This celebrated, Oscar- and Emmy-winning documentary chronicles a program designed to prevent crime by introducing juvenile offenders to the realities of prison life; its addendum, SCARED STRAIGHT! 20 YEARS LATER, touches base
with the first documentary's participants. In 1978, documentary filmmaker Arnold Shapiro accompanied 17 delinquents to the Juvenile Awareness Program, run by inmates of Rahway State Prison. Busted for drug offenses, breaking-
and-entering and shoplifting, the cocky teens expected an outing but got a life-altering experience. Face to face with murders and rapists, the adolescents soon discovered that they lacked the skills necessary for coping in a prison environment. The prisoners, who scream at their captive audience for maximum effect, impart a two-fold lesson: Incorrigible behavior progresses to the kind of criminal acts that land people in real jail, and face sexual assault is an inescapable part of prison life. Whenever the defiant teens exhibit smirking indifference to these lessons, the "teachers" single them out for humiliation. You can actually see a dawning awareness in some of the youngster's rebellious faces as they recognize that if they were in the penitentiary, these veteran cons wouldn't be their peers. They'd be the predators from whom there would be no escape. In his follow-up film, Shapiro revisits the subjects of SCARED STRAIGHT! two decades later and learns that most of the teens became law-abiding citizens. In fact, after their encounter with the Rahway tough love program only one of the 17 wound up a recidivist, trapped in the penal system. The experiment also validated the lives of the felons who ran it; reunited with these convicts, the once-terrified juvies now treat them as mentors who frightened them out of a life of crime. SCARED STRAIGHT! stands the test of time and has lost none of its power to shock viewers out of their complacency. In the fascinating manner of Michael Apted's 7UP movies, the 20-year reunion film provides a sense of closure.
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- Released: 1978
- Rating: NR
- Review: This celebrated, Oscar- and Emmy-winning documentary chronicles a program designed to prevent crime by introducing juvenile offenders to the realities of prison life; its addendum, SCARED STRAIGHT! 20 YEARS LATER, touches base with the first documentary's… (more)