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Secretary's Message

November 8, 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

National Faith Symposium

This week, our agency, along with the Department of Children and Families, hosted the Fourth Annual National Faith Symposium, “Our Children, Our Future: Restoring Hope.” The symposium was held at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando and the two-day event brought nearly 400 faith leaders from around the country to share ideas and best practices for integrating faith-based organizations into our work to help at-risk children, youth and families. As I have stated many times in the past, faith-based organizations are our “boots on the ground” in the local communities, and they can truly make a difference in the lives of at-risk and delinquent children.

This year’s speakers included Bobby Bowden, the second winningest coach in major college football history; Harris Rosen, entrepreneur and philanthropist focused on helping Florida’s youth; Bob Williamson, renowned businessman; Rev. O. Jermaine Simmons, Sr., a fourth generation preacher and pastor who serves at Jacob Chapel; and Donna Wilcox, a Rosen Foundation Scholarship recipient who graduated from the University of Central Florida. 

On Wednesday, guest speaker and Florida State legend Bobby Bowden  gave the attendees a rousing speech saying, “I coached 57 years. I have a lot of weaknesses, but Faith is not one of them.” Thursday, the symposium hosted New York Times Bestselling Author Bob Williamson who said, “You should never give up on anybody. There is always hope.”

In addition to hearing from these inspiring speakers, guests had the opportunity to attend a number of workshops on topics such as empowering parents, gang prevention, foster care recruitment, providing shelter and food to families in need, domestic violence, serving the homeless, mentoring, and the importance of education in a child’s life. 

I would like to thank Juvenile Justice Foundation Director Steven Solomon for spending countless hours putting the symposium together as well as Assistant Secretary Wanda Finnie and her entire team from the Office of Prevention for all of their hard work.


Regular and Special Compensatory Leave Changes

Effective November 5,2013  regular and special compensatory leave balances are no longer transferrable between State Personnel System agencies or from one pay plan to another.  Employees who currently have regular compensatory leave balances will forfeit all unused hours upon moving to any other pay plan within DJJ or upon separating from DJJ (even if moving to another agency without a break in service).  For employees who  have special compensatory leave balances in leave type 0055, they will continue to be paid for this leave after the 31st day of  separation.  Special compensatory leave credits in the 90 series is still subject to the “use it or lose it” policy.  If you have any questions, please contact Otis Ray at 850-717-2662.  

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Probation and Community Intervention Joan Wimmer was on hand in Ft. Lauderdale as the Broward County School Board and local law enforcement made an historic decision to reduce the number of school arrests for minor offenses. This agreement, the first of its kind in Florida, aims to eliminate the practice of arresting students for non-violent misdemeanors by instead diverting them to an intervention program. This is a great step in the right direction for Broward County students and families and I am pleased to say that DJJ collaborated throughout the entire agreement process.

To read the press release and learn more about the agreement, click here.

Legislative Update

It was committee week here in Tallahassee and our legislative staff spent most of the week at the Capitol making sure that our important juvenile reform initiatives are being heard in the proper arena. This week, I joined Chief of Staff Jason Welty and Legislative Director Jon Menendez in meetings with several of our legislators and staff regarding our legislative and budget issues for the upcoming session. In addition, Director of Administration Fred Schuknecht gave a presentation on our legislative budget request to the House Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. I would also like to send my sincere thanks to Deputy Legislative Director Marcus Smith who, while also busy with our legislative agenda, took the time to travel to Orlando to speak at the National Faith Symposium yesterday.

Contractor Kudos

I would like to thank LaToya Webb and the other hard working employees from Psychotherapeutic Services of Florida (PSF) who are contracted to work with the Orange County Screening Unit at the Juvenile Assessment Center in circuit nine. Orange County holds one of the highest intake units in the entire state of Florida and PSF, a contractor since 2007, has worked diligently in making sure that each child that comes through the JAC gets the right services at the right time.

Probation Update

Last Thursday, SJPO Debbie Davis, JPOS Caren Langevin, Reform Specialist Lut Clarcq (not pictured) and JPOs Seth Yates and Krista Cochran from Circuit 20 attended an open house for the Youth Haven in Naples. Youth Haven has been serving and empowering children as well as strengthening families for 40 years and is now a drop-in center for youths who needs services for shelter placement. Youth Haven has a 12-bed capacity and offers different counseling services on site.

CPO Karen Knight and JPOS Geoff Peattie from Circuit 16 partnered with the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Key West to write greeting cards expressing encouragement and support for youth who are experiencing truancy issues. The cards were stuffed with gift certificates from area McDonald’s and Wendy’s and will be delivered to students through the school system. 

Last Friday, Reform Specialist Lut Clarcq from Circuit 20 was the featured speaker at the Youth Task Force meeting in La Belle. Lut shared the Department’s Roadmap to System Excellence to other agency partners while emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts with other agencies in Hendry County to promote youth success in the coming year. 

On October 9, Reform Specialist Shirlon McCarty from Circuit 15 attended a volunteer fair for the American Medical Student Association on the campus of Florida Atlantic University. The fair was a great opportunity for college students to learn about our agency and the Roadmap reform efforts. FAU students were given the opportunity to sign up to volunteer with the Department and 30 signed up to help the youth that we serve.

JPOS Richard Rathell from Circuit 15 has become a volunteer with the Young Men of Excellence Program at Tradewinds Middle School in Lake Worth. This program provides mentorship and training to help the local young men navigate through daily challenges and become successful and productive citizens. Richard will be working with these youth on a personal level to help build self-esteem and progress in an ever-changing society.

On October 24, the Bartow County Probation Office in Circuit 10 held their annual trick or treat event. Each year, probation staff members decorate the halls and bring local pre-school children to the office to trick or treat. The event, which is sponsored by the focus group, has turned into a great community partnership while building teamwork and fun competition between probation units.

On October 18, SJPO Wondra Daniels from Circuit 15 participated in the third annual Youth Empowerment Luncheon at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. The luncheon was hosted by Tamron Hall who anchors the NewsNation Program on MSNBC. Wondra served as a committee member for the luncheon and was responsible for getting Department staff to attend the event and give the youth in our care the opportunity to meet a television news anchor, while SJPO Vernon Jackson and JPO Keith Rudnick help transport several of our youth to the event. 

On October 21, JPOS Stephanie Lobzun and JPOs Irene Royo, Ray Dorman and Adam Wiegand from Circuit 12 participated in a state park cleanup at the Myakka State Park in Sarasota County. These officers accompanied eight of our youth and contributed approximately 180 community service hours. These youth were educated on the effects and associated costs of littering while picking up debris from the picnic areas, sweeping sidewalks and raking. 

Probation officers from Circuit 18 participated in Brevard County’s Weed N Seed 10th Annual Youth Summit recently. Probation staff allowed the youth to discuss what was on their minds and ask questions that might not have asked in a different environment. The guest speaker for this event was Vince Carter, Sr., father of former NBA All-Star Vince Carter, who talked to the youth about making good decisions and getting an education. 

On October 25, probation staff from Circuit 15 participated in a mentoring training presented by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. The training was designed to prepare staff to mentor local at-risk elementary school students. Staff participated in discussion during the training about the importance of mentoring in the community and how their presence in schools can help to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

On October 14, JPOS Althea Cameron, SJPO Vernon Jackson and JPO Christine Rouse attended a meeting of the Teens at Risk program hosted by the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lake Park. This program, which is run by former JPO Betty Webb gives area youth the opportunity to learn social skills that assist with problem solving, self-esteem, anger management and leadership. The youth that participate are also offered the opportunity to attend Sunday school, join in on community activities and earn community service hours. This has been a wonderful way for the Department staff to interact with the faith community and join forces in giving the youth alternative activities to delinquent behavior.

On Wednesday, JPO Fred Williams and Reform Specialist Khalilah Daniels from Circuit 13 shuttled youth in our care to Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa to participate in a community service work project. Fred and Khalilah, as well as our youth, assisted in setting up a food distribution center that will operate through Thanksgiving to provide food to needy families in Hillsborough County. Our youth will return to the Ministry in the coming weeks to assist with stocking the food pantry as the holiday season approaches. 

The Clothes Closet at the Wildwood Service Center in St. Petersburg was originally created by SJPO Karin Popkowski from Circuit 6 in 2009 to help give needy families the clothes they need throughout the school year. What began with a few shelves in the back storage area was completely renovated and expanded last month to meet the growing needs of the community thanks to the diligent efforts of employees Yolanda Arroyo, Madeline Feliciano, Nivea Malave, Marguerite Morrow and Cecilia Torres. Moving forward the closet will be maintained through community service projects completed by our youth on probation. 

