Welcome to the new DJJ Website!
Find out how to use the new site.

Secretary's Message

February 11, 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

Patrick Swartzendruber, JPO;  Robert Scott, JPOS-Trainer; Jake Watson, OPS JJO; and, CPO Chris MasseyCongratulations to Jake Watson and Patrick Swartzendruber, the newest members of the Circuit 8 Probation Protective Action Response (PAR) Class of 2020. They both successfully completed PAR verbal and physical intervention techniques and passed the PAR written exam. PAR is a set of verbal and physical interventions that staff use to manage interactions and de-escalate stressful situations and potential conflicts between youth or between staff and youth.




rachel riveraCongratulations to Rachel Rivera on being promoted to Administrative Assistant I. Ms. Rivera joined the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) in 2019 as a food service worker. Since then, Ms. Rivera has become very popular with kids due to her great tasting food. Ms. Rivera seized the opportunity to utilize her clerical and accounting background to apply for the vacant AA I position and was the chosen candidate. Ms. Rivera was promoted to her new position on January 31st.  Hillsborough RJDC is lucky to have Ms. Rivera and we wish her all the best in her new role!




Kudos to Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Lisa Cosenza who recently received a letter from a parent thanking her for being an inspiration to her son and for believing in him and giving him the strength to push through his circumstances. “We are thankful for Ms. Cosenza,” the letter read, “and would highly recommend her to any teen, along with the whole family  who needs to be affirmed and encouraged to succeed through the probation process.” Great job JPO Cosenza, your dedication to DJJ values and to helping Florida’s youth and families is greatly appreciated!




Probation Staff Join Human Trafficking Awareness Walk

human trafficking walkCircuit 7 Probation and the Freedom 7 Task Force joined for the awareness event "Light the Way, Walk with Me" on Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The Freedom 7 Task Force was formed approximately three years ago to help human trafficking victims in the circuit. The walk was attended by hundreds of participants from all agencies and communities throughout the circuit. The groups simultaneously walked across the Bridge of Lions (St. Johns County), International Speedway Bridge (East Volusia County), SR 100 Bridge (Flagler County), and East Palatka Bridge (Putnam County) in an effort to bring awareness to human trafficking. This year was the first time there were multiple walks held in Volusia County on the East and West sides of the county.  After the walk, the groups shared information and education about human trafficking with all interested participants.

Human trafficking, a multi-billion-dollar industry, may be a silent crime, but the statistics about human trafficking locally, statewide and nationally are deafening. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 20.9 million trafficking victims globally.  Florida ranks third among all states, including the District of Columbia, in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

January is recognized as "National Human Trafficking Awareness Month," but a local task force made up of dozens of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies is tackling the widespread issue yearlong.

ht walkht walk










staff wearing redFebruary is American Heart Month and February 7th was National Wear Red Day to raise awareness for women's heart health. Our Circuit 17 Probation Unit 103 team and others across the country wore red to spread the word that cardiovascular diseases are the # 1 killer of women.







human trafficking awareness tableBaker County, located in Circuit 8, recently held a human trafficking community awareness event. State Advisory Group member and Advocacy Specialist Alyssa Beck with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center served as a guest speaker.  Ms. Beck shared her own amazing story of survival from human trafficking, which included her assisting in the prosecution of her traffickers.  DJJ and Teen Court set up a presentation table with a variety of informational brochures regarding human trafficking to assist youth and families in identifying and preventing this horrific crime.  Educating our community is key to keeping our children safe. 










tricia alvarezTo celebrate Youth Success Day, Circuit 6 Pasco Probation Units 101 and 103 held an ice cream social. Four youth were presented with certificates for all of their accomplishments and compliance with the terms of their probation. At the event, Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Maria Ortiz and JPO Tricia Alvarez shared the success stories for each of the four youth.

maria ortiz









youth celebrationThis month, Circuit 6 Pinellas County Community Re-entry Team (CRT) celebrated a youth who has excelled in Project Bridge as well as in school.  The youth was released from her residential program in October.  Since then, she has had perfect school attendance, maintained honor roll, and is scheduled to graduate from high school this upcoming May. Additionally, she obtained employment at Subway and has begun the process to join the Air Force.  During the celebration, this young lady was presented a certificate, movie gift card, and backpack of goodies. The celebration concluded with everyone enjoying homemade cupcakes.  Special thanks goes to the Pinellas County School Board for providing the certificate, movie gift card and cupcakes.







