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Secretary's Message

August 23, 2013

Secretary Walters’ Weekly Letter

I am so proud to share every week the great work occurring here at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our colleagues and the youth in our care. I am always looking for opportunities to showcase DJJ employees and the work you do – on and off the clock – to enrich your communities. I know there is even more going on than what I report here, so I would like to encourage each of you to keep the weekly letter in mind and remember to share your good news. It’s easy – email news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon (submissions after that time will be considered for the next week’s letter).


Wansley Walters

***Reminder: The Human Trafficking Summit is October 3, and registration is available at www.djj.state.fl.us/human-trafficking-summit/registration; the “Our Children, Our Future, Restoring Hope” National Faith Symposium is November 6-7, and registration information is available at www.faithsymposium.dcf.state.fl.us.***


Leadership Update

Avon Park Youth Academy

You have probably heard there was an incident Saturday evening at Avon Park Youth Academy, a residential facility in Polk County that houses males between 16 and 19 years of age, that received a great deal of media attention and caused damage to some of the program’s buildings. First and foremost, I am incredibly grateful to report that there were no life-threatening injuries to youth or staff. Of the 138 youth on the property at the time, only eight required medical treatment and all but one were released from the hospital by Sunday evening. At this point, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but I want you to know that our Office of Inspector General investigators have been on site since Monday morning and they working closely with the provider, G4S, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to determine what exactly took place and how we can prevent incidents like this from ever happening again.


On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary Christy Daly, Chief of Staff Alex Kelly, Inspector General Robert Munson, Communications Director Meghan Speakes Collins and I toured the facility with local media to see the ongoing clean-up efforts and talk to the sheriff’s office. I was truly impressed by the progress that had been made in such a short time, particularly since the youth, who receive vocational training at the program, and the staff have taken on all of the repairs themselves. Their hard work has enabled youth currently on the property to move back into four of the cottages and other youth to begin returning to the campus. I also took this opportunity to thank the sheriff’s office for their assistance.



I want to applaud G4S and the kids remaining at the facility who did an amazing job restoring the property. 


PACE Center for Girls

Wednesday, I had the pleasure of accompanying Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory on a tour of the Leon County PACE Center for Girls. We initiated the visit to give Kat, who was present when I met with the protesters at the Capital to hear their complaints about the state of juvenile justice in Florida, a first-hand look at DJJ’s prevention efforts. This tour was great – not only did Kat get to see the great work PACE does to help Florida’s at-risk girls succeed, I found a young lady to mentor. They are always looking for men and women to serve as role models for the girls in the program, and I am thrilled for this opportunity. If you’d like to learn more and see how you can get involved, visit http://www.pacecenter.org/.  


Roadmap Media Coverage


Thursday morning, I was live on First Coast Connect, an hour-long radio show hosted by Melissa Ross from WJCT-FM in Jacksonville. We discussed the new edition of the Roadmap for System Excellence and the successes the Department has seen in the reduction of youth arrests. To read the full story, click here.


Legislative Update

On Monday, Legislative Director Jon Menendez, Chief of Staff Alex Kelly, Director of Administration Fred Schuknect and Budget Director Vickie Harris presented our 2014 agency proposals and budget proposals to the Governor’s office. Chief among those proposals was the re-write of Chapter 985 of Florida statutes. Fred and Vickie presented on conceptual ideas for the department’s Legislative Budget Request and Jon presented on a juvenile justice education bill, a bill that is nearly identical to HB 441 from the 2013 Legislative Session, which passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. This meeting marked the first hurdle on the legislative calendar prior to the next legislative session in March. 


Probation Update

Probation staff from Circuit 16 in Monroe County teamed up with the Key West Fifth Street Baptist Church last week to distribute backpacks to needy youth in the community. Twenty-five backpacks were donated and filled with school supplies. My thanks to the following staff pictured (left to right) for their efforts: JPOS Geoff Peattie, AAII Lisa Solms, JPOs Steve Meredith and Fred Vrgora and Reform Specialist Elaine Thompson

SJPO Jeffery Williams and JPOs Rose Mells, Melissa Hogans, Kathy Cason, Yvette Carethers, Marcus Wilson and Candy Jaynes from Circuit 6 participated in the Pinellas County Schools Mentor Recruitment Fair on August 12. The officers attended the mentor workshop and were matched with a student in the local school system to mentor and help discover their potential.



On Monday, probation staff in Circuit 19 celebrated the beginning of the 2013-14 school year in St. Lucie County as they participated in the “Tunnels of Hope First Day of School.” This program features an array of participants such as parents, educators and law enforcement officers who form human tunnels at local schools to cheer and encourage students as they walked into their classrooms on the first day. Special thanks to CPO Wydee’a Wilson, ACPO Dorothy Malik, Reform Specialist Michelle Simpson, Secretary Specialist Crystal Smith, SJPO Yolanda Harris-Merritt and JPOs Sharon Coplin, Nissa Moore, Cotina Best, LeAndrea Darden and Jennifer Joslin. These officers and staff were able to demonstrate support for our youth and establish a rapport with teachers and administrators to ensure that our children have the best school year possible.



Reform Specialist Crystal Brown and Assistant Chief Alison Fulford from Circuit 10 made a presentation at the annual Polk County Resource Officer back-to-school training on August 12. The Roadmap to System Excellence and its local implementation was the focus of this informative session.

Last Friday, SJPO Natalie West along with the prevention subcommittee of the Juvenile Justice Board hosted the Department’s Annual Youth Summit. The group spoke to approximately 50 youth and their parents about a number of topics including STD education, self-respect, internet safety and tobacco education. Giselle Rodriguez, State Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, gave the keynote address on child trafficking.

