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Secretary's Message

February 4, 2019

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter, with the latest on what’s going and what the team is doing across the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. I hope you will take a moment to read about the ways our DJJ staff, providers, and partners are working to improve the lives of Florida’s youth and families and how we are working to make our communities even better.

Please keep sharing your great work, successes, and accomplishments both on and off the clock in serving the youth, families, and communities touched by DJJ. Your stories inspire us all to do more. So, send your good news to news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon.


Secretary Simone Marstiller

Secretary Marstiller Visits Programs in the Central Region

Secretary Simone Marstiller traveled to the Tampa Bay area last week to visit three of our DJJ programs. Her first stop was at the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where she toured the facility with Major Marcus Wilson before sharing her vision with youth and staff.

That afternoon, Secretary Marstiller visited two of our residential programs, the Columbus Youth Academy and the Hillsborough Girls Academy. During the program visits, Secretary Marstiller had the opportunity to speak with youth, staff and administrators.

Secretary Marstiller enjoyed her visits and is eager to continue her travels across the state to visit more of our programs and facilities.

Pictured above (from left to right): Sgt. Deborah Caldwell, Maj. Marcus Wilson, Secretary Simone Marstiller, Cpt. Zoe Sexton, Cpt. Carla Craig-Wright

DJJ Celebrates February as Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, please enjoy the following submission, written by Regional Monitor Warren Garrison from the Bureau of Monitoring and Quality Improvement:

Still reverberating in hearts of every American citizen are the famous words woven into our Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal.”  Extrapolating this belief, our country established February as Black History Month. A month replete with the accomplishments of historically Black American citizens symbolizes our strength as a nation, befitting as a beacon for the world. Indeed, our Department is often the linchpin for troubled youth embodying the effigy carved in the Statute of Liberty during our nation’s fledgling beginnings, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Amid the many day-to-day polarizing issues, February is a month for us to abrogate the many dissensions. I deduce, Black History Month is a month where the conscience decision to highlight the many accomplishments of our Black American citizens transmits a shared palatable ideology.

My most memorable Black History event is the Montgomery’s Bus Boycott. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a courageous and audacious black woman changed the world. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her refusal would lead to her arrest and was a clear defiance of the Montgomery Bus Segregation Law. Mrs. Parks was later coined “the mother of the freedom movement.” She was not the first black American to refuse to give up a seat; Geneva Johnson, Viola White, and Claudette Colvin were all arrested. Many theorize Mrs. Parks’ strong community ties were pivotal to the boycott. Mrs. Parks was the secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she attended the Methodist Church, volunteered at a shelter and at the youth organization at the Lutheran Church, she knitted blankets for patients in the hospital, and provided dress alterations to many of the wealthy citizens of Montgomery. Mrs. Parks and her associates transcended the social dynamics of race in her community.  The community deplored the city’s long standing impudent laws after hearing of her arrest. Our Department vigorously seeks ways to strengthen our presence in the community, as we owe credit to individuals like Mrs. Parks who intuitively knew how important it was to be mingled in with the community.

We are behooved to highlight the month of February as a time to recognize the many contributions of our Black American leaders. Let us share our most memorable Black History event and why it is important to you. I end with this pithy aphorism: “All for one and one for all.”

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Circuit 20 Senior Juvenile Probation Officer (SJPO) Peter Knowler who was recently named the Circuit’s 2018 Employee of the Year.

SJPO Knowler has been with Office of Probation and Community Intervention since 2007. He originally started as a home detention officer with Detention Services in 1998 and left to work for Eckerd Re-Entry. Returning to work for the Office Probation and Community Intervention in 2007 as a juvenile probation officer, he was soon promoted to the senior position as the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) liaison for Circuit 20.

SJPO Knowler is highly professional, possesses a great attitude and is always willing to assist others and go above and beyond. In addition to his duties and responsibilities, he took the initiative to complete the Train-The-Trainer (TTT) Suicide Prevention Training and provides all staff instructor-led suicide prevention.

