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Secretary's Message

April 24, 2018

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter 

Last week was a productive and busy time for DJJ staff, our providers, and our stakeholders, as we continued our work in bettering the lives of Florida’s children and families.  I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our agency staff, our colleagues, and the youth in our care. 

As a reminder, don’t forget that I am always looking for opportunities to showcase the work you all do – on and off the clock – to enrich our 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. 


Christina K. Daly

Staff Announcement and Kudos

Please join me in congratulating Jeffery Williams who was named superintendent for the Pasco Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC). Major Williams began his career with DJJ back in 2009 as a juvenile detention officer at the Orange RJDC. Six years later in 2015, he was named assistant superintendent at Marion RJDC. Central Region Operations Program Manager Monica Gray (seen left with Williams) presented Major Williams with his superintendent badge and insignias in the presence of the officers at Pasco.

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer Valerie Terry from the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was named the facility’s employee of the month for March. Officer Terry maintains a positive attitude in the work place and is willing to work wherever she is assigned. She was acknowledged with a certificate, gift card and a special parking spot at the facility for the next month.

Pictured above (from left to right): Major Adrian Mathena, Officer Valerie Terry and Captain Quick

Detention Staff Attends Job Fair and the Facility Celebrates Student of the Week

Major Ariel Veguilla from the Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center (ORJDC) set up a DJJ informational booth during the University of West Florida’s Criminal Justice Career Fair. DJJ was one of fourteen different agencies who were represented. Major Veguilla spoke with students who stopped by and learned about what it takes to be a juvenile detention officer and the impact it can make in their community.

In addition, the Okaloosa RJDC celebrated the facility’s Student of the Week D.T. on April 13. D.T. was chosen by all three of his teachers for his hard work and dedication in the classroom as well as his behavior improvement and becoming a positive role model for his fellow youth. Okaloosa ORJDC Student of the Week receives a pizza party on Fridays and a certificate which is sent to his probation officer.

DRAI Workgroup Hosts Think Tank Meeting

During January 2018, the statutorily required Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) committee approved the use of a new DRAI. Subsequently, a workgroup was formed to brainstorm and create new policies and procedures regarding the implementation of the new tool statewide. The workgroup hosted a DRAI Think Tank meeting on April 3rd through the 5th. During the meeting, participants thoroughly analyzed the new instrument, reviewed projected outcomes, discussed outstanding issues, and provided insight on several aspects of this project. As a result of the think tank meeting, two sub-workgroups were created to continue with implementation planning. One group will focus on current policies, standards, and workload. The other group will develop new policies to ensure the successful statewide implementation of the new tool. Stay tuned for more information on the development of this work!

Pictured above: Christina Ash, Jennifer Cristiano, Thomas Jenkins, Sonny Peacock, Tahirah Jones, Randi Taylor, Cathy Lake, Timothy Denton, Lisa Macaluso, Fred Womack, Sarah Blumberg, Latawun Bess, Marybel Cortez, Minnie Bishop, Cassandra Evans, Amy Read, Karin Popkowski, Rico Cooper, Paul Hatcher, Gwen Steverson, Akilya Drake, and James Garner

Education Staff Host Second Annual Pinewood Derby

Education staff in our residential programs hosted their second annual Pinewood Derby Challenge on April 10 at the Cypress Creek JOCC in Lecanto. The derby featured teams from Cypress Creek, Eckerd Connects Challenge Youth Academy and the Marion Youth Academy. Each program entered their top six racers respectively and the challenge was extremely competitive.

After a grueling two hours ofracing, the Marion Youth Academy came through victorious. However, each facility should be very proud of their young men who did a tremendous job and acted like true sportsman throughout the entire event. A big thank you to Rob Cummins and Cypress Creek JOCC for hosting this event and providing lunch after the race. Thank you also to Rachael Woods from Challenge Youth Academy who provided the software that kept the race heats organized and to Mr. Alexander from Marion Youth Academy who provided the track. This was truly a team effort by everyone!

DJJ youth with the education program in Madison County had a special opportunity to tour Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. The tour was facilitated by FAMU students from the Kappa Alpha Psi and Iota Phi Theta fraternities. Our youth learned about the different majors FAMU had to offer, how to apply for college and what it takes to be successful.

The FAMU students who led the tour told the boys how they came from similar backgrounds and made some of the same mistakes as them but they were able to change their lives and become the successful men they are today. It is great to see these men so interested in working with our youth and how much our boys really like and respect them.

Students from the Marion Youth Academy also took part in tours of two colleges to get a first-hand look at what college life is all about. The youth toured the College of Central Florida locally in Ocala before traveling to Daytona Beach to tour Bethune Cookman University. The students received a bird’s eye view of college and listened to student ambassadors as they asked questions throughout both tours. It was a great experience for all involved.

Office of Prevention Hosts OJJDP Audit Monitors from Washington, D.C.

The Department was audited by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) regarding its monitoring practices April 9-13 at various sites in Leon, Liberty, Gadsden, Marion and Miami-Dade counties. Every three years, the U.S. Department of Justice, OJJDP conducts compliance monitoring audits in all states. Florida was selected as one of the 18 states to be audited this year. Florida’s auditors were Dr. TeNeane Bradford, OJJDP associate administrator, and Ms. Tina Borner, OJJDP senior compliance analyst, both based in Washington, D.C.

Pictured above (from left to right): Dr. TeNeane Bradford, Tina Borner, Assistant Secretary Alice Sims, Racquel Piper, Secretary Daly and Marcus Smith, Policy Chief.

I was pleased to host these auditors at DJJ headquarters here in Tallahassee at the beginning of their five-day visit to Florida. The auditors reviewed files, spoke with staff members and conducted site visits. They toured Capital City Youth Services, the Leon County Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC), Disc Village in Leon County, and Twin Oaks Academy in Liberty County. They also toured the Gretna and Quincy police departments, Gadsden County Jail and Gadsden Courthouse, Marion RJDC, and Miami-Dade RJDC.

I would like to thank State and Federal Director Eugene Morris, Federal Programs Manager Racquel Piper, and Bobbi Pohlman-Rodgers from TrueCore Behavioral Solutions who accompanied these auditors on their site visits. Thank you also to Program Specialist Trevor Gilmore for coordinating the travel accommodations. 

Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP) Director Jasmine Allen and Program Coordinator Seantel Fetner delivered presentations during the Circuit 14 Advisory Board meeting on April 11 in Panama City. Ms. Allen and Ms. Fetner provided the audience with information about JDAP, which is operated by Disc Village and provides services in Circuits 1, 2 and 14.

JDAP provides assessment; development of a case plan with input from youth and family; supervision and monitoring of sanctions including community service, curfew, restitution, school attendance and progress; and urinalysis testing. JDAP also makes referrals to other agencies for the youth and family as needs are identified.  The length of services can vary from 60 to 120 days however, extensions can be requested through the Department.   

DJJ Probation Staff Attend EPICS Training and Youth Apply for Summer Jobs

Juvenile probation officers, supervisors, and the Circuit 9 chief of probation and assistant chief of probation participated in a three-day EPICS (Effective Practices in Community Supervision) training April 3-9 in Orlando. The training was facilitated by our reform specialists throughout the state including Melinda Wesley-Nelson (C9) Jarrett Ballo (C12), Christopher Seagrist (C19), John Vertees (C20) and Tracy Olson (C18). The EPICS model teaches juvenile probation officers how to apply the principles of effective intervention and core correctional practices specifically to community supervision practices.  Probation officers are taught to increase contact with higher risk offenders, stay focused on criminogenic needs, and to use a social learning and cognitive behavioral approach to their interactions.

DJJ youth with the Eckerd Connects Paxen Community Connections in Polk County recently visited the CareerSource Center to apply for their summer jobs program. Our kids were very excited to have this wonderful summer employment opportunity. This activity also supports the Community Connections goal to provide vocational and employment coaching.

Juvenile Probation Officers Shanea Walk and Erica Ortiz-Pellicer and Secretary Specialist Diane Smith from Circuit 5 recently delivered cupcakes and dog bones to the officers at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Our staff members wanted to show their appreciation to the HCSO for their efforts to support and collaborate with our agency.

Circuit 6 Reform Specialist Adrienne Conwell hosted a DJJ resource table at the Look Up Clearwater Music Festival on April 14. The festival is a faith-based event which was spearheaded by the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance and featured ministries who were sharing their message to help the local community. Reform Specialist Conwell shared an overview of the agency and handed out brochures on family engagement and employment. 

Juvenile Probation Officers Diana Clarke, Shayna Snell, Shemina Royal and Jeneen St. Louis from Circuit 10 hosted the “Move Beyond” Girls Summit on April 7 in Sebring. The summit taught our girls how to use strategic planning, resources and self-resilience to “MOVE BEYOND” failures and move forward to success. The event featured guest speakers who were very transparent with our girls. There were some local vendors that participated in this great event as well. I would also like to thank Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Michelle Wilson who made the centerpieces for the event and Supervisor Andrea Conner who worked behind the scenes to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Probation staff in Circuit 12 hosted a farewell barbeque to say goodbye to outgoing Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Patricia Vargas, who is transferring to Circuit 13. The staff surprised JPO Vargas with a homemade certificate and collage. JPO Vargas is well respected in the community among the stakeholders in Circuit 12 which was evident by the number of people who attended the barbeque. The state attorney, school board staff, the court bailiff and therapist were all in attendance to say goodbye to JPO Vargas.

