Special Report: Breaking the Cycle of Crime - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Special Report: Breaking the Cycle of Crime

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

By the time Ocie Wood was six years old he had been in and out of trouble. It started with lying to his parents and crew into much worse offenses.

"I started breaking into houses, stealing guns, things like that, breaking into stores," Wood said.

But a crime he committed while in Florida at 18 years old changed his life forever. It started with a night of drugs and drinking and ended with Wood volunteering to rob a convenience store.

"But when I pulled the gun on him I panicked and the gun went off," Wood said.

His sentence -- life in prison. It was time behind bars he wasn't prepared for.

"In prison it's an everyday life. They prey on young men to come to prison. Your homeboys will turn on you and set you up to become a homosexual," Wood said.

It's stories like Wood's that keep people at Mt. Meigs -- the state's juvenile lock up for male offenders -- busy.

"The offense category can range from theft charges, up to murder," said Alesia Allen with the State Department of Youth Services.

Despite the crime, it's not always easy to prepare them to re-enter society especially when their backgrounds include abuse, drugs and lack of services to keep them off the streets.

Allen started working in the juvenile justice system 28 years ago. Her passion: To impact the lives of young people. Twenty-eight years later she's still surprised at just how many lives need attention.

"We have communities that are providing services. We have organizations and agencies that are working together and still somewhere in this child's life something still goes lacking. How do you fix it is the million dollar question," Allen said.

The average stay at the facility is six to nine months, and they aren't living in the lap of luxury. But still, some consider it home.

"When they go back to environments that are chaotic and inconsistent they're having to survive. That becomes problematic and this becomes more desirable," Allen said.

Wood was released from prison after 15 years. Now he tries to keep other teens from heading down the same path.

"Prison life is different from jail or reform school. It's totally different," Wood said.

From 2007 to 2012, the State Department of Youth Services saw its population drop considerably due in part to community-based programs that divert teens from the system.

"I find it critically important for attention to be paid to young people prior to them getting to us at the DYS level," Allen said.

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