Circuit 2 staff, along with our community partners, participated in an assembly at Rickards High School to address gun violence, with over 800 students in attendance. Many dynamic speakers including Kevin Warren (author and motivational speaker), Sterling Westberry (former gang member), Keshanda Romain (mother of a victim of gun violence), and Willie Simmons (FAMU head football coach) shared their experiences and challenged the students to make better choices. The assembly was broadcasted on WTXL News which brought awareness to the entire community and surrounding counties.  As a gang member, Sterling Westberry was sentenced in 1998 to life in prison, however; after more than 20 years, he was granted clemency in 2016 under President Obama. He was then able to pursue a productive life and give back to his community and help others to avoid similar consequences. 




c5 staffCircuit 5 Reform Specialist Ryan Dorenbush collaborated with several of our community partners to present a Bridging the G.A.A.P. discussion between the youth and law enforcement in Lake County. Topics included respect for others, differences between criminal and racial profiling, rules of engagement and police response, court procedures, “Know The Law,” and many more relevant topics. Together, we are strengthening partnerships in the community between youth and law enforcement to enhance positive relationships and bridge the gap between youth in the community and law enforcement. Thank you to Lake County Shared Services, Lake County Teen Court, BeFreeLake Prevention Services, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Leesburg Police Department, Clermont Police Department , Mount Dora Police Department, Dr. Isaac Deas, U.S. Representative Daniel Webster’s Office, and U.S. Representative Ross Spano’s Office for partnering with our staff on this event.



youth success lunch collageCircuit 16 recently held its annual “Youth Success Lunch”. During the course of the event, six youth were recognized for their accomplishments.  One youth submitted a poster and three stakeholders were recognized for their efforts in working with youth and the support they provide to DJJ. The team also took the opportunity to recognize Circuit 16 Employee of the Quarter, Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Paul Armstrong for being unwavering in his work with our youth and families. There were approximately 40 people in attendance to include representatives from Key West Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, our court partners, the State Attorney’s Office, the Guidance Care Center, Key Bridge, STEP, Guardian Ad Litem, Wesley House, and Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. We were excited to have the Honorable Chief Judge Mark Jones, State Attorney Dennis Ward, and Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg in attendance for the recognition of our youth. A big thank you to Secretary Specialist Michelle Whitehead for her hard work in helping put all the pieces together and to everyone for the great food.



timothy crutcerLast week, the Circuit 16 Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board met for its first 2020 quarterly meeting. During this meeting, Pastor Timothy Crutcher was nominated and voted in as chair of the Racial and Ethnic Disparity/Disproportionate Minority Contact (RED/DMC) Committee. The circuit is looking forward to new leadership bringing in new ideas and support addressing implicit bias and disparity.






ami kids with comissionerAMIkids Pinellas recently had the pleasure of hosting Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen M. Peters at the program. Commissioner Peters is a great supporter of the program and was visiting to discuss a transportation proposal that was brought before the commission to help kids across the county.











youth getting drivers licenseWhat may seem like small barriers to some can serve as nearly insurmountable barriers to others. Such was the case for Anthony, who started his day recently with a trip to the local driver’s license office to reach the milestone of attaining his driver’s license.

Unfortunately, Anthony learned that his vision was not clear enough to meet the driving standard. Anthony needed his driver’s license in order to transport himself and continue to work toward his employment goals; however, he wasn’t sure the next step to take. He reached out to his Project Bridge mentor team and right away the team jumped into action, assisting the youth in getting the eye care he needed and then assuring he was able to re-visit the office and leave with his driver’s license.