Being proactive, SJPO Knowler also partnered with Lee County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate an interactive active shooter training. Senior JPO Knowler is a great asset to our team and is very deserving of this honor. 

Congratulations to Rodney Goss who was promoted to Superintendent at the Collier Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC). Major Goss has been employed with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for six years. He began his detention career at the Southwest Florida Regional Detention Center as an detention officer and was later promoted to supervisor. In 2015, Goss was promoted to assistant superintendent at Manatee RJDC and later transferred to Southwest RJDC. He then became the acting superintendent at Collier RJDC before being promoted to his current position as superintendent. Major Goss also recently graduated from the Florida State University’s Certified Public Managers Course.

Congratulations to Circuit 20 Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Francoise Petit who was named the Circuit’s 2018 Employee of the Four Quarter. SJPO Petit has been with DJJ and is a great asset to the agency. She began as an intern and was then hired as a juvenile probation officer and subsequently promoted to a Senior JPO.

SJPO Petit has always been a wonderful employee and goes above and beyond for the clients and families that she serves in the Collier County community. SJPO Petit is a great team player and is always willing to assist her co-workers and local stakeholders in the community when help is needed. She always conducts herself with professionalism and is a great role model for our newer staff. SJPO Petit has grown through the years with DJJ and she has taken on some very tough cases for Probation Unit 202. Her dedication and continued positive attitude has helped the unit grow and be the best that it can be. JPO Supervisor Foss appreciates all that she does for Unit 202 and for Collier County.

Probation Youth Participate in Marine Activities

DJJ youth from the Eckerd Project Bridge program in Circuits 10 and 12 joined forces for one of the most highly requested events ever! After a quick trip to the store to obtain annual fishing licenses, youth and staff went to Payne State Park in Bowling Green Florida for a day of fishing and BBQ. Many youth in attendance had never fished before and after a catch or two, had smiles as large as the lake they were fishing on! Each youth received mentoring, participated in life skills discussions, and learned that spending time outdoors can be both relaxing and fun! Fishing day will now be a quarterly event and open to every Project Bridge circuit in the DJJ youth from the Eckerd Project Bridge program in Tampa attended the Sunday youth empowerment service at Lift One Voice Entirely Ministries. Youth and mentors had the opportunity to share their testimony while encouraging others to follow a positive path surrounded by those that truly care about them. One youth even invited his family to attend and was proud to see them in the audience cheering along! After the service, youth participated in a life skills session with their mentors on the topic “Your Life Matters,” and were provided lunch before going home.
central region.

DJJ youth from the Eckerd Project Bridge program in Tampa attended the Sunday youth empowerment service at Lift One Voice Entirely Ministries. Youth and mentors had the opportunity to share their testimony while encouraging others to follow a positive path surrounded by those that truly care about them. One youth even invited his family to attend and was proud to see them in the audience cheering along! After the service, youth participated in a life skills session with their mentors on the topic “Your Life Matters,” and were provided lunch before going home.

The Probation Team in Circuit 20 came together to recognize and honor January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month by wearing blue.

DJJ youth with AMIkids in Clay County recently participated in the program’s three-day marine education experience. On the first day, the group took part in swim testing and Discover Scuba Diving Experience. Then they took part in a field trip to the Weedon Marine Preserve and boat ride followed by a visit to the Florida Aquarium. Finally, the youth spent time on the Floating Classroom, where they had the opportunity to engage with four other AMIkids participants from the Tampa program.

Office of Prevention Hosts CORE Resource Fair in Jacksonville

The Office of Prevention and Victim Services held their quarterly Community Outreach of Resource and Education (CORE) Fair at the Legends Center in Jacksonville. CORE is an Office of Prevention initiative that “Celebrates Families” and seeks to develop and enhance strong positive relationships among families, communities and providers by strengthening support systems beneficial and valuable to the youth and families across the state of Florida. 

