“Scared Straight” was an Oscar-winning documentary from 1978, filmed inside East Jersey State Prison – then known as Rahway State Prison.
The film depicted a group of young offenders and their court-ordered meeting with convicts living in the prison. Over the course of the film, the group of inmates, all serving life sentences and calling themselves the “Lifers,” transformed the swaggering and self-confident criminals-in-the-making into frightened teenagers with an entirely new outlook on their futures.
The Lifers accomplished this by pulling no punches. In a brutally candid meeting, the Lifers berated and terrified the youths in an attempt to scare them out of pursuing a life of crime.
It was groundbreaking, and it was highly effective.
This past weekend, one of the prime movers behind the program and the film, died. Former Woodbridge police Chief Anthony W. O’Brien passed away at the age of 87.
Chief O'Brien joined the Woodbridge Police Department in 1957 and was appointed deputy chief in 1972. In 1974, he was appointed chief and served as chief until his retirement in 1991.
Along with Judge George Nicola and correctional officials at the prison, O’Brien helped created the Lifers Program from which the original "Scared Straight" was filmed.
The film inspired sequels and a television series. The original "Scared Straight” film can be found on YouTube. It stands the test of time.