Beyond Scared Straight

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Beyond Scared Straight TV Poster Image
Popular with kids
Prison docuseries offers teens a tough reality check.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 15 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Inmates volunteer to work with troubled teens in order to keep them out of jail. While there is lots of discussion of negative behaviors, the real consequences of these behaviors are discussed. The effectiveness of the intimidation methods shown in this series has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The inmates are crude, rough, and intimidating, but their intention is to help young people make better choices and avoid ending up in prison.


The troubled teens have committed violent acts ranging from fighting to making terrorist threats. Inmates scream, yell, and threaten teens to purposely scare them. A large number of inmates are serving extensive sentences for violent crimes; some show bloody pictures of their victims. Rape is sometimes discussed.


Promiscuity and the loss of virginity is discussed. Same-sex encounters and inappropriate sexual behaviors are also mentioned.


Words like “bitch” are frequent. While stronger curses are bleeped, occasionally the word “s--t” is audible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage drinking is visible. Some of the teens use and/or sell drugs, like marijuana. Many of the inmates are in prison for drug-related crimes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this reality doc features troubled youth participating in prison inmate-run programs designed to frighten them into making better choices in their lives. The strong content featured here, which includes cursing ("bitch," "s--t"), threatening, and discussions of criminal behavior, is offered within the specific context of helping young people. That said, the U.S. Department of Justice has come out against some of the intimidation methods featured in the series and some states have shut these kinds of programs down in response. Parents may want to watch with their teens to discuss some of what they see here.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJoshua H. November 10, 2017

Beyond Scared Straight

I mean this is a really good show it does have a little bit inappropriate stuff a little bit of curse words and a little bit of sex and all the other kind of st... Continue reading
Adult Written byOnika14 September 8, 2020

Watch season 9 episode 9

The world needs to watch episode 9 on season 9. During the with that girl it is actually the cop who pushes the girl. The cops hand is on the prisoners right s... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byNorse_mythology June 21, 2017

Teens plus

The show has lots of swearing and fighting but it's good for teens so they BREAK THE FLIPPING LAW.
Teen, 13 years old Written byCaden.666 January 15, 2021

Honestly disgusting

This is a horrible program that promotes verbal assault to discipline children. I saw in one episode an 11 girl sent in there for assault when she hit someone... Continue reading

What's the story?

BEYOND SCARED STRAIGHT, a documentary series inspired by the award-winning film Scared Straight, follows troubled tweens and teens as they participate in intensive inmate-run intervention programs designed to keep them from ending up in prison. Cameras roll as teens spend a day at a maximum-security penitentiary, where they are confronted by hardened inmates, spend time in cells, and talk to convicts about the negative choices teens are making and where those choices will take them. At the end of each episode, viewers learn whether the experience has had a lasting and positive impact on the teenagers’ lives.

Is it any good?

The series offers viewers a chance to see how inmate-run Scared Straight! programs from around the country use confrontation, information, and communication strategies to give adolescents a harsh reality check about what the real consequences will be if they continue to engage in behaviors like doing drugs, fighting, stealing, and other inappropriate and/or criminal activities. It also shows how even people behind bars can give back to their community.

The tough talking and unapologetically threatening behavior, violent images, and candid discussions about criminal activity featured here may be hard to take in, but it is offered within a very specific context. In the end, it shows how a disturbing but educational experience is being used in an attempt to change the lives of young people for the better.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Scared Straight! Program. Do you think programs like these really help kids make better choices? Why do you think inmates participate in these programs?

  • Documentaries often deal with difficult topics and inappropriate behaviors. Is offering details about things like underage drinking, violence, and drug use always necessary to make a point? Are there alternatives? If so, what are they?

TV details

  • Premiere date: January 13, 2011
  • Network: A&E
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Last updated: January 29, 2021

Our editors recommend

For kids who love true stories

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate