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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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Scared Straight

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2018.  Literature review updated May 2015.
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Scared Straight is a prison awareness program designed to deter juvenile offenders or children who are at-risk of becoming delinquent. Youth participate in organized visits and guided tours of adult prisons and interact with prisoners who attempt to scare youth into living a life without crime.
The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2017). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers ($2,773) Benefits minus costs ($10,141)
Participants ($509) Benefit to cost ratio ($92.81)
Others ($5,453) Chance the program will produce
Indirect ($1,298) benefits greater than the costs 2 %
Total benefits ($10,033)
Net program cost ($108)
Benefits minus cost ($10,141)
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Benefits from changes to:1 Benefits to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime ($2,416) $0 ($5,325) ($1,210) ($8,951)
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation ($290) ($638) ($296) $0 ($1,224)
Health care associated with educational attainment ($129) $35 $141 ($65) ($18)
Costs of higher education $62 $93 $28 $31 $214
Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 ($54) ($54)
Totals ($2,773) ($509) ($5,453) ($1,298) ($10,033)
Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $100 2011 Present value of net program costs (in 2017 dollars) ($108)
Comparison costs $0 2011 Cost range (+ or -) 10 %
The per-participant cost is estimated from a report by Reclaiming Futures, accessed from:
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Estimated Cumulative Net Benefits Over Time (Non-Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in non-discounted dollars to simplify the “break-even” point from a budgeting perspective. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
Crime 15 10 752 0.145 0.072 18 0.145 0.072 28 0.145 0.044

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Buckner, J.C., & Chesney-Lind, M. (1983.) Dramatic cures for juvenile crime: An evaluation of a prisoner-run delinquency prevention program. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 10(2), 227-247.

Cook D.D., & Spirrison, C.L. (1992). Effects of a prisoner-operated delinquency deterrence program: Mississippi's Project Aware. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 17(3-4), 89-99.

Finchkenauer, J.O., & Gavin, P.W. (with Hovland, A., & Storvoll, E.). (1999). Scared Straight: the panacea phenomenon revisited. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Lewis, R.V. (1983). Scared straight--California style: Evaluation of the San Quentin Squires program. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 10(2), 209-226.

Locke, T.P., Johnson, G.M., Kirigin-Ramp, K., Atwater, J.D., & Gerrard, M. (1986). An evaluation of a juvenile education program in a state penitentiary. Evaluation Review, 10(3), 281-298.

Michigan Department of Corrections. (1967). A six month follow-up of juvenile delinquents visiting the Ionia Reformatory (Research Report No. 4). Lansing: Michigan Department of Corrections.

Orchowsky, S., & Taylor, K. (1981). The Insiders juvenile crime prevention program: An assessment of a juvenile awareness program (Document No. NCJ 79768). Richmond: Virginia Department of Corrections, Division of Program Development and Evaluation, Research and Reporting Unit.

Vanzandt, J. (1979). Menard Correctional Center: Juvenile tours impact study (Document No. NCJ 062932). Marion, IL: Greater Egypt Regional Planning & Development Commission.

Vreeland, A.D. (1982). Evaluation of Face-to-Face: A juvenile aversion program. Dissertation Abstracts International, 42(10), 4597A.

Yarborough, J.C. (1979). Evaluation of JOLT (Juvenile Offenders Learn Truth) as a deterrence program (Document No. NCJ 060290). Lansing: Michigan Department of Corrections.