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Secretary's Message

October 11, 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 “Our Children, Our Future, Restoring Hope” National Faith Symposium is November 6-7, and registration information is available at http://faithsymposium.dcf.state.fl.us/.***

On Monday, Deputy Secretary Christy Daly, Chief of Staff Jason Welty and I attended the Tallahassee screening of Kids for Cash, hosted by The James Madison Institute, at the Challenger Learning Center IMAX. Kids for Cash is a documentary centered around two Pennsylvania judges who were accused of accepting millions in return for contracting with for-profit juvenile facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts to increase the company’s revenue. The film highlighted the irreparable damage that can occur when youth are unnecessarily placed in secure detention and residential treatment, an issue I have been committed to addressing since I accepted this position. I am proud to say that over the last two years commitment of low and moderate risk youth  has decreased by 62% and we expect to see that trend continue as we move forward with the Roadmap to System Excellence, which seeks to ensure Florida has the ability to provide the right services, in the right place, in the right way, at the right time to youth in our care.

Following the screening, I participated in a panel discussion with Kids for Cash director and producer, Robert May, and Deputy Director, Chief Counsel and Co-Founder of the national Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick, where I had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience about DJJ’s plan to reform Florida’s juvenile justice system. They were particularly interested in our Civil Citation Initiative and ways to increase its application across the state.    


On Tuesday, I had the honor of speaking at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids for Cash panel discussion at the Florida State University College of Law. I always enjoy speaking to students, particularly those who have an interest in making a career out of helping our state’s youth.


I would like to thank the prevention staff members pictured above for coming to support this effort.


2013 Human Trafficking Summit

Regrettably, last week I failed to acknowledge Human Trafficking Director Tyson Elliott who played a key role in the planning and execution of the 2013 Human Trafficking Summit. My apologies Tyson and great work!  


Legislative Update

This week, Director of Administration Fred Schuknecht and I gave several presentations in the House and Senate. On Wednesday, I presented before the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice regarding DJJ’s Chapter 985 general proposal. The proposal was well received in the committee, and I would like to thank all of our various stakeholders who have collaborated with us on this proposal and to Committee Chair Matt Gaetz and Vice Chair Ray Pilon for their leadership.


DJJ’s Second Pet Therapy Dog

The Southwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center welcomed a new team member last week who does his best work on four legs. Meet Oliver -  the Department’s second pet therapy dog who finished his training with Miami Dog Whisperer Richard Heinz and has begun his duty at the facility.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to South Region Director Dr. Gladys Negron, Miami-Dade RJDC director Daryl Wolf and Assistant Secretary Julia Strange who all played an integral part in getting our second dog.  

Oliver has already hit the ground running in his first week. On Tuesday, a girl at Southwest who was suffering from severe addiction issues became distraught. Officers did their best to calm her down for more than 20 minutes, but the young lady seemed inconsolable.



Enter Oliver.



Within 10 minutes of visiting with Oliver, the child was calm, receptive and engaging with adults. Oliver provided a great source of comfort to the young lady, and we are very happy that he has been placed at Southwest. 



Residential and Probation Team Up to Improve Transition Services



At the beginning FY2013-14, DJJ launched joint strategies to improve transition services for youths returning from a residential commitment program to their home communities. Statewide Transition Coordinator Minnora Bishop, with the Office of Probation & Community Corrections, and SMA II Supervisor for Residential Services Pat Wilson provided the transition services training in each of the four DJJ regions. Interdisciplinary team meetings were held, which included regional staff, residential case managers, probation staff, transition coordinators, and program monitors.



As a result of the meetings, transition services are extended to include probation intake and residential placement. The members of a youth’s interdisciplinary team, which include educational staff, family members, community providers and mentors, will meet to plan a youth’s release from a residential commitment program and the youth’s transition into the home community, ensuring he or she has the greatest chance at success after release.  



I am thrilled that we are enhancing our transition services and I look forward to continuing to update you as we move forward.


Safety Update – Surge Protector Recall



Please visit the link below and review the recent recall of a very common brand of surge protector. These surge protectors have contributed to multiple office fires throughout the country. Currently, the company has received 700 reports of surge protectors overheating and melting, and 55 claims of property damage from smoke and fire. This brand (APC) was sold at many common retailers, like Best Buy, Circuit City, and CompUSA prior to 2003.




If you utilize these surge protectors, please notify Tommy Blankenship, Senior Safety Specialist at tommy.blankenship@djj.state.fl.us.





