The article by Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino, and Buehler (2003) explores the implementation of the Scared Straight and other programs involving organized visits to prisons by juvenile delinquents to prevent them from committing a crime in the future. The advocates of the program and other researchers think that making at-risk children aware of the realistic depictions of prison life as a consequence of committed crime can deter them from being further involved in crime. At the start of the program, prison life was depicted harshly to ensure that juveniles get scared for their possible future. Now, the presentation of inmates is somewhat educational instead of confrontational, while the aim of crime prevention remains.
The aim of the article was to discuss and evaluate the effectiveness and effects of the Scared Straight and other juvenile delinquency programs. The review included only randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials with no treatment control group and only involved children aged seventeen and younger (Petrosino et al., 2003). In the studies being reviewed, the participants were either delinquents or predelinquents. The main point regarding interventions included in the reviewed studies had to feature a visit by participants to a prison facility as the main component. The advantage of a review as a methodology lies in the possibility of providing a comprehensive overview of available studies on the topic of crime prevention among adolescents and children. Such papers help clarify and disseminate the available knowledge so that readers have a better idea of what has already been implemented in the field, what is known, and what is not known and need further exploration. Therefore, Petrosino et al.’s methodological approach can offer implications for future practice and provide recommendations for research on crime deterrence programs. Besides, another important point of conducting a review entails placing an author in the midst of some level of attention, which means that the authors will be used as credible sources of knowledge in the sphere of interventions of deterring children from crime.
More than three hundred studies were included in the analysis, taking publication and discipline bias into account, which could have significantly limited findings. Specifically, the first significant step in the search strategy was to identify randomized experiments from more extensive field trial reviews. Several methods to find relevant studies were used; for example, hand search, which entailed the visual inspections of contents of twenty-nine prominent social science and criminology journals. The researchers also checked relevant sites and databases, conducted searches by information specialists within databases, conducted an extensive mail campaign with around two hundred researchers and a hundred search centers, and published solicitations related to newsletters. In addition, the search included snowball sampling by identifying and tracking references in more than fifty published systematic reviews and syntheses of literature as well as other bibliographies, articles, books, and documents of any kind that are reliable and relevant to the topic.
The second significant step in the search methodology entailed the augmentation of the work with the searchers to find experiments that could have been missed initially to cover more recent literature. Therefore, the researcher added a broad search of the Campbell Collaboration Social, Psychological, Educational and Criminological Trials Register, checked the citations from more recent systematic reviews, and e-mailed correspondence with selected researchers. The third large step involved a more specific search of fourteen available electronic databases that are relevant to the topic area being studied, including both published and unpublished literature. A large number of databases were included in the search, such as MEDLINE, PsychInfo, Education Full Text, PAIS International, and many others. It is notable that the number of sources containing the Scared Straight program is moderate, which is why the researchers included broader terms such as orientation visits or tours, prison or jail reformatory or institution, prison awareness, prison aversion, and others. The final step involved conducting an Internet search for relevant studies.
In terms of criticism, it is notable that the researchers implemented a comprehensive search strategy, leaving no other options behind. The fact that Petrosino et al. (2003) included an abundance of sources and carried out manual searches by adjusting search terms in order to yield as many results as possible. Notably, publication bias still existed because studies published in peer-reviewed journals are more likely to report statistically significant results than smaller non-peer-reviewed studies with non-significant solutions.
It is notable to discuss the methodological quality of the studies included in the review because there are usually several factors according to which the quality of studies is being graded. Due to the need to ensure that the methodological section is not severely condensed, the researchers underlined four important factors relevant to the experimental report. They included randomization integrity, attrition from the initial sample, blinding of outcome assessors, as well as fidelity of program implementation. Randomization integrity entails the assurance that there was no subversion violation within the random assignment procedure. Attrition entails reporting any participant loss from the initially randomized sample. Outcome assessor blinding is concerned with the issue of whether outcomes assessors were blinded. Finally, program implementation includes considerations of the poorly implemented programs, with the evaluation not being an accurate assessment of intervention effectiveness. Therefore, the researchers paid great attention to increasing the methodological quality of the studies used for the review to ensure that the findings are made on the basis of reliable and valid data.
Discussion of Findings
The key finding from the review is that less than half of the delinquent children or adolescents are at risk of committing a crime in the future. However, such a percentage is still high, which points to the need to implement further preventive interventions. For instance, in the Michigan Department of Corrections, 43% of the intervention group did recidivate, compared to only 17% of the control group, which means that more attention is needed (Petrosino et al., 2003). In the Illinois study that the researchers reviewed, the outcomes were negative in direction with statistically insignificant, with 17% of experimental participants being re-contacted by the police as opposed to 12% of the control group (Petrosino et al., 2003). These findings suggest that continuing children’s and adolescents’ tours to prison is not the best option because of the slightly positive outcome. In fact, the empirical findings suggest that there are also negative effects of such visits, with researchers reporting no effects of the program on the measures of attitude (Petrosino et al., 2003). To provide a contrasting perspective, mail surveys and interviews of prevention program participants, their parents, ad teachers provided unanimous support for the program. In addition, inmates showed positivity and enthusiasm about their efforts to help deter children and adolescents from committing a crime.
