Bad Teens, Smug Hacks and Good TV: The Success and Legacy of Scared Straight!

  • Catherine Harrington


The in-your-face approach (literally) of Scared Straight! has made an indelible impact on the shape of prison representation and the public discussion around juvenile delinquency and prison more generally. Its impact and approach have been cyclically reinforced with Scared Straight! Another Story (1980), Scared Straight! 10 Years Later (1987), Scared Straight! 20 Years Later (1999) and Beyond Scared Straight (2011–2015). After the original Scared Straight! aired, prison systems in several states initiated similar programs to discourage juvenile delinquency; the Scared Straight! model persists today despite the inaccuracies of the statistics quoted in the film and research confirming its ineffectiveness at preventing incarceration. This chapter focuses on why Scared Straight! (1978) was successful. I argue that the Supreme Court’s approach to journalists’ access to prisons, the film’s focus on black aggression and the framing of Scared Straight! as a public service, all within the context of an increasingly competitive televisual landscape, are key to understanding the success and impact of Scared Straight!


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Harrington
    • 1
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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