Residential Update

The staff and youth of the Challenge Juvenile Residential Facility in Hernando County recently held the inaugural Pine Wood Derby and Float Parade. The young men at the facility, supervised by staff, built boxcars and floats, while teams of youth and staff members competed for the fastest box car and most creative design.


One of our ministry partners, JFJ Global Ministries (JFJ), worked with the Central Pasco Girls Academy where the girls made more than 600 faith bracelets for children in Guatemala.



Members of JFJ just came back from a mission trip in Guatemala where the bracelets were distributed to the youth. According to Pastor Cindy Lane, Director of JFJ Global Ministries, the children of Guatemala were very grateful to our girls from the CPGA for the bracelets. 

I am pleased to announce that Gene McMahon has been selected to serve as the DJJ statewide PREA coordinator. Previously, he served as the statewide residential services classification and placement manager, which included working with the Florida Department of Corrections in coordinating proper placement of youthful offenders who are too young to be in the adult prison system.  

For more than three decades, Gene has served Florida’s juvenile justice system in progressively responsible positions. The DJJ PREA Coordinator is responsible for the development, implementation, and oversight of the agency's efforts to comply with the PREA standards.  The Department has also designated PREA facility compliance managers for its residential and detention program areas.  Contracted providers will be subject to PREA audits, including contract monitoring, to ensure compliance with PREA standards.  Gene’s tasks associated with these compliance standards are far-reaching and cross multiple program areas within DJJ.


Probation Update

The Honorable Scott DuPont from Circuit 7 began presiding over the Putnam County Juvenile Court in January of 2013. He has taken an active interest in the Roadmap to System Excellence and our Juvenile Justice Service Improvement Project.



He recently toured the Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center, and as pictured left, toured the Hastings Youth Academy with our Putnam juvenile probation officers, our DJJ residential team and our Putnam judicial partners.


From Left to Right: SR JPO Clyde Witherspoon, Residential Services SMA II Billy Starke, JPO Clyde Connor ,SR JPO DeShawn Deering, JPO Leroy Miles ,Hastings Youth Academy Program Director Andy Eldridge, Circuit 7 Judge Scott DuPont, Residential Services SMA II Edgar Mathis, JPO Jeff Swartek, ,Management Review Specialist Darrell Bacon, Assistant Public Defender Manuel Souza.

Kudos to Circuit 16 probation officers & DJJ youth who paired up with A Positive Step of Monroe County (APS) last Saturday to paint dumpsters for APS’s city beautification project. Great to see DJJ staff serving as role models for our youth and contributing to their communities!


Last Monday, CPOs Jerome Hightower, Cathy Lake and Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson from Circuit 9 attended the Orange County Youth Mental Health Commission meeting which was called by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs to develop new strategies and initiatives to address the system of care in children’s mental health in Orange County. The Commission will meet monthly to examine the accessibility and resources for early identification and interventions available to children and families in Orange County.

My sincere thanks to Secretary Specialist Marlyn Martinez and JPO Bernika Stokes from Circuit 5 who took the initiative to create a book drive for the Kingsbury Academy Library after hearing that the library was in need of additional books.  Marlyn and Bernika collected book donations from DJJ Staff, Barnes and Noble, Oakcrest Elementary School, Horizon Academy and the Freedom Library. Last Tuesday the two ladies presented Kingsbury Academy with more than 250 books and donations. 


Last Thursday, officers from Circuit 4 held their first monthly Community Awareness Night and Orientation Night at the Juvenile Assessment Center in Jacksonville. Future meetings will be held the second Thursday of each month from 6 – 8 p.m. The purpose of these meetings is to provide beneficial information for the youth under our supervision, update the YES Plan and provide job resources. Children and their parents can meet with our JPOs and discuss any issues or concerns. Stakeholders will also be invited to these meetings to share any information. 

On September 28, JPOSs Linda Leslie, Marilyn Walker, Yvonne Ortiz, SJPOs Troi Owens, Lesa Regan, Jeffery Williams, JPOs Tonya Mathis, Marcus Wilson, CPO Adrienne Conwell, Commitment Manager Liz Gattarello and Frank Donnelly from General Services participated in Carefest, an annual community service day where projects are selected throughout the Tampa Bay region. 

DJJ adopted a new house in St. Petersburg where staff members painted the entire inside of the home. All staff met the new homeowner who was very appreciative of everyone’s assistance. Bill Foster, St. Petersburg City Mayor, signed a Certificate of Appreciation to recognize DJJ’s participation in this event.

