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Secretary's Message

January 28, 2020

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter, where we share the latest news and updates on the great work the DJJ team is doing across the state of Florida. Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to read about the ways our DJJ staff, providers, and partners are working to support youth and families and strengthen our communities.

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




Staff Announcements and Kudos

costarica joseCongratulations to Sergeant Costarica Jose for being selected as the Detention Services Central Region Employee of the Month. Sergeant Jose is a valuable asset to the Hillsborough-West Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) and has displayed an exemplary job performance.













miami dade staff with as dixie foslerKudos to the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center for achieving 100% on their recent Quality Improvement review. Assistant Secretary Dixie Fosler visited the detention center to present a plaque and goodies for staff in recognition of this achievement.









Prevention Team Hosts Community Events in South Florida

 group prevention photo

DJJ Prevention staff recently hosted community events in Fort Myers and Hollywood.   

The year got off to a great start with a DJJ Office of Prevention Regional “Restoring Hope and Celebrating Families" event on Jan. 6 in Fort Myers, at the Quality Life Center, a Title II Program Provider.

Circuits 12 and 20 Delinquency Prevention Specialist Sandra Ferguson was privileged to host five Tallahassee Prevention Services leadership executives who participated in the Restoring Hope Celebrating Families activities. The delegation included Assistant Secretary Alice Sims, Operations & Training Director Yvonne Woodard, State & Federal Director Eugene Morris, Budget Administrator Brent Musgrove, and Statewide Circuit Advisory Board Coordinator Tina Levene.

The festivities included warm welcomes, dancing, singing and a memorable recognition/award ceremony. Parents, youth and local community leaders were recognized for being outstanding and inspirational role models who have overcome adversity and are striving to help others in their community.

On Jan. 7, the Prevention delegation hosted a regional C.O.R.E. Resource Forum in Hollywood at the Boulevard Heights Community Center.  The forum was designed to engage and attract attendees from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. C.O.R.E. is an acronym which stands for Community Outreach of Resources and Education.   The event featured a vendor fair, allowing both community-based and DJJ contracted prevention services providers to share information about their programs, services, and activities with the community.

Thirteen vendors participated, including DJJ Prevention Services providers: Girls of Transformation Mentorship Program, CitiKidz/Abundant Life Church, Mount Bethel Human Service Corporation, Miami-Dade County Juvenile Justice Services Department, Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, PACE Center for Girls Broward, and the Miami Children’s Initiative. More than 100 people attended the fair which also featured an awards program.

Assistant Secretary Sims honored more than 30 youth, parents, law enforcement, and stakeholders as Community Ambassadors.  These individuals were honored and celebrated for their outstanding achievements and for overcoming challenges.

Many of the youth and adults honored were part of the foster care system. Some foster care parents had been fosters for more than 35 years and collectively had fostered hundreds of youth.  Their guidance and support help to keep countless youth from becoming part of the juvenile justice system.

The program included a youth performance by a member of the Miramar Senior High School Debate Championship Team and a musical tribute, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” was provided by Delinquency Prevention Specialist in Circuits 11, 15, 16, and 17 Johnny Sanders, who also coordinated the Hollywood C.O.R.E.



as sims and mission 850 co-founderPrevention Assistant Secretary Alice Sims and other Prevention team members recently recognized Dot Wagner, co-founder of Mission 850, a Florida group that assists victims of storms and hurricanes.

In September 2019, when close to 30 DJJ employees volunteered to provide storm recovery assistance to Bay County homeowners a year after Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle, one woman stepped up to provide valuable assistance.

Dot Wagner donated much-needed financial assistance, tools, and coordinated with DJJ staff in Tallahassee for the clean-up. She also met with colleagues in Bay County to identify two families that needed help cleaning, doing yard work, painting, and performing debris removal. 