Probation staff in Circuit 10 participated in Wear Blue Day on April 6 in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Throughout the course of April, many agencies and child advocates work to raise awareness about the importance of taking an active role in promoting healthy child development, positive parenting practices, and community action so that child abuse and neglect never occur.

Residential Facilities Receive Therapy Dogs and Host Basketball Tournament

Okaloosa Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 19, operated by Gulf Coast, began a program a little over two weeks ago with the arrival of two Lab/Hound mixed puppies, which added to their other animal therapy programs. The youth named the puppies JD and Bonnie. Overall, the puppies are doing very well. They are very friendly and being socialized will not be an issue for these two. The puppies spend evenings on different dorms, making sure all youth who want to interact with the puppies have the opportunity to do so. In addition tolearning the responsibilities of caring for puppies, the youth are also learning to train the puppies through positive reinforcement. In a few weeks, these two are going to be a wonderful addition to a lucky family. 

A few weeks ago, Cypress Creek, a secure program for boys, ages 15 to 21, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, conducted a “Beat the FA” (facility administrator) pool tournament. In order to participate, youth could not have any behavior infractions for the week and had to be on track to meet the requirements on the day of the tournament. Two youth “Beat the FA” and then competed against each other. This was a great break from the normal day to day for the youth. 

Daytona Juvenile Residential Facility (JRF) a secure program for boys, ages 13 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, believes that positive youth recognition is a great incentive and motivator of continued youth progress and good behavior. Daytona JRF operates with the knowledge that when youth are given nothing but negative feedback, they will begin to feel defeated and will lack the desire to put forth effort to accomplish the task at hand. Facility Administrator Javonte Crenshaw consistently reminds the staff that “youth will think their efforts will only be met with criticism if they are never recognized for their accomplishments”.

To put this concept into action, Daytona JRF celebrates youth accomplishments on the first Wednesday of each month with an awards ceremony. Each department within the program recognizes the youth for their outstanding accomplishments in areas to include education, medical, operations, case management and clinical. Youth are given positive verbal feedback and an award for a job well done. This encourages the youth to continue to work hard and do their very best. It has been witnessed over and over that the slightest positive youth recognition does wonders for the youth’s morale and enthusiasm to complete their treatment. The recognition of the youth fosters strong relationships and creates a positive program environment where the youth feel valued.

Jacksonville Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, is doing some remodeling! Youth from Jacksonville Youth Academy began decorating the building in an effort to support a more therapeutic environment. The community wall is tagged with the TrueCore TREATMENT Slogan, “The Right Environment And The Most Effective And Nurturing Team”. The wall is filled with pictures & articles of the different activities and services the youth have completed in the community.

In addition to the community wall, Jacksonville Youth Academy has begun a discharge wall. All youth being discharged will be allowed to decorate a brick displaying words of encouragement to their peers and leave a memento behind. 

Last month, Central Pasco Girls Academy, a nonsecure program for girls, ages 13 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, and Lake Academy traveled over to Hillsborough Girls Academy for a basketball tournament. Central Pasco Girls Academy and Lake Academy step teams had a rematch at the event as well. The basketball tournament resulted in Hillsborough Girls Academy taking home the win against Central Pasco Girls Academy. The Lake Academy step team was also victorious against Central Pasco Girls Academy. In the end, the girls from all programs showed great sportsmanship, supported one another and reminded each other that at the end of the day, we are all winners. Central Pasco Girls Academy doesn’t give up that easily and looks forward to future games with Lake Academy and Hillsborough Girls Academy!

Hillsborough Girls Academy also provided lunch after the events for the youth and staff and were great hostesses!

Boys and girls in Haiti recently received gospel bracelets and cards of encouragement from Central Pasco Girls Academy youth. David Wine started this orphanage and has come to Central Pasco Girls Academy a couple of times to share his own testimony and tell the girls about his "children" in Haiti. The girls fell in love with his kids and came up with the idea to send them special gifts and cards. The girls have all been asking if the children received their cards and bracelets. No matter what our girls are going through, when they have an opportunity to connect with others that are in need, they shine and their hearts are softened.

Earlier this month, Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure program for males, ages 14 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, kicked off their National Poetry Month celebration with Mr. Gary Soto, an internationally acclaimed poet. Mr. Soto took the time to join in the discussion and presentations live via phone from his California residence. Thanks to the determination of Lead Educator D. Wynne from the Miami Dade County Schools Outreach program, all 28 youth were able to ask questions about Mr. Soto’s work and share their own poetry with him.

The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization, fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month. Each April, National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers including students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, bloggers, and of course, poets all joining the celebration. National Poetry Month marks poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.