Last Tuesday, CPO Paul Wallis and JPO Kelly Stanford from Circuit 1 spent the day escorting members form the Okaloosa Circuit Juvenile Court to a number of our juvenile commitment programs. These court members included Circuit Judge Jay Gontarek, Assistant State Attorney Haley Huff and Assistant Public Defender Brooke Jones who all serve in the juvenile court in Fort Walton. The group toured the Walton Youth Development Center, Escambia Boys Base, Okaloosa Youth Development Center and the Okaloosa Borderline Developmental Disability Program.

To wrap up the probation update, I would like to share a letter that was sent to JPO Shana Feren from circuit twenty from the Ronald McDonald House of Southwest Florida extending their appreciation for her continued assistance in collecting donated tabs as part of the youth’s community service work.  It reads:

Dear Ms. Feren: 

On behalf of our Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and the children and families who benefit from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, please accept my sincere thanks for your generous donation of pull tabs. 

Donations such as yours help assure that we can continue to care for seriously ill children and their families in our Fort Myers “House that Love Built,” as well as support our Care Mobile, Grant and Scholarship Programs in Southwest Florida.

We are extremely grateful for your thoughtfulness in making this collection effort on our behalf.

Residential Update

On Oct. 31, the young men and staff of two co-located programs that are operated by G4S Youth Services—the Orange Youth Academy and the Orlando Intensive Youth Academy – participated in a day of breast cancer awareness education and information.  The event, titled “We Believe in the Fight,” culminated in this unique group photo of youth and staff with DJJ Program Monitor Monica Webb, forming the iconic symbol for breast cancer awareness.

The Juvenile Unit for Specialized Treatment (JUST), a moderate-risk program for males, operated by Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, created unique hand-crafted items that were displayed at the Florida Food Festival in Apalachicola last weekend. According to Program Director Donald Lasseter, “This is the second year the JUST youth have participated in the Apalachicola Seafood Festival. The welding and building trade classes begin constructing items for sale at the Seafood Festival about two months prior to [the] festival. The items for sale are the ideas of the classes and totally constructed by the students.  All proceeds from the sales go toward buying materials, like steel and lumber, for the welding and building trades classes.”

At the Okaloosa Borderline Development Disability Program and the Okaloosa Youth Development Center—which are both operated by Gulf Coast Youth Services—the staff and boys converted former controlled observation rooms into tranquility rooms.  Now, a youth may go into a tranquility room when he needs time alone or to calm down.  Each room was hand painted with murals of designs created jointly by the boys and Masonry and Art Teacher Jim Riley.  One youth from each program penciled the art onto the walls.  Then, Jim painted the murals.  It took the boys and Jim about three weeks to complete all of the rooms shown below.  The project is part of the programs’ efforts to create more homelike settings.

On Nov. 3, Lytha Belrose, Patricia Boyd and Candace Seifert (DJJ-HQ Office of Residential Services) helped coordinate a swap of clothing and housewares for Capital City Youth Services (CCYS) and its new Transitional Living Program (TLP).  More than two dozen women from the Capital City area participated in the event, which resulted in a carload of women’s clothing for runaway, homeless and street youth who are served by the Capital City Youth Services, including professional clothing of all sizes for young women to go to job interviews. Participants of the swap donated a multitude of plastic hangers and housewares to the Transitional Living Program, which soon will house up to six residents.

TLP will open within the next few weeks on the current campus of CCYS.  TLP will address a fill gap in services for older youth who have no place to grow up, no one to encourage them, and no program to teach them how to be successful, responsible citizens.  For further information about the program, please contact TLP Mentor Caitlin Roy, MSW, Capital City Youth Services, (850) 576-6000, Ext. 326 or caitlin.roy@ccys.org.

Detention Update

Last Friday, Duval Detention held its first ever Fall Festival. During this event, youth had the opportunity to make treat bags and participate in a wide array of activities including a hand washing exercise, and emotional Pictionary game, a station set up by Shands Hospital on the effects of drug abuse, and a nutrition booth.

