Tallahassee, Florida -- Kevin Priest is head of the Capital City Youth Services in Tallahassee. They bring in troubled kids hoping to keep them out of jail.
"You feel good going home at night because you are preventing kids from going deeper into the juvenile justice system," says Priest.
There were more than 2,000 major crimes committed by juveniles in Hillsborough County last year.
State lawmakers are looking to make Florida more compassionate when dealing with young people convicted of felonies like murder.
"Now the focus has become how do we actually support these kids, how do we get them to make better decisions," Priest said.
Just like CCYS, some lawmakers set out this session to help kids. The full legislature approved a measure which gives juveniles who get an extensive mandatory sentence a chance for parole:
- Someone convicted of murder would get a minimum 40 years to life sentence with a review of their case after 25 years.
- As an accessory to murder, they would get a 20 years to life minimum sentence with a review after 25 years.
- For other serious crimes, they get a review after 20 years, and then 30 years if not released the first time.
- All of them would be denied a review if they committed another serious felony.
The Department of Juvenile Justice has lobbied for other legislation they hope opens the door to help keep the youth from going behind bars.
"What you might have done when you were 14-years-old is not necessarily anything that you would want to do when you're an adult," said Wansley Walters, DJJ secretary.
A bill passed this session focuses on preventing kids from incarceration.
"...putting some additional accountability in place, but also putting in prevention," Walters said.
Governor Rick Scott recently announced the youth arrest rate is the lowest it's been in 30 years. The numbers show a significant decline. DJJ records show more than 83,000 kids were arrested in Florida in the last year with more than 26,000 being felonies.