The library seems particularly quiet this morning as I sit ready to view the documentary Sacred Straight! 20 Years Later. A warning flashes across the screen in cryptic red letters, "Graphic language, not appropriate for young audiences." Suddenly I see a series of clips of aggressive and threatening adults yelling at a group of teens. Then, the familiar face of actor Danny Glover appears. He identifies these clips as belonging to the acclaimed documentary Scared Straight!. This documentary shall be re-broadcast in its full original form, to be followed by interviews with the participants twenty years later (hence the title Sacred Straight! 20 Years Later). Another warning appears, and the show begins . . .
In 1976 a group of prisoners in New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison arranged for a group of "hardcore" delinquent teenagers to be brought into the prison to witness their presentation of the horrors of prison life. The aim of this presentation was to "scare" the teenagers into abandoning any and all criminal activity and to instead function in the "straight" world. This program was called the Juvenile Awareness Project (JAP), though it is more commonly known as Scared Straight!, the name of the Academy Award winning Hollywood documentary!
Initially, I intended to view this documentary at home in the company of friends. I had wanted the opportunity to see first hand how others would react to the film. Unfortunately, difficulty in finding a copy of the tape made this scenario unachievable. I contacted six different video rental stores, and while ALL the attendants with whom I spoke had heard of this documentary (first broadcasted over twenty years ago!), none knew of a copy available within their respective stores. As group viewing is not amenable to NYU’s library, I am forced to watch alone. However, the entire time I am acutely aware of the millions of Americans who viewed its original screening, and of the many public officials who also watched the Hollywood documentary and were so moved as to implement within their respective communities similar programs for the treatment of juvenile offenders.
The concept of a performance of fear designed to incite a particular behavior is what originally attracted me to consider Scared Straight!. However, as I began to research the documentary, I realized that I too had overlooked the documentary’s relationship to the Juvenile Awareness Project. The purpose of this paper is to explore the many ways in which the documentary has overshadowed the Juvenile Awareness Project, to reveal the ways in which the film exploits space and performance techniques for dramatic ends, and to demonstrate how this drama was and remains conflated with politics. My primary resources for this paper were James Finckenauer’s Scared Straight! And The Panacea Phenomenon and Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. As the major authority in the critique of JAP and Scared Straight!, his research is cited in most of the scholarship relating to these two projects. Though I have referred to works by other authors, the profound breadth of his influence should be noted. I shall begin with a brief background account of Scared Straight! and the Juvenile Awareness Project, followed by a re-creation of my experience of viewing the film - all the while addressing the film’s use of space and theatricality, concluding with a discussion of the repercussions of Scared Straight!.
In January of 1978 an article entitled "Don’t let them take me back!" appeared in Reader’s Digest. The article described the Juvenile Awareness Project, and proved to be a great source of inspiration for Arnold Shapiro. As director of motion pictures and special projects for Golden West Television in Los Angeles, Shapiro began to formulate the idea of filming a documentary based on this program. He contacted the Lifers and the Rahway Prison officials and learned that he was not the first to envision the program as a documentary. Mr. Shapiro, however, felt that he could present a better depiction than his predecessors had. He proceeded to meet with professionals from the agencies that were referring youngsters to the Juvenile Awareness Project to ask for their participation and support in the making of his documentary. Shapiro boasts that his plan was met with much enthusiasm, and that a few of these professionals agreed to propose to youngsters that they consent to participate in the film.
Shapiro did not directly select the teens that participated in the documentary. Rather, he made the simple request that whomever was sent must have "broken the law" but not necessarily have been arrested; and that a mixture of age, race, sex, and offense type be represented. In fact, he attests that he did not even meet the youths until the day of the filming. The kids came from two nearby counties. Finckenauer writes that, "Ridgefield Park, a suburban, mostly white middle class community -- provided the white kids, boys and girls who were less serious ‘law breakers.’ Passaic, an urban community, provided the black kids who could be considered ‘hardcore.’" [footnote 1: Finckenauer. 1999. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. 48.] Viewing the film, however, one gets the impression that all of the youths participating in the documentary, and by extension participating in the Juvenile Awareness Project, had a series of prior convictions. It is only from having read Finckenauer’s works that I came to understand that some of the teens participating in JAP had not actually committed any crimes or been arrested, let alone convicted. Such teens were referred to JAP because they were viewed as "heading on the path" towards crime.
Shapiro claims that the single direction he gave the youths was to answer the questions honestly and in complete sentences. The questions were not rehearsed, neither the youths nor their counselors were given a copy prior to the filmed interviews.