The day began with a provider training entitled “How to do Business with the State of Florida and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.” DJJ program managers from Prevention Services, Monitoring & Quality Improvement and Background Screening presented on the infrastructure of their units and how they operate in conjunction with other program areas within DJJ. There were twenty-eight DJJ contracted providers and community programs in attendance. Later that evening, Prevention hosted the C.O.R.E. Resource Fair which connected youth and families together with local and statewide providers and community partners. The resource fair also provides educational information on the continuum of services in each community. Seven families from five prevention programs were also nominated for special recognition.

Thank you to the Circuit 4 Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and Waste Not Want Not, who donated refreshments for the event and incentives for youth in attendance. Eighteen prevention providers and community programs set up exhibits and donated door prizes. Thanks to all providers, families and attendees who participated!

Young ladies from the PACE Center for Girls of Hillsborough County made a visit to their local farmers market in preparation for a healthy luncheon. These girls have been involved in the NutritionWorks class where they are learning about the long-term value of developing healthy eating habits.

The Pace Center for Girls, Hillsborough implemented the newly developed NutritionWorks program as a complement to the center’s full-day academic and social service programming. The program was made possible by a generous grant from Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

NutritionWorks provides weekly programming designed to increase nutrition-based education and experiential opportunities for PACE girls. This innovative program includes interactive classroom instruction, on and off-site educational presentations by nutrition-focused professionals, and experiential learning opportunities to include physical activities, organic restaurant experiences, and meal planning and preparation.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Carmen Lundy participated in the inaugural Circuit 1 Human Trafficking Task Force Summit at the Marcus Point Baptist Church in Pensacola. The purpose of the summit was to share information and to educate and inform the community about human trafficking and how it can affect any family.

Guest speakers included DCF Regional Human Trafficking Coordinator Marina Anderson, human trafficking survivor and advocate Ashley Smith and Investigator Khaliqa Wheatley from the Walton County Sheriff's Office.  Ms. Anderson provided an overview of human trafficking, what children are targeted and information about commercial sexual exploitation of children and labor trafficking. Ms. Smith provided her personal story and her journey to recovery from being a human trafficking victim. Investigator Wheatly informed the audience of crimes against children that she has witnessed and investigates in Walton County.

Circuit 1 Reform Specialist Therese Moses and Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Cameron Rogers were also in attendance. At the event, t-shirts were sold with the proceeds of the sales supporting the Safe Place, a human trafficking shelter for teens and women in Circuit 1. This shelter is scheduled to open in the spring of this year.

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims attended the Twin Oaks Juvenile Development’s 20th anniversary celebration at the Florida State University Center Club in Tallahassee. Over 200 staff, board members, partners and stakeholders attended the event to celebrate the 20 years of youth services with Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc.

Established in 1998, Twin Oaks was incorporated to provide a quality continuum of care to youth and their families. The organization operates programs that offer services with varying levels of intensity, including both inpatient residential and outpatient services, in partnership with a variety of funding sources both regionally and statewide. Their mission is to provide quality services that promote the development of successful, responsible, productive and accountable citizens by fulfilling the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in a caring and supportive environment.

At the ceremony, a former DOVE Academy youth served as a guest speaker and Employee of the Year Awards were presented. A silent auction was also held for the Boys and Girls Club youth to fund a trip to Disney World.

Pictured above: Alice Sims with Circuit 2 Juvenile Justice Advisory Board Chair and Twin Oaks President/CEO Donnie Read

Residential Program Takes Part in Equine Therapy

Horse husbandry has just been added to JoAnn Bridges Academy, a non-secure program for girls operated by Rite of Passage. Most of the girls will participate in the equine program, which began in January. For many of the girls, this was their first time interacting with horses. The ladies learned equine terminology, grooming techniques, and entry level horsemanship skills. Each week, they will work in teams of two to learn to care for the horses, bond with each other and the animals, develop mutual trust, and build self-esteem. Successfully interacting with the horses will require the young ladies to exercise patience, utilize appropriate non-verbal skills, and encourage compassion and empathy. Through a combination of practical application and equine curriculum-based class work, the young ladies will earn certificates for each element mastered.