JPOs Adam Wiegand and Roy Dorman from the Manatee County Probation Office in Circuit 12 participated in a graffiti abatement project August 13 in partnership with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department and Keep Manatee Beautiful. The project was designed to reduce and eliminate gang and other sorts of graffiti around the county. Adam and Roy selected youth to help paint over this graffiti and earn valuable community service hours. The project helped eliminate graffiti on more than half a dozen sites in Manatee County. 

This week, Reform Specialist Tracy Olson and CPO Dan Rodgers attended a cultural and linguistic competency training sponsored by Families and Children Together in Seminole County. The training featured a one and a half hour segment on juvenile justice with a concentration on Disproportionate Minority Contact. Tracy participated in the second workshop concerning children’s Mental Health. The purpose of this training was tailored to deliver a better understanding of how cultural and linguistic differences in the community impact services.



Prevention Update

The staff in the Office of Prevention had a busy week crisscrossing Southwest Florida on their Community Conversation Road Tour. On Tuesday, staff attended two meetings in Bradenton at the Central Library and the Dream Center. Assistant Secretary Wanda Finnie said, “It was amazing to see two different perspectives on the juvenile justice system in the same town at meetings just five miles apart from each other.” The tour continued on Wednesday with two meetings at the Robert Taylor Community Center in Sarasota and concluded with a meeting on Thursday in Ft. Myers. These meetings are designed to give the public an open forum to let the Department know what resources and services are needed in their communities. 

A special thanks to Federal Grants Coordinator Juliet Westmoreland who volunteered this week at Gilchrist Elementary School in Tallahassee. Juliet gave a helping hand in the school lunchroom every day this week on her lunch break serving as a teaching guide for the students while helping fill the gap for teachers and lunchroom staff for whatever they needed. 


Last Friday, Special Programs Administrator Eugene Morris (pictured left) spoke to 50 youth at the Back-to-School Lock-In at the Hansel Tookes Recreation Center on the campus of Florida A&M University. The goal of this sleepover was to motivate the young men to become model citizens for the upcoming school year. The event was sponsored by the Tallahassee Area Chapter of 100 Black Men, an organization committed to the intellectual development of youth and the economic empowerment of the African American Community.

Cici Battle from the Office of Prevention (pictured second from the right) served as a guest judge last Saturday at the first Bristol Youth Academy Poetry Slam. The purpose of the poetry slam was to encourage the youth to express themselves through the power of the written word. Over 45 youth at the facility participated in this exciting event.


Detention Update

Librarian Debbie Koch from the Marion Juvenile Detention Center is continuously looking for books to get our youth excited to read. Several years ago she established a contact with Townsend Press to obtain copies of the popular books The Bluford Series. These books are geared towards adolescents and deal with real life issues faced by kids living in the inner city. Debbie’s continued efforts have provided 10 sets of this series donated to both the Marion and Duval Detention Centers. Each year at their annual fall festival, Debbie coordinates a book giveaway for all of the youth. 

Detention Staff has shared this letter of commendation for Corporals Andrea Johnson and Rickey Ray. The letter comes from Deputy Sheriff Donald Suereth from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. After reading it, I can convey nothing but the upmost respect for these two distinguished officers. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty and show great concern for the youth in their care. It reads:



Dear Sir,




I am taking this opportunity to commend two of your officers affiliated with the Department of Juvenile Justice; Corporals Johnson and Ray.  I have been assigned to Juvenile Detention Court quite frequently over the past several months and I have witnessed these two officers go above and beyond the duties of a transport officer.  Both have not only transported many youthful offenders to the Civil and Family Courthouse, but also display a genuine concern about their future.  Both offer life counseling to these youths who may or may not have adult supervision in their home lives.  Their counsel is targeted towards helping these individuals while they are in the system, and to provide advice as to how they should behave when they leave the system.  Both of these officers are a credit to your agency.




Donald P. Suereth


Deputy Sheriff, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office




Detention Graduation



Congratulations to the newest class of juvenile justice detention officers that graduated today from the Criminal Justice Institute at Valencia College and to the officers from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office who also attended the training. Thanks to Learning Consultant Tanesha Blackmon for training the officers for this position of critical responsibility. The DJJ officers successfully completed 240 hours of training to become certified and will serve in the facility listed next to their names.


Row 1: Alex Dongo – Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC), Kaylin Simpson – Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Jena Bennett – Orange RJDC


Row 2: Lakisa Johnson – Brevard RJDC,  Andre St. Louis – Orange RJDC, Maggie Berry – Orange RJDC, Sheri Davis – Seminole County Sheriff’s Office


Row 3: Roger Dixon – Brevard RJDC,  Nathaniel Brandel – Brevard RJDC, LeRoy Caines - Seminole County Sheriff’s Office


Quality Improvement Update



As DJJ continues to enhance its services for youth and increase communication among our entire team, it is important to let everyone know about the continuous improvement efforts of our Bureau of Quality Improvement (QI). The QI team is important to helping us fulfill our commitment to provide the right services, for the right youth, at the right time, and in the right way. 



QI reviews all of DJJ’s services and programs to make sure they are resulting in the best outcomes for youth. To do so, QI compares what is actually happening to what is required in DJJ’s contracts, rules, and policies. This ensures we are supporting the rehabilitation of our youth, helping keep our communities safe, and managing our resources well. QI holds everyone who provides care for our youth accountable and helps us be more effective. With responsibility for turning around the lives of troubled youth, it is not enough to get by, we must always be getting better, and the QI process provides excellence guidance based on the latest research and best practices. 



For more information on QI and the 2013-2014 revised requirements (standards) for each program area, see http://www.djj.state.fl.us/partners/QI/whats-new-in-QI. Learning more about what is expected will set us up to be successful in helping our youth succeed.