Assistant Secretary Sims thanked Ms. Wagner for her help and recognized her with an award that praised her for “being a heartbeat in the community” for coordinating clean-up efforts. Ms. Wagner said Mission 850 would also assist DJJ staff in March when volunteers will assist with storm recovery and cleanup in Liberty County.

Ms. Wagner and her husband Nicholas founded Mission 850 to provide help cleaning up in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The group’s title refers to the 850-area code that encompasses the Panhandle. The Wagners live in Tallahassee. Because they knew pastors in Marianna and Panama City, and they knew those areas were harder-hit, they loaded their van with food and supplies and headed in that direction. Once they started, the Wagners kept making trips back and forth, and other people were drawn to the effort. To better organize the work, they launched the Mission 850 website. They strive to build a bridge to empower those who serve to connect with those in need.


 Farming the Future Offers STEM and Agricultural Education to Detention Youth

farm instructor with yourFarming the Future is an organization dedicated to increasing access to STEM, agricultural, and entrepreneurial education while also providing farm-to-cafeteria services in low income communities, at-risk schools and juvenile detention facilities. Farming the Future uses aquaponic agriculture systems as a vehicle to educate students, providing them a hands-on learning experience in the field of agriculture, science, and engineering while also showing young individuals where their food comes from. Farming the Future strives to increase access to fresh, nutrient dense food to food desert greenhousepopulations while simultaneously teaching STEM education to underserved communities. 

This is exemplified through Farming the Future programs, specifically the program at the Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center. Students at the facility participate weekly in this program, engaging in a variety of hands-on learning experiences. Activities ranging from going out to the aquaponic greenhouse to indoor classroom experiments. The students plant and harvest their own crops, learning accountability and entrepreneurship while engaging with an aquaponics system fueling their curiosity for science. The food harvested is then brought to the cafeteria where it is prepared by the cooking staff. Any unused food is then donated to homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, and local food banks like Second Harvest. This project increases STEM and vocational education, while also providing access to nutritionally dense foods. 

Farming the Future takes an innovative approach to addressing these issues within local communities by educating and preparing younger generations for success. Farming the Future is invested in preparing and equipping young adults with an entrepreneurial mindset, agricultural education, and skills in STEM fields to prepare for a better tomorrow. 

justice the dog in party attireJustice, our first resident pet therapy animal, recently celebrated a very happy 8th birthday.  

Approximately nine years ago, our agency staff suggested a pilot therapy program in detention. Captain Daryl Wolf jumped at the idea and searched for the perfect dog, which she found at the Big Dog Ranch Rescue.  In December of 2012, Justice joined the DJJ family.  

Justice went through many rigorous trainings with Richard Heinz, the Miami Dog Whisperer. He was trained in obedience and to become a therapy dog.  He passed all of his tests with flying colors. He maintains maximum health and fitness and receives the required vaccinations and preventative medications via his veterinarian.  

In 2013, Justice began working with some of the toughest youth, calming them, providing unconditional love, diffusing anger, assisting in medical, and responding to codes. Justice was usually the first to arrive and is able to sense which youth need special attention. In order to work with youth, the child has to agree to want to be with him, and most youth are happy to have Justice around.

He greets visitors and guests, attends treatment meetings, staff meetings, briefings, visits the mods, helps a sick child feel better, makes special appearances at various local sites and has traveled the state working in numerous detention facilities and visiting others.  He brings joy, comfort and laughter to the many youth he has been lucky enough to work with. 

So, with all the great things Justice has done and the numerous youth Justice has helped over the years, we want to wish him a very happy birthday and may he continue to provide comfort and love to those in need at the Department for many more years to come. 