Shapiro believes that the teens did not alter their behavior for the camera, and that their responses were truthful. These elements contribute to the film’s impression of authenticity, or of being "real".
The Juvenile Awareness Project, the program that inspired Shapiro who in turn inspired many legislative officials, was developed by a group of inmates calling themselves "The Lifers’ Group", all of whom were serving sentences of twenty-five years or more in New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison. The Lifers organized themselves in 1975 in reaction to what was perceived as a Hollywood driven misrepresentation of convicts. The aim was to prove that the inmates, "could be useful and worthwhile people even though they were locked up in a maximum security prison." [footnote 2: Finckenauer. 1999. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. 19.] Many of these men were former juvenile offenders. Now, as fathers, they were watching their own children commit crimes and follow what was in all appearances the same path to prison. The group organized their ambitions to deter kids from a criminal path and created the Juvenile Awareness Program. As former juvenile offenders, they felt that they could relate to young people in a way that their parents and counselors could not.
Initially, the Lifers would talk about their experiences in prison, from bad food to prison rape to solitary confinement, and engage the visiting youths in discussion. However, the Lifer’s came to believe that this "big brother" approach was not an effective way to reach the greatest amount of kids. In an interview with Finckenauer, Frank Bindhammer, one of the founding members of the Lifers group, recounts the incident that proved to be a turning point in the group’s approach to the youths. [footnote 3: Finckenauer. 1999. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. 22-29.] Several months into the program, a Sergeant referred to a particular boy and asked Frank if he recognized him. When Frank confessed that he didn’t, the Sergeant responded, "‘Well, you should. He’s been here four times.’" Frank, in turn, asked why he was referred to the program four times. The Sergeant said that the boy had actually asked his counselor to bring him. When asked why, the youth replied, "’I think you guys are cool!’" Mr. Bindhammer learned that there were other young peple also requesting return visits. This was not the response the Lifers were hoping for.
Bindhammer claims that it was after this interaction that the Lifers made the decision to abandon the "big brother" approach. Instead, they opted for a presentation more akin to "shock therapy." They adopted an authoritarian if not bullying demeanor, and proceeded to depict real-life horror scenarios of life in prison. The Lifers were describing what is hidden from most civilians, a behind the scene glimpse of the true hell of life in maximum security prison. In the previously mentioned interview, Bindhammer describes the group’s evolution as follows:
We’re trying to make ourselves appear to be the most despicable people imaginable in an effort to turn them away from us and here they’re identifying with us. When they left the institution we wanted them to look toward the professional people that were referring them to the program in the first place -- for advice, for guidance. Our intention was to destroy that Hollywood stereotype image of criminals and gangsters being cool, tough people, of prisons being the in thing - to attack these young people’s own self-image, destroy that image of being a cool, tough person so that when they return to their respective communities they would be more susceptible to opening themselves up to their counselors -- the professional people.
Essentially, the Lifers evolved into a program that uses shock and negative reinforcement to thwart teens from committing crimes. Finckenauer writes, "...the basic idea guiding the project became the effort to deter juveniles from committing criminal offenses by means of an aversive-type of behavior modification technique." [footnote 4: Finckenauer. 1999. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. 21.] We shall return to deterrence theory shortly. What is important to make clear is that it was at this juncture that the Juvenile Awareness Project received most of its publicity, when it was fully invested in shock value deterrence. Likewise, it is this deterrence approach that is depicted in Scared Straight!.
Returning to Scared Straight!, Danny Glover has just introduced a re-screening of the original Scared Straight! hosted by Peter Falk. There is a chain of warnings -- Graphic language not appropriate for young audiences, and the show begins. I watch the group of young people enter the prison. They seem confident and jovial, qualities that would normally be positively associated with a group of teens on a bright and sunny afternoon. In this case, however, we are instructed to read their confidence as cockiness. Peter Falk’s narration approximates, "As the youths go deeper and deeper inside the prison, their arrogance and smiles fade and are replaced by tension that shall eventually lead to terror." When the prison doors slam shut behind the group, I feel that I am now watching the realities of prison that are normally hidden from the public. The film is successful.