The importance of having a mentor that a youth can depend on in times of need may very well be the difference young men and women need.



Residential Staff Member Completes 5K for Charity

race residentialThis weekend, North East Region Commitment Manager Kristina Picone participated in the MeStrong 5k.  The race is organized by a local charitable foundation that benefits the Deland community. The group was founded by a group of local ladies in 2012, including Linda Ryan, who was fighting cancer at the time the group was formed.  Ms. Ryan has now beat cancer five times. Kristina walked in the 5K in honor of her friend’s mom, who lost her battle with cancer, and for several others that she knows that are currently battling the disease. There were approximately 6,000 people that registered with 4,467 people completing the race. Congratulations Kristina and everyone that participated on a job well done!



oak grove academy collageYouth from Oak Grove Academy, a non-secure program for boys  operated by Rite of Passage, were recognized for their part in assembling the Suwannee County Historical Museum. Over the past five months, young men from the program traveled each week to Live Oak to learn about the history of the area and to arrange the artifacts with the museum’s coordinator. Their efforts made up a large portion of over 1,400 hours of community service completed by Oak Grove last year. The tasks not only included moving large items and cleaning, but many students helped to pressure wash and build walls and parts of the museum displays. The staff of Oak Grove Academy were also thanked by the museum for their participation as the head of maintenance and several coach counselors contributed their time as well.  The museum recently celebrated its grand opening and it truly was a celebration shared by the students and staff of Oak Grove Academy, the museum’s board of directors, and the local officials of the Suwannee County. The youth will continue to work with the museum as needed and look forward to future projects with the Suwannee Community.




youth at fyjcTwo youth from Palm Beach Youth Academy, a secure program operated by Sequel, are now participants in the inaugural class of the Florida Youth Justice Commission’s (FYJC) Youth Advisory Council. The Florida Youth Justice Commission works to support the ongoing work of juvenile justice system improvement through the implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) strategies to scale throughout the state of Florida.

After an application and interview process, the young men were selected to participate in a 9-week training via video conference to learn how to be youth advocates. During this training, the young men completed homework assignments and actively participated in discussions about youth advocacy topics together with youth representatives from other Florida DJJ programs.  Their training culminated in a presentation in front of the Florida Youth Justice Commission via video conference where they shared their cause and answered questions. Each youth received a stipend for their participation in the FYJC Youth Advisory Council and had a personal bank account opened for them. We look forward to seeing how they effect change in future government policy for DJJ youth!



youth and staff from amikids at mcpgStaff and youth from the Melbourne Center for Personal Growth (MCPG) a non-secure program for boys operated by AMIkids, too part in the AMIkids Day at the Capitol. The group consisted of AMIkids Board Member Don Herndon, Executive Director Cedric Cliatt, two youth and a staff member from the program.

Youth from AMIkids around the state were at the Capitol asking lawmakers to support programs that help troubled youth. 

AMIkids MCPG Executive Director Cedric Cliatt accompanied the youth as they met with Brevard County officials, including State Senator Debbie Mayfield, Senator Tom Wright, and State Representatives Randy Fine and Tyler Sirois.


youth k.aYouth K.A. is a young man with a bright future. He is committed to Orange Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions. While he has made mistakes in his past, he has learned to overcome adversity.  K.A. received his GED and his SafeStaff® Certification. Recently, K.A. worked with the Transition Specialists Latoya May and Naquandra Brown in seeking employment as a way to help with his transition. They helped him fill out job applications, assisted with resume writing, dressing for success, and rehearsing interview questions. K.A. was called for an interview by McDonald’s and subsequently, was hired! We would would like to wish K.A. good luck in his new job and all his future endeavors!  











craft turkeyThe students of Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center did an excellent job during their December Discovery Project. Due to the students limited travel experiences and a limited global perspective of other lands and peoples, the annual discovery project serves as a vehicle of introduction to the students to other geographical areas, different traditions, and cultures. Previous themes that have been covered include the National Parks, the History of Florida, and famous inventors.  Through their involvement in this project, students collaborate  and create with each other and learn different ways/ techniques of presenting their finished projects.

