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Secretary's Message

May 31, 2013

Wansley WaltersDear DJJ team members:

Welcome to my weekly letter. I am pleased to share the following news and announcements.

SWFL ROADMAP TOUR: It was a whirlwind week as DJJ leadership traveled to Southwest Florida to present the Department’s Roadmap to System Excellence. Tuesday began with a radio interview with Byron Donalds of the Daybreak program on 92.5FM in Fort Myers. Donalds and I discussed the Roadmap and DJJ’s efforts to reform the juvenile justice system. You can listen to the full interview here. The morning concluded with an editorial board meeting at the Naples Daily News. I enjoyed sharing information about the transformations that are underway and I was pleased that the board seemed very interested and asked many questions.

RoadmapTuesday evening, we hosted the 12th Roadmap Town Hall meeting, which was held at the Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Community Center. I would like to thank Representative Heather Fitzenhagen for introducing me as well as Representative Kathleen Passidomo and Judge Jim Seals (retired) for not only taking the time to attend, but also speaking in favor of our reform. Among the critical topics discussed were the importance of gender-responsive programming, the tenure of judges, prosecutors, and defenders in juvenile courts, and the importance of education as it will be a key component in the rewrite of Chapter 985, Florida Statutes.  One of my favorite comments of the night came from Pat Barton who said that the Roadmap is the best plan she has seen in her 30 years of experience. It was a glowing recommendation and the sentiment was felt around the room.

StakeholdersWednesday began with a stakeholder meeting in Fort Myers, which drew attendees from across the region. It was great to see representation from State Attorney’s Offices, Public Defender’s Offices, Charlotte County Public Schools, as well as a number of law enforcement officials, youth advocates and DJJ employees. We covered a wide variety of topics, with an emphasis on local issues and stakeholders’ thoughts regarding the rewrite of Chapter 985. Support for the rewrite was unanimous and I am confident that we touched a number of people who will be involved in helping us as we move forward with that endeavor.

 

SWRJDCWednesday afternoon, I toured the Southwest Florida Regional Juvenile Detention Center, which serves Lee, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte Counties, and I was pleased to hear about the improvements that are planned for the facility. On the left, I have included a photo of a tranquil nature scene, which adorns the hallway leading to the youth mods. Currently, it’s the only one, but that won’t be the case for much longer. Superintendent Joseph Seeber and his team have devised a plan to rejuvenate the facility, which includes new paint and carpet and additional murals. We’ve heard such positive feedback from both the youth and staff at other facilities that have already made similar changes and I want to thank Superintendent Seeber and Captain Dennis Driscoll for giving me a tour and for taking the initiative to create an environment that is conducive to positive attitudes and behavior. I am already looking forward to our next visit and seeing the end result. Also, while I was at the facility, I sat down with Dr. Sandra Pavelka, chairwoman of the Lee County Juvenile Justice Council. Dr. Pavelka is supportive of the new circuit and board structure and the rewrite of Chapter 985, and I glad that she will be engaging in the conversations regarding these two very important topics.

 

OasisMy Southwest Florida tour concluded Wednesday at the Oasis Youth and Family Center in Fort Myers. Oasis, which receives CINS/FINS funding allocated is a Florida Network shelter that helps at-risk and troubled youth who are showing signs of potential delinquency but have not  made contact with the juvenile justice system. I met the youth who are currently in the facility and they were excited to entertain me by playing a spirited game of Dance Dance Revolution. I was impressed with the leadership of Oasis who shared how they help youth and their families to get on track, avoid getting in trouble and stay in school. One particularly touching story involved a young man who was able to raise his grades from failing to a ‘B’ average, which enables him to transition from the local alternative school to a traditional school next fall. This young man credits his success to the guidance he received at Oasis. I am very proud of him and the people at Oasis who helped him with this outstanding achievement.

