Evaluating Crime Reduction Strategies 2. Scared Straight

The second in this series of PowerPoint Presentations looking at contemporary forms of crime prevention / reduction strategies provides an outline and overview of one of the most-controversial strategies in recent times.

Scared Straight programmes are based on a version of deterrence theory that holds that if punishments are immediate, severe and certain this will act as a deterrent against crime. This is claimed to hold true for both for adult offenders and, crucially in this particular context, juveniles who have either not committed a criminal offence or who have been brought to the attention of control agencies such as the police and social services for relatively minor criminal offences.

These programmes have been particularly popular in the United States, where a small-industry has emerged to provide “scared straight” services, such as juvenile “boot camps” and “prison experiences“, for a fee. Having said this, “Military-style boot camps” for young offenders were introduced in 1997 for young offenders by the then Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard. As you might expect from the current lack of UK Scared Straight schemes, these programmes were quickly revealed to be ineffective.

This Presentation provides an overview of Petrosino et al’s (2013) meta-analysis of 9 studies of Scared Straight schemes. It looks briefly at the theoretical rationale of Scared Straight programmes, identifies a range of reasons as to why such schemes actually cause an increase in subsequent offending and concludes by noting a couple of issues with the studies on which the meta-analysis is based.

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