The topic this year was “Christmas Around The World”. The students learn about diversity and learned about the way other cultures celebrate the holiday around the globe.  Thank you to South Region Education Coordinator Peter Keelan for helping to coordinate this project.


Prevention Staff Lead CAB Meetings

CAB meetingDJJ Prevention staff attended Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board meetings (CAB) in Circuits 11,15, and 17, led by Prevention Assistant Secretary  Alice Sims. The delegation in attendance included Operations & Training Director Yvonne Woodard, State & Federal Director Eugene Morris, Budget Administrator Brent Musgrove and Statewide CAB Coordinator Tina Levene.

At each stop on the tour, Assistant Secretary Sims thanked CAB members for their service to the youth and families in Florida. The circuit advisory boards and their members serve as community advisors to DJJ and work closely with Department staff to plan for services that meet the identified needs of juveniles and families within the local community.

The tour began on Jan. 8 when the group attended the Circuit 17 CAB meeting in Fort Lauderdale led by Chair Marsha Ellison. Topics of discussion at this meeting included school and local community initiatives. On Jan. 9, the delegation visited the Circuit 11 CAB meeting in Miami under the leadership of CAB Chair Rick Beasley. Presentations were provided by Wayne Rawlins with the Juvenile Services Department Anti-Violence initiative, Dr. Etioni Aldorondo with the Melissa Institute, and Reverend Charles Dinkins from the Hosanna Community Foundation.

The final CAB stop was at the Circuit 15 meeting, also on January 9. That meeting was led by Co-Chairs Megan Eaton and Cassandra Burney. Presentations were given by Mary Claire Mucenic, director of Behavioral and Mental Health of Schools, and Deacon Gregory Quinn with the Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach.




Delinquency Prevention Specialist in Circuits 6, 10, and 13 Audrey “Pat” McGhee recently conducted a site visit at the Choices Program, a DJJ prevention program located at the Frank Pierce Recreational Center in St. Petersburg to observe these prevention services in action. The program provides services at two locations, Frank Pierce and Child’s Park Recreational and Park Center. 

The program serves youth, ages from 5 to 17, with a total of 25 youth being served at each center. These services include tutorial, social skills, parent meetings on conduct and academics, alterative to behavioral skills, and employability skills. The program operates weekly and also hosts guest speakers from local law enforcement agencies and the Pinellas Technical College.

The program is a great asset to the community because it empowers and impacts the lives of the children.  The youth come to the program with their homework in hand and an excitement to learn. The parents are very supportive of this program which makes it such a success. 

site visit




super bowlPalm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center celebrated its 2nd Annual Super Bowl Party for the youth. This year, Super Bowl LVI was a hit, and there were 32 level three youth in attendance. The youth had a blast and watched the game with pride in earning their level.  This year, the party was spearheaded by B Shift Supervisor Sergeant Dennis Brown. The youth also competed in a trivia competition by mod. The youth who did not attend were able to also partake in pizza and watched the game on the unit.






vision boardsFemale youth at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center continued to put together their vision boards. Justice Detention Officer Ester Pierre works to find ways to keep the youth engaged while at the center. The vision boards were an interesting and different project, and all of the youth who participated said that their futures look bright!








st lucie detention birthdaySt. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center along with the St. Lucie County School Board recently celebrated four January birthdays.

St. Lucie School Counselor Lilia Farmanara coordinated the event, and the birthday cake was donated by the center’s education department.








collier guest speakerThe Collier Regional Juvenile Detention Center welcomed guest-speaker Tre Boston of the Carolina Panthers.  Tre Boston, who plays the safety position for his football team in the National Football League, shared many inspirational stories with the youth. Tre Boston also shared his memories from his Super Bowl experience in 2016.  The youth enjoyed the stories of his life and are inspired to leave detention and focus on their dreams.  This was a wonderful experience for the youth. Each one was engaged and even received an autograph that they can take home to remember Mr. Boston’s message and experience.