Implicit in the film’s success in portraying a "behind the scenes look at prison" is creating a sense of authenticity or "realness". Through camera angles and lighting techniques a rough, non-studio aesthetic is achieved in the film. This aesthetic promotes two important assumptions about the inmates’ and the prison officials’ behavior -- that they are behaving towards the young people as they would towards actual new young convicts, not a touring group of students, and that they are not "acting" for the camera. The sexual harassment directed by the convicts towards the young people is to be read as spontaneous and natural. While it is possible that these behaviors are customary in the initiation of new convicts, what cannot be forgotten in viewing this document is that there are two simultaneous performances occurring, one for the group and one for the camera. Just as the Lifers will be focusing their actions for a particular effect, these other inmates are fully aware of wat is going on and are likely making similar alterations.
There is a sensation that the further the group (and the camera) travels into the prison, the more exposed we are to the true horrors of maximum-security prison. Space becomes a measure of not only physical separation, but of moral separation as well. Furthermore, the further the young people journey into the prison space, the more they are alienated from their rights. A prison guard instructs the youths to enter a small cell and draws their attention to the dirty toilet bowl contained within. The camera zooms in on this revolting sight as the guard repeatedly orders them to smell the bowl. This is a stench they had better get used to.
As I watch this I am reminded of the film’s ironic preliminary warning; Graphic language, not suitable for young viewers. Why then, is it suitable for the young participants in the film? The answer is that the youths are supposed to be read as delinquents lacking social values and therefore not entitled to protection or pity. At one point Peter Falk narrates to the gist of, "If they look like the kids next door, remember why they’re here." He then lists their offenses, creating their role as demons. Having achieved this demonization of the juvenile offenders, the film is able to create a before and after affect. Cutting to clips of the kids as they first enter the prison and to interviews performed prior to entrance when the kids displayed a certain boldness and bravado establishes the incorrigible delinquents that they were prior to their encounter with the Lifers. Returning to the youths’ expressions of horror and fear within the prison space, a new and socially recognizable identity of the broken-down criminal is achieved.
Finally the group arrives to the room where the Lifers are waiting. The Lifers take turns occupying center stage, occasionally referring to the other Lifers for emphasis. The first inmate begins by ordering a boy to look through a pile of cards. The boy does not execute the task precisely to the inmate’s liking and is therefore subjected to further hostility and threat. "Do it how I tell you or I swear I’ll bust your face." The boy finally gets it right, he looks at one card and then passes it to another young person. The inmate states that these cards are prison ID’s, and to remember that they are prisoners, not counselors, teachers, or psychologists. They are proven capable of anything. This act reinforces the Lifers’ subsequent threats.
One after the other, inmates are getting up and speaking of the unspeakable events that occur in prison. They talk about the loss of dignity, the disgusting food, having to jump at the incessant sounding of buzzers, and of the inevitable prison rapes. "You’re alone in your cell when suddenly three guys slip in. They take turns raping you. How are you going to deal with it?" The inmates describe the consequences of revenge, of "snitching" to the guards, and of taking on protection. "Let’s say you want revenge. You stab one of the guys. That gets you a life sentence, and his buddies will be after you. Let’s say you snitch and tell a guard. You’ll be placed high up on your own floor in protected custody, what we call ‘Punk City’, totally isolated from the rest on the inmate community. You’ll only be allowed out of your cell for two hours, for exercise. You won’t eat with the rest of us but alone in your cell. ‘Cause if you were in the mix those guys would come kill you." One inmate now describes the most common scenario. "Say you don’t say anything and try to pretend like it didn’t happen. Those guys won’t. They’ll tell their associates. Soon everyone will be busting into your cell. So you go to the guy that’s big and strong, that everyone leaves alone. You tell him what’s going on and ask for protection. He says he’ll take care of it. Suddenly no one bothers you, but that’s ‘cause he claimed you as his. Now you have to clean his cell, his toilet bowl, get him coffee every morning, give him ‘head’ whenever he asks. He tells you to ‘go down’ on a friend of his -- you do it. You’re his ‘bitch’ now." The Lifer claims that many go this route, and that when it gets to be too much, these victims will wrap a sheet around their neck and leave prison with another sheet over their head and a tag hanging around their toe.
A recent incident highly covered by the news is recounted. A boy stole a purse from an old lady allegedly for drug money. The old lady had a heart attack and died. Though the boy hadn’t intended to kill, he was convicted of homicide and sentenced to jail. The message is that while the youths may feel that they are nothing like the convicts, that they would never commit the crimes that these convicts must have and therefore would never receive the same punishment, the reality could be different. The inmate then forces another young person to come up in front of the group and to read an article. It describes how an inmate serving a three year sentence was murdered a month before his parole. The statement, "you don’t have to kill to come to prison, and you don’t have to do thirty years to die in prison" is intended to confront these kids with the "realities" of committing crime.