Justice thoroughly enjoyed his party, kept his hat on for a few moments, and had lots of cake (he ate it off a spoon like a gentleman). Special thanks to Officers Cara Rizzo, Yovana Bisumber and DMHCA Michelle Jimenez.  Happy Birthday big boy.  Thank you, you are loved by all!

justice eating cakejustice smiling












AMIKids Youth Participate in Winter Challenge

ami youth completing quiz bowlAMIkids Inc. recently hosted its annual Winter Challenge event in Hudson, FL. More than 100 youth from programs in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida came together to engage in competitive activities that challenged their bodies and minds. Programs in Florida included AMIkids Volusia, AMIkids Orlando, AMIkids Tampa, AMIkids Manatee, AMIkids Miami Dade North, AMIkids Pinellas, and AMIkids Gadsden. The annual AMIkids Winter Challenge consists of numerous track and athletic events, as well as an academic quiz bowl, group challenge, Marlin Spike (knot tying), first aid, student speeches, creative writing and science fair. Each night, the youth were rewarded with winner’s medals and recognition. This event is part of AMIkids four annual challenge events we host throughout the year, offering a chance for our most promising students to engage in an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

ami field day

ecker pathway open houseEckerd Connects Pathways in St. Lucie County hosted an open house for its new Juvenile Justice Community Integrated Services program. There was a great turn out from the DJJ staff and local mental health providers. One youth participant expressed his gratitude for the services he receives and support for him and his family. We look forward to many more success stories as the Pathways program grows to impact the many at-risk youth in St. Lucie County.







jpo jimmy close jrRecently, Circuit 13 Unit 104 Juvenile Probation Officer Jimmy Close Jr. was the speaker for the youth day service at St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Plant City. Juvenile Probation Officer Close spoke about the importance of discipline and love, a message that was well-received by all.











contest winners and probation advisory teamCircuit 17 hosted a holiday decorating contest for staff to get into the festive spirit. SJPO Andrice Holley won the award for individual office decorations. Unit 108, which included JPOS Amber Goodwin and her team, created an “Elfie Land.” Honorable mentions went to JPO Shameka Dansby and Unit 107 for their participation.

The prize for the event was a pizza party for all the winners with a raffle for a $25 gift card at the party.



Residential Programs Compete in Basketball Match

youth playing basketballOrange Youth Academy and Orlando Intensive Youth Academy, both non-secure programs for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, played a game of basketball earlier this month against Kissimmee Youth Academy, a secure program for boys, which is operated by Youth Opportunity Investments. The youth were accompanied by Recreation Therapist Jamecia Whiteside and Staff Mentor Michael Oneal, with moral support from OYA Facility Administrator Carlos Harris and Director of Clinical Services Amanda Thomas. The youth had a great time competing against one another.  After a great game of basketball, the boys ate hamburgers and hotdogs. All youth exemplified good sportsmanship and great behavior. It was a pleasure watching the youth utilize their coping skills while playing a competitive sport. Both teams did well! The programs are hoping to compete against one another soon in a game of football!       



kissimee staffThe clinical team at Kissimmee Youth Academy recently hosted a yoga session at the program. The yoga session was led by certified yoga instructor, Robin Williams. Staff were engaged in a variety of yoga routines that consisted of many long stretches and lunges. Coupled with the stretches was the utilization of deep breathing techniques. Many stretch points were felt, and the group felt relaxed and a decrease of stress. Staff loved and enjoyed the yoga session and are looking forward to more sessions.




youth at microsoftThe clinical team at Kissimmee Youth Academy recently hosted a yoga session at the program. The yoga session was led by certified yoga instructor, Robin Williams. Staff were engaged in a variety of yoga routines that consisted of many long stretches and lunges. Coupled with the stretches was the utilization of deep breathing techniques. Many stretch points were felt, and the group felt relaxed and a decrease of stress. Staff loved and enjoyed the yoga session and are looking forward to more sessions.





youth at basketball gameFive youth from Brooksville Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, were invited to the Nature Coast Technical High School basketball tournament. The youth were able to watch three different games over the course of the tournament. In between games, the youth enjoyed snacks from the concession stand. The youth were picked by Lonnie White, who is the lab manager at Brooksville Academy and the Junior Varsity Girls basketball coach at Nature Coast High School. The youth were excited to be in the stands watching the games and cheering the players on!