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Scared Straight!
Scared Straight
Actor: Peter Falk
Director: Arnold Shapiro
Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2003     0hr 52min

Their crimes included assault and battery, arson, auto theft, breaking and entering, and possession and distribution of narcotics. Although they were still minors, these juvenile delinquents were already on a one-way path ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Peter Falk
Director: Arnold Shapiro
Creators: William Moffitt, Arnold Shapiro, Bob Niemack, Robert Levi
Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Crime & Conspiracy, Mystery & Suspense
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 08/26/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1978
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 0hr 52min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Required viewing
Joe Sherry | Minnesota | 10/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A film by Arnold ShapiroPeter Falk narrates this documentary about criminally inclined youths visiting a prison and getting to talk to actual inmates who are trying to scare them straight. It is the Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. The year is 1978. It is called the "lifers program". The inmates get no special compensation for participating in the program, but they hope that this program will help keep some kids out of prison. 17 teenagers are sent to the program, it was a sort of a last stop for these kids before prison. These aren't good kids, they have committed theft, arson, armed robbery, assault, and more. The inmates are some of the worst convicts in the prison system, nasty men who have done nasty crimes. Scared Straight is an uncensored look at this session in the prison. The inmates come in and they each take turns talking of their experiences, but rather than just a dry account of their prison time (and how they got there) this is highly emotional. The inmates yell at the kids, curse at them, and explicitly tell them exactly what will happen to them if they end up in prison and exactly what the prison culture is like. It is violent, always threatening, and every day is a risk of being the prisoner's last. The inmates gave every possible detail, more than you might want to know but everything you would need to know. Going to prison may seem like a game, a short easy ride, but these convicts set you straight. Some of the kids appeared to be near tears and visible intimidated by the convicts. The inmates explained what being intimidated would get them in prison, too. This was a powerful documentary. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary and it should be required viewing for any kid who starts getting in trouble with the law. Perhaps it should just be required viewing in high school. There is a follow-up with the kids 20 years later. Amazingly enough, 16 out of 17 of the original group have stayed out of prison. It was an incredibly successful program and the men (and women) said that if it wasn't for the lifer's program, they probably would have kept committing crimes. We also get to see some of the convicts 20 years later, the ones who are still alive. Some have been able to finish their sentence and stay clean, others had some problems and remain behind bars. This is an incredible documentary and I don't think it lost any of its power 20 years after it first aired. This should be required viewing for any teenager and I highly recommend this documentary."
Required viewing
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 09/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In 1978, a program was started by inmates of Rahway maximum-security prison in New Jersey where a small group of juvenile delinquents were brought into the prison to meet with inmates. The inmates who created the program get no special treatment, no rewards for participating in the program, as the goal is to try and give something back, to try and save a life before it's too late. Now keep in mind, these teens, ages ranging from 15 to 17, were some of the worst of the worst, their crimes ranging from arson, breaking and entering, theft, grand theft auto, assault, etc. The goal was to show these teens the consequences of a life of crime, the harshness of the prison system, a glimpse into the reality of where they where headed.The documentary, hosted by Peter Falk, starts out by interviewing the teens prior to their entry into the prison. These kids are extremely cocky, and it would be funny if it weren't so sad. They talk tough, act tough, and seem to have very little regard for their actions. On entering the prison, they are processed, just like any other convicted felon, and lead to cells where they spent and hour before their two-hour meeting with a select group of prisoners. To these kids, this was just an opportunity to get out of school for a day, but it became so much more.The prisoners berated the youths in an effort to show them that the kids weren't as tough as they thought they were, and also gave them a real good look into what prison life is really like. Some of the kids seemed to the point of tears, and all seemed frightened and very shaken. Some prisoners recounted harsh experiences within the prison, while others let the kids know exactly what would happen to them if and when they ever entered the prison system. The prisoners were literally in their faces, trying to get their respective points across. Afterwards, when the kids left, they were interviewed again, and their demeanor had visibly changed. No longer were they full of themselves, but very humbled and seemingly very frightened at the prospect of ever having to end up in a place like that.Also included is the follow up documentary, Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, hosted by Danny Glover. The filmmakers attempt to follow up with the kids and prisoners, allowing us to see where they are now. Amazingly, 16 out of the 17 children in the pilot program managed to turn their lives around and, for the most part, stay out of trouble. Many are productive members of society, and have children of their own. Also shown is the impact on the prisoners who participated in the program. It's funny how this program, created and run by convicts to aid troubled youths also ended up helping the convicts, as a number of them seem to have seen the error of their ways and were working on rebuilding their lives.All these years later, the program is still running, and it's estimated that about 80% of the children who participate manage to turn their lives around, and stay out of prison. Quite a success rate. The impact of viewing this on video opposed to being there in person, having a convict yell at you inches away from your face, probably isn't as strong, but I think the message is, and many younger and older people would get a lot of of watching this movie."
A classic
Haseeb | Tempe, AZ United States | 07/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I didn't see this the first time it was aired on TV in 1978, but I do remember seeing a preview and pictures from it. Even so, it had a lasting impression on me. I always remembered seeing a light-complexioned African-American man with the mostashe who had one eye (Ali). I remember seeing the veins in his neck bulge out and remember him as someone who was very angry and someone you did not want to mess with. Recently, I've watched this documentary for the first time and was impressed.

The most fascinating aspect of this video is the follow up after 20 years, but they also did a follow up with some of them after 10 years as well. Did the Scared Straight program work? According to the people who run the program, it worked very well. Out of all of the kids in the program, only one of them became a convict in a maxium security prison, but quite a few of them have had run ins with the law and served lesser sentences in county jails. In my opinion, I don't know if the Lifers Programs does all that much good because how do you know the kids wouldn't have wound up being not too different from the way they became anyway had they not participated in the lifers program?

Out of all of the convicts in Scared Straight, only two managed to turn their lives around, the rest either died or were still incarcerated at the time of the film. The most memorable man of the film (Ali) who none who were in the program will ever forget was the last subject interviewed in this film. Did he manage to turn his life around or is he still incarcerated? You'll have to watch this to find out.

I highly recommend this documentary. I do not believe however that one can get scared into changing their life around completely. The fundamental core of who a person is will always be there regardless of how much people scare him. Real change must come from within."
Scared Straight - The world should see it....
Ross S. Mcnab | New Zealand | 09/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Scared Straight should be played on a wide screen and stereo sound in every high school. Period.
The crime rate would plummet!
My congratulations to the producers. A world class effort.
Ross McNab"