We look forward to the therapeutic benefits for both the ladies of JoAnn Bridges Academy and the horses.

Daytona Juvenile Residential Facility, a secure program for boys, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, recently had four young men earn their high school diplomas and take part in a graduation ceremony at the program. The four high school students sat shoulder to shoulder as they waited for their names to be called and certificates to be presented. They waited for the moment every high school senior dreams of, to hear the words, “You may now turn your tassel from the right to the left. Congratulations you are now a high school graduate!”

 Facility Administrator Ryan Montgomery attributes the success of these graduates to the dedication of the education department at Daytona Juvenile Residential Facility. He stated to the other youth in attendance, “It is them today, and tomorrow it will be you! We are committed to your educational success!”

Last week, six youth and staff from Melbourne Center for Personal Growth, a non-secure program for boys operated by AMIkids, attended the AMIkids Winter Challenge in Tampa, where youth from AMIkids programs from across the state joined together for track and academic challenges.

Not only were the kids challenged with an academic quiz bowl, but also practical life skills, important facts about AMIkids, science fair project, speeches, Marlinspike (knot tying), Tug-O-War competition, volleyball, and standing broad jump. The week ended with an awards ceremony, which is always a very special affair for the youth and staff.

Three youth from Highlands Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, worked with Habitat for Humanity to complete a new home for a lucky family in Highlands County. Home Builders Institute Instructor Fred Hayes stated that all three youth that attended were the most experienced in his group.

The three youth were given the challenge to measure, cut and install ceiling joist in all three bedrooms. One of the youth shared that being able to help out the community and complete a job that he loves to do was the best experience, and he can’t wait to get released to start his new career in framing.

Kissimmee Youth Academy, a secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, would like to congratulate Youth K.G. on completing Pre-Certification for IC3. IC3 Certification is a benchmark for learning basic computer literacy, including Microsoft operating systems, hardware, software and networks. He has shown mastery in all three modules: Computer Essentials, Key Applications, and Living Online. He took a total of six pre-certification tests and received scores of 96% or higher on all six tests. Youth K.G. always comes to class ready to work and is very focused and driven in learning the Microsoft operating systems. Due to his diligence, he was able to complete the modules before the allotted time. He has also acted as a positive peer to others taking the course, coaching them along the way. Overall, Youth K.G. has made tremendous growth while in the program and has demonstrated that he has excellent potential for success in his future. We are all very proud of his accomplishments! Special thanks to Karen Hernandez for motivating her students. 

In January, Palm Beach Youth Academy, a secure program for boys, which is operated by Sequel, welcomed athletes from Glades Central High School to participate in a flag football game. This was a unique opportunity, as our residents got to compete in a 7 on 7 flag football format against a local high school team that just a couple months ago was two wins away from competing for a state title. Many of these young men and the youth competed against are either going on to play football at major universities or being recruited by them. During the day the youth learned valuable lessons on sportsmanship, team work, and competing. The Glades Central players and coaches on site were also able to mentor our boys on what it takes to be successful at the level of competition. The Glades Central players and coaches spoke highly of the talent and effort of our PBYA youth. The boys received a renewed confidence in their potential to play football for their schools after they are released. We look forward to cultivating our youth’s abilities and participating in future activities!

Detention Facility Host Pizza Party for Youth  

The St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently welcomed journalist Edward Pentin from the National Catholic Register to speak to the youth. Mr. Pentin spent time in Rome covering the Vatican and Pope Francis. Thank you to the detention center’s longtime volunteer Joan Maddy for coordinating the visit.

The Orange County Public Defender’s Office recently hosted a pizza party at the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center. The party was for the center’s B5 Honors Mod as well as their level three girls. Thank you to the public defenders for taking the time out to spend time with and speak with these youth.

The North Region Office of Detention Services, along with the North Region’s superintendents, recently gathered at DJJ Headquarters for their leadership training. This training was hosted by Business Manager Alaa El-Halwagy from Innovative Group USA.