When it comes to the second study conducted in Michigan, there were reports of very little difference between the control group and the intervention group. The average rate of offense for the participants of the program was 69% compared to 47% of the control group (Petrosino et al., 2003). This suggests that young people who were involved in prison visit programs for crime deterrence did not do better compared to their counterparts from the control group. The Virginia study was the only one to provide positive findings, even though they were statistically insignificant. At six months of the program implementation, the results were in slight favor of the control group (41% in contrast to 39%), while between nine to twelve months of the program, the favor was on the part of experimental participants (Petrosino et al., 2003). Notably, the attrition rates were very high in the experiment group, which may mean that the children and adolescents did not want to visit prisons again because of their fear or resistance to change. Even though the programs mentioned above show that the prison visits interventions were rarely effective, it must be mentioned that the intervention caused a great emotional response from children, and mainly negative. The high attrition rates may be indicators that the participants found the program a burden to them and their emotional stability, which is why they chose not to continue their involvement.
The Face-to-Face Program implemented in Texas also showed little to no effects for the intervention, with the formation of three treatment groups on official delinquency. It was reported that the group of control participants showed more significant levels of performance compared to the treatment groups on official delinquency. Despite this, when considering the self-reported measures, the reverse was found, with none of the findings showing any level of statistical significance. Besides, discrepancies were found between the official and self-reported data. These findings suggest that the Face-to-Face program was not effective at preventing delinquency within the target group, nor did it enable exhibiting the attitude of obeying the law.
Other studies, such as the Mississippi Project Aware, SQUIRES, and Scared Straight, did not show any positive results when it came to preventing juvenile delinquency. Despite the fact that some improvement in the intervention groups compared to control groups was found, the negative results outweigh the positive outcomes, suggesting that other crime prevention methods are necessary. The findings are essential to consider in the context of preventative measures of crime control among adolescents and children because the Scared Straight practice could be used with some modifications and tested for effectiveness once again. The high attrition rates reported in many programs mean that the researchers could not measure the improvement in delinquency between the control and intervention groups.
Research Discussion and Implications
The main point for discussion in the given review study is that the randomized trials included in the analysis, encompassing over twenty-five years and eight US jurisdictions, all showed that the Scared Straight and other juvenile delinquency awareness programs could not provide the basis for being used as independent actions for crime prevention. It is also important to note that under experimental conditions, the programs could increase the likelihood of at-risk child delinquents committing crimes again. Even though the review showed a high variability of studies, intervention and control groups, and approaches, on average, the crime deterrence programs led to an increase in the experimental group’s criminality compared to the no-treatment group. These experiments show that not doing anything is better than exposing children and adolescents to the crime deterrence program.
Considering the fact that Scared Straight and other programs have no to harmful effect, they cause a dilemma for policymakers that work toward the prevention of children’s criminal activity. Criminological interventions, when they are dangerous, they are not just toxic to participants. They can lead to the increased misery for ordinary citizens that come with the victimization of ordinary people. This means that policymakers should take steps to engage in research infrastructure within the jurisdictions to ensure the rigorous evaluation of criminological interventions to make sure that they do not cause harm to the citizens that are being helped.
When it comes to implications for future practice, the findings show that there should be a reconsideration in how researchers and policymakers develop and implement programs to prevent crime among younger generations. Despite the findings of adverse effects of prevention deterrence programs, Scared Straight and its derivative programs continued to be used to the date of the review’s publication, which is quite ironic. Because the review included different jurisdictions, the existing and proposed programs are varied; however, there should be rigorous evaluation to ensure that the intervention causes no harm. Therefore, it is understandable that many look for programs that can help improve the antisocial youth. However, because there is little evidence for the support of Scared Straight and other programs, there should be a reconsideration of the way crime prevention strategies work, especially in terms of at-risk groups with particular combinations of personality, education, family factors, and other characteristics.
Considering the fact that Petrosino et al. (2003) conducted a comprehensive review study and found that Scared Straight and other programs aimed at crime prevention are ineffective, the implications for future practice entail studying the reasons for the criminological effect of the intervention. It is necessary to explore and test causal mechanisms or mediators that can offer information as to why Scared Straight does not bring the necessary outcomes. In addition, it is imperative to explore newer approaches for juvenile crime prevention and compare their outcomes to the outdated Scared Straight model involving jail visits. The available strategies include education, recreation, community involvement, bullying prevention programs, parent-child interaction training programs, and others.
Through the involvement of parents or caretakers, it becomes possible to develop targeted and person-oriented plans that consider every child’s unique needs and circumstances and make recommendations for improvement. By understanding each case separately, it will become possible to identify whether a child will benefit from Scared Straight or any other deterrence program. The questions following the analysis of the study include:
- Is it possible to implement cognitive behavioral therapy or functional family therapy as non-invasive methods of deterring children and adolescents from crime instead of Scared Straight?
- Despite the failure of Scared Straight, what are the benefits of the program that may be used in future practice?
Petrosino, A., Turpin-Petrosino, C., and Buehler, J. (2003). Scared straight and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency: A systematic review of the randomized experimental evidence. Annals, AAPSS, 589, 41-62.