Please join me in congratulating Joseph Seeber on his transfer from the Southwest Detention Superintendent position to the Superintendent position at Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center, as well as,  Dennis Driscoll on his appointment to the Superintendent position at the Southwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

Although he was the superintendent at Southwest Detention for just over 6 months, Mr. Seeber’s  impact was evidenced by an increase in morale among the staff, a decrease in the number of vacant positions, a reduction in overtime hours and the establishment of positive professional relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Mr. Seeber holds a BA degree in Psychology and an AA degree in Criminal Justice; has more than 20 years of experience working in leadership positions within residential programs and correctional facilities, to include the superintendent position at the Falkenburg Juvenile Correctional Facility. With his extensive knowledge of DJJ and proven leadership ability, Superintendent Seeber will be a tremendous asset to Broward RJDC and the community it serves. 

Mr. Dennis Driscoll joined DJJ as a Detention Officer in 2009. In 2012, he was promoted to the Assistant Superintendent position at Collier Regional Juvenile Detention Center and was transferred to Southwest Detention in April of 2013. Prior to DJJ, Mr. Driscoll worked as a counselor for at-risk youth in Massachusetts. Mr. Driscoll is an Air Force Veteran and resides in Cape Coral with his wife and three daughters.  With his operational and administrative knowledge of DJJ, as well as his proven record of exemplary leadership, Mr. Driscoll will continue to be of great benefit to the youth, staff, and community members as he assumes his new duties as the Detention Superintendent at SWRJDC.

The school program at Duval Detention is making changes and embracing the push for higher education for our kids.  They have an AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) administrator, Ms. Prier and another AVID educator on site.  This program seeks to promote Career and College Readiness among students. One project was the “I am” tree where students wrote “I am” poems about themselves.  The AVID instructor, Dr. Owens, has also begun to decorate the school building with pennants from many colleges around the country.

This past week, a community group called “The Ivy Circle” visited the Marion Regional Juvenile Detention Center in an effort to revitalize the garden housed within the facility. The group cleaned out all of the pots in the facility’s hydroponic garden and refilled them with fresh potting soil, and then planted fruits, vegetables and herbs. These crops will be incorporated into the menu cycle for the youth at Marion. In addition, the group spruced up the front walkway with beautiful new plants and flowers.

From time to time I receive letters from letters from parents whose children have been placed in our facilities. This can be a difficult experience for parents who are feeling a wide range of emotions. However this letter in particular was very appreciative of the good work being done at the Marion Regional Juvenile Detention Center and the folks that work there deserve to see it. It reads:

Hi , currently live in Jacksonville Florida my 15 yr. old son recently gotten in some ble and has been sentenced to a level eight program. As a Mom this has been very hard he  is my oldest and also has been always good in school and been a key athlete in the community. My son was arrested and placed in the care of the Jacksonville juvenile detention center after my son was sentenced he was sent to Marion county juvenile center, when I got the phone call saying he was being transferred I took it very hard knowing that he was just not over the bridge anymore, so the mommy in me called Marion county and wanted to know how the program was ran and the assistant supervisor talked to me and reassured me  he would be ok, that they have a routine there to keep the boys busy to keep them out of trouble, that man’s name is captain Pimtel he  is great at what he does with talking to parents my son has been able to call and talk with us and is holding up well he know what he did was wrong and he has to face what comes with breaking the laws, This past Saturday we were able to go visit my son and the staff there were very polite and the facility was very clean  and colorful and it felt like the kids were more in a school then in a detention center, I asked my son how he was doing since he had been there and he said the guard treat them with respect as long as you treat them right. So I want to say hats off to Marion county for keeping the kids busy and being mentors to them and working with them, and this is a very hard time in their lives having to  be away from family and friends, and normal life but with ,Marion county juvenile staff it had me feeling much better when I left I know he is in good hands, I hope the program where my son gets transferred to he will have the same luck he has had with Marion county,      Thank you

SkillPro Update


SkillPro, DJJ’s new online learning management system, will be launched in January 2014. SkillPro is a state-of-the-art online experience designed to suit various learning styles. It will have a user-friendly format with engaging, media-rich content using videos, e-books and software simulations. In addition to a totally new format, SkillPro will offer completely new functions for popular content, instructor and certification requirements, data reports on training compliance, personal training history and much more--so you can get exactly the information you need when you need it. For more information, please visit http://www.djj.state.fl.us/services/support/staff-development/skillpro. For questions and/or comments, please email SkillPro@djj.state.fl.us.