The inmates create a complex identity for themselves. First they behave in ways intended for shock value - violent, aberrant, unpredictable, capable of anything. However, their identity is meant to be viewed as existing on a continuum. An often-repeated phrase is, "I was just like you." When they were young, the Lifers committed the same offenses that these youths are now assumed to be committing. After suffering extended prison sentences, the Lifers have mutated into the tyrants that the youths now see before them. This allows the youths to identify with a representation of the convicts as having once been peers, while maintaining the distance caused by the convicts in their present mutated form.
In addition to identity, the inmates are able to use physical space to their advantage. Throughout the majority of the encounter the children are seated on chairs placed in a semi-circle around the speaking inmate. This inmate addresses the group while standing over them, meanwhile the rest of the Lifers loom behind him, seated up high on bleachers. The youths are warned that their eyes had better not move from the speaker, making them vulnerable as they are unable to watch the activity of the other inmates. The Lifer whose turn it is to speak will intermittently zone in on a particular youth who is perceived to be either not paying attention or not taking the experience seriously. To this youth the inmate centers his full focus, his face nearly touching the young person’s. The inmate now singles out a girl, depriving her of the security of being a member of the group while at the same time instilling fear in the other members of the group that if they do not behave exactly as they are told they could be next. A further isolation occurs when she is physically separated from the group for what is perceived as her continuation of disrespectful behavior. She is told to leave the room. It is not known where she will be going, and without the protection of visibility, the girl, the other youths and I are moved to fearfully wonder what will happen to her.
One boy seems to particularly agitate the inmates. He has returned to the room from having been told to leave, and is now accused of smirking. An inmate orders him to get up. The boy and the inmate are standing before the other youths and the other Lifers. The boy seems tall and rather built for his age, he certainly would tower over me. However, as he cowers before the Lifer, he seems small. The inmate then tells the boy to hit him, to take his best shot, then it will be the inmate’s turn to reciprocate. The boy resists, stating that the inmate would kill him. The inmate continues to try to incite the boy, and finally says, "OK", and commands the boy to hold on to the side of his waist. He tells the boy to follow him as he takes a few steps, then he asks the boy if he has a cigarette. The boy doesn’t have any. The inmate then puts the request for a cigarette to the Lifers. A cigarette is tossed to the inmate, who then tells the boy to go with the Lifer who just procured the cigarette. The inmate informs the boy that he just traded him for a smoke. My heart goes out to this boy who is forced to participate in his own humiliation. The inmate announces that the boy is no longer a man, "he’s a ‘bitch’ now."
Watching the film I find it difficult to reconcile the abusive treatment of the visiting group of young people with the humanitarian impulses that gave rise to the formation of the Lifers. The Juvenile Awareness Project was created as a result of the compassion the Lifers felt for young people and their desire "to do good". It is difficult to recognize these impulses as I watch their translation in Scared Straight!. Furthermore, I wonder at the contradiction that the Lifers feel sympathy and compassion for the youth before they are convicted and imprisoned, but once imprisoned, they threaten that they personally will torment them in all the ways that they have mentioned. The Lifers’ presentation concludes with their attesting that they do not do this presentation for money or because they have to. They do it because they care about the young people, they identify with the youth and do not want to see them go down the same terrible path that the Lifers have. As the Lifers pass out cards listing various "help lines" and resources to which the youth may go for support, I wonder why this contradiction has never been voiced. Unfortunately, this is not the only contradiction contained within this film.
In at least one shot I noticed a guard in uniform standing in the background. I would wager that his presence in the camera’s view was unintentional. His presence acts to legitimate the crimes that are said to occur within the very prison walls that are within his authority to manage. The message is sent that certain crimes are permissible. While purse snatching and truancy are worthy of severe punishment, prison rape and murder are valorized and institutionalized by the positive reception of the Scared Straight! documentary.
Forms of deterrence can be found throughout the criminal justice system. Deterrence theory is premised, "on a very basic belief that the threat of punishment will keep people from committing crimes..." [footnote 5: Finckenauer. 1982. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon. 29.] Special Deterrence is a mode of deterrence geared towards individuals who have already committed a crime. In such cases, punishment is used to deter the individuals from re-committing crimes. Both of these deterrence models stem from the widely held notion that we as humans are, "generally rational creatures who wish to limit the pain we suffer and to increase the pleasure we experience." [footnote 6: Finckenauer. 1982. Scared Straight!: The Panacea Phenomenon. 29.]
