The 1978 documentary Scared Straight directed and produced by Arnold Shapiro became quite a sensation due to the impact it had at that time. It puts in perspective the life of actual convicts referred to as “lifers” and their interactive three-hour sessions with a certain group of juvenile delinquents. The lifers engage the delinquents in a manner that sees them scream at, berate, and terrify them in acts aimed at “scaring them straight” and thereby avoid prison life. For example, one of the convicts is called Mikie C who is from Westchester County and was convicted of being a counterfeit document manufacturer and a drug dealer. Together with his other convicts, they scare the hell out of the juveniles such as 17-year-old Jesus Rodriguez, a juvenile delinquent charged with being a car thief and chop shop parts dealer from the Bronx. In the end, the teens had made up their mind they were not going to jail and hence were “scared straight” albeit some engaged in similar offenses.
Towards that end, it is important to look at the rational choice theory and how it is used to have an influence on behavior based on deterrence. Rational choice theory derives from the perspective that human behavior both social and economic arises from the choices made by individual actors. The individual has preferences that emanate from the desire to pursue personal goals that provide the best choice alternative for successful outcomes. Therefore, the deterrence of behavior arises from the reasoning that the same individual can be engaged through various means aimed at correcting their behaviors and mannerisms towards the right path. With time, the individual in question gets to change their behavioral tendencies by influencing them to make rational choices that work to their benefit. The key ingredient in such a process is offering guidance and direction for these individuals to reform their decision-making process.
In that case, the beyond scared straight program in the documentary was meant to scare the juveniles straight and hinder them from engaging in future crimes that could have put them behind bars. Here, the program is a form of deterrence that involves an intense three-hour session with actual convicts where they do not mince their words and inform the juveniles head-on about the harsh reality of prison. In the end, the juveniles seemed to have been scared straight since most of them were not convicted of any form of a felony after graduating with the exception of Angelo Speziale who was involved in a rape and murder crime a little later. That means the program was successful since they were deterred and could have probably engaged in crime if they had not been enlisted in such a program.
If I were placed in a deterrence-based program, I would make sure it is effective based on a few factors. First, it will have to incorporate the community and more so key players such as elders and church ministers. These are people that would be engaged in direct talks with the juvenile delinquents in the wider context of solving their problems. It would also involve engaging with former convicts in hourly sessions who are either undergoing rehabilitation or have already transformed and become useful members of the society. One-on-one talks would be beneficial to such juvenile delinquents since these are people that have the requisite knowledge and experience of how costly it is to commit a crime. Finally, I would ensure that that the families of these delinquents are part and parcel of the program considering they are one of the key stakeholders that play a significant role in influencing their way of behaving.