ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Lewis Stephens Jr. believes proposed legislation that would allow law enforcement to keep better track of "prolific juvenile offenders" once they leave detention centers is not an effective way to reduce youth crime.
The key is impacting these kids before they become repeat offenders, Stephens said.
“Outside of the school walls, there's nothing for young people to do,” said Stephens, who mentors youth in St. Petersburg.
The topic of what to do with these teens was discussed at an event titled "Reclaiming Our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?"
Eight Pinellas County teens have died within the past two years after stealing cars, including three who led deputies on a chase before they died in a fiery crash.
But addressing the issue won't be easy.
“We're talking about kids who are exposed to domestic violence in the home,” said Stetson Law professor Judith Scully. “Kids who are exposed to violence on the street or at school. We're talking about death. Having experienced death several times before even getting to high school sometimes.”
Solutions like more funding for social programs for at-risk children instead of longer sentences were addressed among the adults in the room.
But Adrian White, 17, had a simpler solution, like structured activities, leadership roles and jobs.
“They don't have a father figure or big authority in life to kind of guide them through the right path to make the right decisions," White added. "And I think that's what's kind of missing."
Sometimes, teens just want to get out and see other places, said Rolando Sims.
“I feel like if they know that there's more out there in the world than just this community, then they'll probably want to explore more than just stay here and do the things that they're doing now," the 17-year-old said. "It's just that they don't have the opportunity."
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