There are three major aspects to both deterrence models -- swiftness, certainty, and severity. Thus, in order to be an effective deterrent, a punishment must occur relatively soon after the crime is first committed, there must be certainty in the minds of all that committing a crime will always lead to punishment, and the inconvenience of the punishment must outweigh any benefits to be gained from the crime. Finckenauer asserts that deterrence theory provides the theoretical framework for JAP. Indeed, recall that the Lifers present the horrors of prison life for the purpose of scaring kids into abandoning criminal activity -- the threat of prison is used to deter kids from pursuing a criminal path. However, I also agree with Finckenauer when he claims that JAP is only able to effect the severity aspect of the deterrence model. Simply stated, the Lifers have no control over the judicial system. Though the Lifers may cite themselves as examples of the Law’s ultimate efficacy, many of these kids have first hand experience to the contrary -- they have "gotten away" without prosecution for criminal acts committed in the past and have no reason to believe that things will change in the future.
Despite the Lifers’ expertise being limited to the severity of prison, claims are made of JAP achieving out-standing success rates. Success can be understood as abstinence from crime after an encounter with the Lifers, and JAP claims a success rate of up to 90%. For a variety of reasons, these statistics are questionable at best.
While refuting JAP’s reported success rates is not the focus of this paper, I feel
obliged to highlight a few related points. Not all of the youths attending JAP
have actually committed crimes. Such kids are referred to the program by agency
officials who feel that the youths are susceptible or on the path towards crime and
hope to thwart the youths before they commit any crime. Given this, it is inaccurate
to include such kids in success rates. What achievement is there in kids not committing
crimes after visiting the Lifers if they never actually committed any crimes in the
first place? Multiple sources question JAP’s true effectiveness, and some even fear
that exposure to the Lifers’ presentation may actually incite crime in juveniles!
Any documentary aspires to serve as a representation of an original event. Therefore, the documentary format traditionally has an informative or educational style even though its makers may be in the entertainment industry. Where I am critical of Scared Straight! is in the ways that this documentary attempts to serve as more than a representation of JAP, but as an original authoritative document. This phenomenon is demonstrated in the following quotation. "According to critics and supporters of the program, the television films did a great deal to create the impression that the shock treatment afforded by the Lifers Group was the answer to the juvenile delinquency problem." [footnote 8: "'Scared Straight' Study Asked." The New York Times. February 7, 1988.]
As I described earlier, through camera angles and lighting techniques Scared Straight! tries to minimize its Hollywood origins and to maximize its authenticity as being "real." [footnote 9: I am using "real" to distinguish from a scripted event.] Informational catalogues were widely distributed as a promotional devise during the original broadcast of the film. These accompanying informational catalogues promoted the documentary’s image as an authoritative document. They reported that juveniles are committing a growing percentage of the nation’s crimes, while at the same time proclaiming the triumphs of JAP in reforming delinquent youths. Concluding Scared Straight!’s follow-up sequel, Scared Straight! Twenty Years Later, were interviews with the participants of the film. The interviewees spoke of the effects that participating in Scared Straight! had on their lives, not JAP. Though a few unsuccessful cases were shown in the film, the accompanying catalogues located these cases in the relatively small 10% non-success rate. In this way, Scared Straight! gains validity through touting questionable statistical information about JAP, but emerges as its own entity through continual self-reference. In the sequel Scared Straight! Twenty Years Later, which contains the original Scared Straight, the only time I heard JAP mentioned was in Danny Glover’s preliminary introduction. By the end of the film my mind was so filled with graphic imagery that I completely forgot his speech.
The social climate at the time of the broadcast of the original Scared Straight! also greatly contributed to its reception as an authoritative document. The late seventies marked a time of growing frustration with failed attempts to curb the rise in juvenile offenses. This meant that two kinds of audiences were in a position to be particularly responsive to Scared Straight!, those seeking topical entertainment, and those seeking answers to the rising juvenile crime rates. I believe that these two audiences, as well as the tactics and techniques recruited to target them, became blurred. First I shall address the entertainment value of Scared Straight!.
