Students ‘scared straight’

Shown that prison, gangs aren’t cool

No job, no money, no real friends, no freedom and a life of fear and addiction. High school children were introduced to some of the consequences of gangs, guns and drugs in a new programme aimed at cutting youth crime.* 

Year 8 students at John Gray High School in George Town were the first to experience Crime Awareness Day – a pilot programme put together by the new Youth Anti-Crime Trust. 

The students were put on “lock down” in a prison-style environment for the day with police and prison officers shepherding them between seminars from experts including a drug counsellor, a gang investigator and a magistrate. 

The children also heard from a real prisoner about life in Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward and were shown a video interview with convicted gang member Sheldon Brown. 

“I don’t know which kid in their right mind would contemplate being in a situation that I am in right now – 22 years in prison,” Brown said in the interview, played to youngsters as part of a presentation from gang investigator Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh. 

The detective said it was critical to get the message across to children about the real consequences of gang activity. 

“We don’t use terms like ‘the don’ when we talk about gang members. We call them what they are – losers,” he said. 

“I’m trying to tell these kids it is not cool to be a gang member. These guys spend a lot of their lives in prison, getting shot at or hiding from other gang members. A lot of them are broke most of the time. This is the reality.” 

In another seminar, substance abuse counsellor Sydney Williams talked to youngsters about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. 

“It is not a case of scared straight, it is asking them to look at the logical consequences of the decisions they make,” Mr. Williams said. 

He said he was trying to hammer home the message that taking drugs and alcohol could result in addiction, crime and disease. 

“These choices will result in these consequences. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” he added. 

Another classroom was converted into a mock court room for the day, with Magistrate Kirsty Gunn presiding. 

Ms Gunn outlined some sentencing guidelines to the children, telling them they could face jail for threatening someone on Facebook or verbally attacking their teacher. 

A real inmate, dressed in the orange prison jump suit, also answered questions from the youngsters about life in Northward. There were also presentations from a sexual trauma specialist, a senior police officer on firearms and a specialist from the family resource centre. 

Tasha Ebanks Garcia, who helped organise the event for Youth ACT, said the idea was to give students information from experts who lived with the consequences of gangs, drugs and anti-social behaviour every day. 

She added: “Part of it is experiential. Each group was assigned a prison guard and a prison officer. Some of them have a glorified idea of prison life. It’s important for them to see it is no fun having someone tell you what to do, tell you when you can and can’t go to the bathroom.” 

Friday’s event was the first project organised by the new nonprofit organisation. Modelled on a similar programme in the UK called “Prison! Me! No Way!”, Youth ACT aims to take proactive measures to help keep youngsters out of crime. 

Bonnie Anglin, chairwoman of the group, said the organisation had been set up in response to concerns over growing juvenile crime rates in the Cayman Islands. She said hearing from real life experts and people who had made bad choices regarding gangs and drugs could have a profound effect on children. 

“We are not expecting overnight results. Our goal is to see a reduction in anti-social behaviour, detentions and suspensions with a long term aim of seeing a reduction in youth criminal prosecutions.”


Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original for clarity.


Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER


Magistrate Kirsty Gunn holds court at John Gray High School. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER


  1. Truly a waste of time.

    The media glorifies gangs, violence and sexuality.

    Ever listen to a rap song?

    No teenager is going to listen to an old guy.

    Their education is gotten from television, movies, music and their friends.

  2. We should all congratulate the persons who piloted this program Scared Straight After reading about the acts which were introduced to the students, I feel confident that many of them were left with a second thought.
    I truly believe that this exercise among others should be carried out once every six months, at the beginning of summer holidays which now is a good time, and also at the beginning of Christmas holidays. This is the time that kids are out of school for a long period and become involved.
    I support finding summer jobs for High school children during holiday periods. This should be considered by both the government and the private sector. Remember how you teach them now will reflect on what they do in 10 years.

  3. IF these people were truly experts on drugs, guns, crime and gangs, we wouldn’t have any problems with any of them…experience has shown that these so called, scared straight programs do not have any significant impact on these kids. They are already programmed and view this as mere theater..You want to keep kids out of prison and out of gangs..start getting serious about education from a very young age..stop letting kids slip through the cracks..stop social promotion of underachievers, teach these children that manual labor is NOT something to be ashamed of and that not every kid is going to be a bank president or a law partner or accountant. Start remedial learning programs for children with learning disorders and hire educators that are taught to recognize the signs of a learning disorder and get these children into these programs. FUND these programs. Parents, stop thinking little Johnny or little Janey is a genius and that the reason they are having trouble in school is because the teacher is picking on them. Accept that your child may have special needs when it comes to learning. The key to keeping kids out of gangs and prison is education…I’m surprised that the president of ICCI, who is supposed to be a PhD and a psychologist thinks it’s a better idea to have a staged show and tell than it is to push tertiary education.

