt.org. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- "WikiPedia: Beavis and Butthead Episodes" WikiPedia
- "Beavis and Butthead Scared Straight" YouTube at 3:53
- Scared Straight! at the Internet Movie Database
- Scared Straight! at AllRovi
- Scared Straight! at Rotten Tomatoes
- Scared Straight! review
- Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
- Scared Straight Facts
- Scared Straight Overview Youth Today
- JJS Op-Ed
- Neighbor sentenced in decades-old Ridgefield Park murder
- A&E TV Series "Beyond Scared Straight"
- "The Real Legacy of Scared Straight"