Scared Straight! first aired on November 2, 1978 in Los Angeles. The documentary was an instant hit. Headlines like, "One of the most riveting hours of television ever produced!" (Valley News) and, "One of the most unusual and powerful television programs ever broadcast" (L.A.Times) herald the documentary’s high entertainment value. Some mental health professionals believe that the sexual content and violent nature of the film were major factors in its mass appeal. Furthermore, the documentary’s dependence on graphic language was unprecedented at the time. Thus the language itself has shock value, particularly so when it is unaccepted in the medium and reaches unaccustomed ears. Similarly, remember that JAP’s major strategy in scaring kids straight is the use of shock. Wouldn’t the broadcasting of a graphic documentary like Scared Straight! dismantle JAP’s shock potential? Due to its presentation and sheer ability to reach greater numbers, it seems that the documentary had become the agent revealing the horrors of prison life, not the Lifers.
Due to the film’s astounding success, The Signal Companies, Inc., the sponsor of the original broadcast, decided to go national. During the week of March 5, 1979 Scared Straight! was broadcast throughout the United States in two hundred major cities. As explanation for the decision to go national, Forrest Shumway, President and Chief Executive of Signal Company, made the following comment, "We feel that Scared Straight! is an example of public service documentaries at their best. If televising this film helps even 10 kids go straight, then it has been worth it." [footnote 10: "Scared Straight: A Second Look?" http://www.ncianet.org/publicpolicy/publications/scaredstraight.asp] In these words, Shumway dislocates the documentary from the entertainment industry and situates it as an important social service tool, despite the fact that Arnold Shapiro accepted the Oscar when the film won the Academy Award for the year’s best documentary.
Various social service professionals contributed to the emergence of the documentary’s identity as a social service tool. Finckenauer reports that the National Education Association and Mental Health Materials Center endorsed Scared Straight! and recommended it for viewing. Once this status of social service tool is accepted, the same professionals can use the documentary to formulate similar programs to combat juvenile crime, and there are many reasons beyond JAP’s alleged success rates why this would be alluring. The claims of as much as 90% success rates, combined with a low implementation and maintenance cost makes the creation of JAP spin-offs very attractive. The program’s dual nature of praising strong punishment and offering convicts redemption appeals to conservatives and liberals respectively. Finckenauer’s explanation for the popularity of JAP inspired programs lies in the existence of the panacea phenomenon. He writes:
This phenomenon seems to have spawned a particular pattern in
our battle with juvenile crime. First, a certain approach is posed as a cure-all
or becomes viewed and promoted as a cure-all -- as an intervention which will have
universal efficacy and thus be appropriate for nearly all kids. It may be promoted
and sold as the all-encompassing solution to the delinquency problem. Each
promoter/salesman believes, or at least behaves as if, his idea is effective in
saving children and ‘hypes’ it accordingly. Unfortunately, the approach...almost
always fails...to live up to the frequently unrealistic or unsound expectations
raised by the sales pitch. As this failure slowly becomes apparent, frustration
usually sets in; but then the search for the next panacea or ‘answer’ begins anew.
As has been previously cited, not all social service officials had positive comments about JAP or what is often referred to as "the Scared Straight! model". Such officials questioned these programs’ efficacy and alluded to their possible harm (see footnote 7). Yet, numerous programs following "the Scared Straight! model" did, in fact, emerge. Referring to the film, one article published on the web states that, "legislators in over 30 states have responded to public pressure and moved swiftly to replicate similar ‘miracle’ programs." [footnote 12: "Scared Straight: A Second Look?" http://www.ncianet.org/publicpolicy/publications/scaredstraight.asp]
By introducing the entertainment industry into this model, Scared Straight! further complicates the panacea phenomenon. As I have previously recounted, Scared Straight! is a highly theatrical document. As a documentary, this is to be expected. As a "social service tool", however, this is unacceptable. Scared Straight! exists as entertainment, as a social service tool, and as a legislative referent. Determining the efficacy and validity within the latter two categories of a program like JAP is an obstacle in itself. For Golden West to further complicate this obstacle by producing a document that uses persuasive camera angles, studio editing techniques, and an accompanying promotional catalogue listing relevant statistics without any follow up is irresponsible.
In conclusion, Scared Straight!’s two targeted audiences should be in conflict with one another. Those seeking entertainment look for theatricality and drama, those seeking a social service device should look for a realistic depiction of valid studies with accurate results. Scared Straight! exploits the appearance of authenticity to heighten its drama -- these are real convicts confronting real kids in a maximum-security prison, shown on primetime television. Legislative officials substituted a controversial documentary’s high ratings for professional approval of a deterrence program for juvenile delinquency. For these reasons, I find it problematic that a theatrical and statistically unsound document like Scared Straight! has been highly instrumental in the implementation of juvenile delinquency treatment programs.