Scared Straight! is a documentary produced by Golden West Television. Narrated by Peter Falk, the subject of the documentary is a group of juvenile delinquents and their three-hour session with actual convicts. Filmed at Rahway State Prison, a group of inmates known as the "lifers" berate, scream at, and terrify the young offenders in an attempt to "scare them straight" (hence the film's title), so that those teenagers will avoid prison life. It was broadcast on KTLA on November 2, 1978.

This film served as the inspiration for Beyond Scared Straight. It is followed by Scared Straight! Another Story (1980), Scared Straight! 10 Years Later (1987), Scared Straight! 20 Years Later (1999) and Scared Straight '99 (1999).


See also: The Transcript


Most modern DVDs and releases of Scared Straight! use a version produced for the documentary's 20th anniversary. In order to make room for Scared Straight! 20 Years Later, several minutes worth of footage (much of Peter Falk's screen time and several interviews with the convicts) were edited out, and other scenes were moved to other points in the program.


  • Written, Produced, and Directed by: Arnold Shapiro
  • Production Management: Robert Levi
  • Edited by: Bob Niemack
  • Director of Photography: William Moffitt
  • Assistant Camera: William Sarokin
  • Sound: Franklin Stettner


The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1978,[1] and two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement–Informational Program and Outstanding Informational Program in 1979.[2]

The Academy Film Archive preserved Scared Straight! in 2007.[3]

In April 1978, James Finckenauer, a professor of the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, began a test of the Scared Straight program, using a control group, something that had not been done previously.[4] His study concluded that children who attended Rahway were more likely to commit crimes than those who did not.[5]


Angelo Speziale, one of the people in this film, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the rape and murder of his neighbor in 1982.[6]

A 1981 article questioned the legitimacy of the "Lifers' Program".[7]


  2. Television Academy – Emmys
  3. Preserved Projects
  4. "Black Box Thinking" by Mathew Syed (Penguin Random House)(2015)(ISBN: 978-1-59184-822-6)
  5. "Scientifically Unsupported and Supported Interventions for Childhood Psychopathology: A Summary" (3/1/2005)
  6. "Neighbor sentenced in decades-old Ridgefield Park murder"