SJPO Ben Fleming from Circuit 4 participated last week in Fathers Calling Fathers hosted by Operation Save our Sons. This program is designed to help males between 10 and 18 years of age boys develop better decision-making skills while helping men improve on their parenting skills. 

On September 14, JPOs Jennifer Mefford, Robin Myers and Kevin McKenzie from Circuit 14 participated in the 2nd Annual Bridges of Hope Walk across St. Andrews Bay in Bay County. The walk is sponsored by the SPARE Coalition (Suicide, Prevention, Awareness, Response and Education) group in an effort to raise awareness about this issue. 


I would like to share this thank you letter sent from one of our youth in Circuit 20 to SJPO Sandra Burgado. Sandra was instrumental in referring the youth’s family to Family Functional Therapy. It reads:



Mrs. Burgado:




Since my family has started therapy we are getting along a lot more, communicating more and being a family again. Before we would all be in our rooms arguing every day and not getting along. Therapy has really made a difference in our lives, and with the skills that we have been taught we can now find ways to talk to each other. I realized since therapy that I cannot get what I want all the time. If my dad says no to me, I have to take that for an answer instead of arguing with him about it just to get what I want. My family will be more positive in our future. We have the skills to what it takes to be a family and get along with each other now. My mom is downstairs with my dad more often and getting along a lot better than what they were before therapy. This experience was an eye-opener to us. We need to communicate more and be a better family so we can have a better future together.



Finally, I would like to congratulate JPO Jamal Sanders and MST Therapist Ivana Ruiz from Circuit 12 for their individual help with a child. The child’s mother sent not one but two letters to Judge Brownell thanking them for their efforts to make a difference in the lives of children. The letter reads,



“I am very appreciative that Jamal was brought into our lives”; “I gained a renewed sense of hope when my family started receiving counseling in our home by MST Therapist Ivana Ruiz”; “I have felt shamed sitting in the courtroom so many times. But today, I feel proud. I feel proud that my children have overcome a difficult time in their lives and can now look to the future.”




Prevention Update

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Marie Boswell and State Representative Cynthia Stafford volunteered to assist with a free food distribution with Farm Share last Friday at the North Campus of Miami-Dade College. Farm Share provided fruits, vegetables and other healthy food items to hundreds of deserving families throughout Florida.


Statewide Federal Juvenile Justice Specialist Yvonne Woodward attended the “Pamper Me Pink” Party sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority last Saturday at the Southside Arts Complex in Tallahassee. This event was in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all proceeds benefit MAKING STRIDES Against Breast Cancer. This community event welcomed all ladies to join the fight to “Kiss Cancer Goodbye” by learning more about the disease and healthy lifestyle choices.


Prevention Specialist Lydia Breaux-Davis and Reform Specialist April Denney received the following thank you note from Dominique Maywald with Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida this week. This was in response to their help during the Back-to-School Bash in Century back in August. It reads:



Catholic Charities was very fortunate to have over 45 volunteers and 13 vendors at the 1st Century Back to School Bash!  The citizens of Century really enjoyed themselves. The Century Back to School Bash was geared toward creating a nurturing environment for the community to come together and celebrate the children. I like to think that we achieved this goal. I truly appreciate your dedication to serving others.  The amount of work you all accomplished in a single day was amazing. 


We at Catholic Charities, feel super blessed to have had such awesome volunteers within the community who worked so diligently to make sure that the Century Back to School Bash was a success. I hope that this is an event that can continue annually. By working as a cohesive unit we were able to touch the lives of over 650 individuals. 


I look forward to working with you all in the years to come. Because of you hundreds of school age children were able to return to school confident and better prepared for the fall term. You deserve a pat on the back!

On Tuesday, Prevention and Probation staff attended the Circuit 2 Faith Forum at the Restoration Place in Tallahassee. In order to better serve troubled youth and families, faith leaders, faith-based volunteers, juvenile justice leaders, community stakeholders and others highlighted best practices and provided training to enhance faith and community-based programs that serve youth and raised awareness of issues impacting our youth and their families.


From left to right) - Major Cody Wood, Superintendent - Leon Detention Center; Pastor Gary Montgomery; AS Wanda Finnie, Prevention; Interim Chief Minnora Bishop, Probation; Mary Mills, North Regional Director for Residential Services.


(From left to right) - Lawanna Curry JPO Supervisor Probation, Circuit 2; Cheryl Williams, JPO, Probation; Nicky Yarborough founder-Discovering YOU Project; Verla Lawson-Grady, Community Engagement Manager, Prevention