A new push is underway to keep juvenile offenders from offending again in Florida.
Eckerd Project Bridge provides transitional services to boys and girls ages 11-21 reintegrating back to their home communities from juvenile justice residential commitment programs. Through an innovative collaboration of organizations, Project Bridge provides educational, mentoring, vocational and transportation services to help these youth achieve stable and successful lives and avoid re-entry into the criminal justice system.
Selling marijuana was all Shamar Johnson knew.
The Manatee County teen got caught with two possession charges and was sent to a residential detention center for nine months.
"Being in a situation like that, you wouldn't wish the at on your worst enemy,
State case workers say it's likely kids in Shamar's situation would reoffend. But instead, Shamar is getting mentoring and support through Eckerd Project Bridge.
"Giving them the opportunity to make money, versus having to steal money," said Laurie Stern of Eckerd Project Bridge. "Giving them the opportunity to have a place to go, to have an education."
The program is now helping 350 juvenile offenders in Florida every year with an 85 percent success rate at keeping them from returning to the criminal system.
This comes as the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is launching similar pilot programs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to figure out which kids are likely to reoffend.
They say not only does it save thousands of taxpayer dollars but keeps these kids safer.
"So that they're not on the street every day, looking for trouble," Stern said.
Shamar has been in the program for two months and is staying away from drugs. He's also been volunteering and doing other community projects through Eckerd Project Bridge.
"I'm here today to tell those kids that's not the way to go," he said.