  4. This is definitely a worthwhile endeavor but they need to make sure it actually scares kids straight. I have personal experience with these types of programs having attended one myself back in the 70s in New Jersey. All I can say is that it gave a me firm desire to stay out of trouble. Go to YouTube and search for Scared Straight for examples of the no holds barred scared straight programs, show it to your kids if you think they need it. Any Kid contemplating a life of crime should be sent to this program, it has the potential of being a life changing experience. They will definitely leave there without that glorified idea of being in prison..

  5. Rorschach, everything you are saying make since but these programs are still needed in addition to the things you mentioned. Yes there are a lot of kids that are programed, but the right type of Scared Straight can break that programing for at least some of them. That make it worthwhile

  6. The students should be required to sit in on a session of the legislative assembly with a warning that one day they could be sitting in this chamber of ill will. This would scare them straight , more so than any session at north sound. These programmes are no different than a day trip to a museum or some other activity. The kids laugh at these presentations but the presenters are unwilling to acknowledge this. Do I smell OT (overtime pay)?

  7. Rorschach, unfortunately (and I truly mean that), you are absolutely right. Although these type of programs have such intuitive appeal, the evaluation research simply does not suggest any significant positive outcome (certainly not in the long-term).

    Also, I think this particular exercise was geared to students of an age whose paths have already largely been set. For exactly the neglect, of addressing the issues you raised in their earlier developmental stages.

  8. I am happy to think that police officers are utilizing their time to EDUCATE the young people as a preventitive measure of the ill-effects of drugs – than to know the police are arresting youngsters and sending them to jail just for a small parcel of marijuana.

    I am grieved of how so much emphasis is placed on fighting crime and ruining the lives of Caymanian youth just because of mere marijuana possession, and not enough emphasis placed on PREVENTION and EDUCATION.

    Most of the troubled youth are from broken homes, and all they need is someone to look up and guide them. They all want to be happy, but no one to guide them aright. Yet when we jail them up and they serve their time, they are unable to get a job because we leave a record on them. This has to stop. Education and teaching self-awareness are the only ways I see we can truly fight and eradicate crime. Police (especially those making the big salaries) should be more devoted to that.

  9. It is a great sign and a wonderful shift of direction that it has been decided to take this step in contributing in the crime prevention arena.

    Do not be mislead: this component presented or emphasized in the article, the Scared Straight tactic, is just one of what seems to be a multidimensional crime prevention model, in which many players are taking part.

    As Rorschach stated (I mean our very own, not Hermann Rorschach, the one of the famous test), research has shown minimal to zero effect, when Scared Straight is used as isolated tactic. All studies on these tactics, designed for evaluation or subjected to follow up, have proven the almost null effect. Due to the cultural focus in the USA, I can mention the Rahway State Prison (New Jersey), the Michigan Reformatory Visitation Program (Michigan), the Juvenile Offenders Learn Truth (Michigan) and the Insiders Juvenile Prevention Program (Virginia, USA), because these were thoroughly analysed. All those were failures in the final analysis. In other jurisdictions around the world, like in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Spain, the same dismal results have been yielded.

    One key factor, though, is already mentioned: if used as isolated tactic, or as axis tactic. Scare Straight tactics, due to their vividness, give everybody the idea that they must work. Even reality shows are built around them. And sure, they are shocking. Yet they do not work.

    In General Prevention strategies, starters tactics aimed to children and adolescents should use a softer strategy and start at younger ages. By grade 8th, the incipient gang is already formed and, not unusually, active and strong. Worse, by that age, the individuals that would benefit the most from attending are often absent… because they are already involved in pre-criminal activity (graffiti vandalism, for example).

    Children and adolescents are alien species. They are not small adults. They do not perceive things as we do.

    I will not overwhelm with examples, allow me just two: First one, the famous celebrity that goes to the school yard to talk about his addiction to drugs and how he overcame it. The adult assumes now these kids are getting the message of how bad drugs are, while the kids are thinking cool, so you can do drugs, overcome them and still be successful.

    Second example: I have witnessed good people, well intended people, that when lecturing young teens about drugs, in order to increase the strength of their message, blatantly lie, exaggerating the effect of drugs, particularly on health. They mean well, but do not realize that by lying, the youngster that already used that drug immediately labels the presenter as a liar, and all possible positive influence is gone. How do you, adult, react to a liar once you detect him as such?

    Crime prevention is complex and requires a multilevel approach. If community factors are not addressed, if opportunities for youth are not provided, if good role models are not available, in recreation is not there, crime prevention usually becomes just stagnant idealism.

    Key elements of General Prevention strategies require support from and liaisons with the community. Summer Camps prevent crime, the Scouts prevent crime, good and productive youth groups prevent crime. Availability for children to earn their own pocket money prevent crime. Crime prevention requires multiple components (and that is why 1) is so utterly difficult to evaluate and 2) takes so long to be noticed).

    What I see is that this program has more components, as the mentioned drug counselling and others. I am aware that the RCIPS offers sports activities, access to the Black Pearl skate park, recreational movies and others. Hopefully other components are addressed. It is, hence, not a Scared Straight tactic, but a comprehensive model.

    Time will tell about the effects of this comprehensive crime prevention approach.

    But something is being done, and that is key.

    So congratulations!

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