 

As many of you know, the Florida Channel has covered a number of the Roadmap to System Excellence town hall meetings. I am happy to announce that this Sunday the Florida Channel will air a mini-marathon of the meetings beginning at 8am. Programming will begin with our very first town hall from Tallahassee back in November and will conclude with our most recent town hall in Fort Myers this past Tuesday. I would like to thank the Florida Channel for covering these groundbreaking events and helping us spread our message to a wider audience. The full schedule is listed below. Please check with your satellite or cable provider for channel listings, or watch them online by clicking here.

 

08:00 am

09:15 am

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from Tallahassee, November 15, 2012)

09:15 am

11:30 am

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from West Palm Beach, December 18, 2012)

11:30 am

01:00 pm

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from Fort Lauderdale, December 19, 2012)

01:00 pm

02:40 pm

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from Miami, December 20, 2012)

02:40 pm

04:45 pm

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from Jacksonville, February 27)

04:45 pm

06:00 pm

Department of Juvenile Justice "Roadmap to System Excellence" Town Hall Meeting
(from Ft. Myers, May 28)

Bill SigningLEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Yesterday, I was honored to stand alongside Governor Scott as he signed HB 1325 and HB 1327 into law at the Drug Free America Foundation in St. Petersburg. These two bills mark a major victory in Florida’s fight against human trafficking by allowing victims to petition the court to have human trafficking-related arrests and convictions expunged from their records. Governor Scott stated, “By signing these bills into law, we are continuing our commitment of protecting victims of abuse and making communities even safer.”  He went on to thank Florida’s dedicated law enforcement officers who work tirelessly to protect the residents of Florida. This legislation will give the victims of human trafficking a better chance at a brighter future. I would like to thank bill sponsors Darryl Rouson and Ross Spano for getting these measures passed.

 

Governor Scott also highlighted funding for DJJ in the Florida Families First 2013-2014 Budget. The Florida Legislature approved all of the DJJ Roadmap to System Excellence budget priorities, including $11 million for prevention and diversion services. It’s important to prevent children from ever entering the system, and I’m proud of the Florida’s Families First Budget and its investments in Florida’s youth.

CONGRATULATIONS: Kudos to the graduates from the Manatee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center who completed their training last Friday at the Juvenile Justice Academy at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus. The graduates, pictured below, completed over 196 hours of training to serve as a juvenile detention officer. I salute their dedication and commitment in helping our state’s youth.

Manatee Graduation 

 

Front row, left to right: Shalonte Wilson, Erica Clark, Vonshekka Dorsey, Assistant Superintendent Katanga Perkins, Sabrina Moss, Johanne Baxter. Back row left to right: Andrew Laird, Kent Bigham and Jenelle Burks.

PAR TRAINING UPDATE:  Last week, the Office of Staff Development and Training held the first of two Protective Action Response (PAR) master trainer workshops at the Florida Public Safety Institute. This workshop brought together the best of the best from probation, detention, residential and staff development with the mission to ensure the safety of young people and DJJ staff charged with their care. The participants addressed topics such as fidelity monitoring, potential policy changes and proposed enhancements to the system. The second workshop is scheduled for June in Tampa.  

PROBATION UPDATE: In Circuit 6, JPOs assisted an expectant father on probation by providing him with new baby items. The JPOs reached out to the community and were able to gather several items to help get his new family off to a promising start. I hope this act of generosity will help empower him to become a successful parent and a thriving member of the community. 

Members of Circuit 12 in Manatee County held a meeting last Tuesday with local stakeholders regarding civil citations. Civil Citation Coordinator Theda Roberts was in attendance. The program received rave reviews, and we anticipate Manatee County’s program to be up and running by the end of the summer.  

Foster WalkKudos to SJPO Jesus Sosa (pictured right) and JPO Valeree Clark (pictured left) from Circuit 13 who participated in the annual “Walk a Mile for a Child” event on May 18th. This event, sponsored by the Eckerd Youth Challenge in recognition of National Foster Care Month, is intended to ensure that all 3,200 children currently connected to the Hillsborough County Child Welfare System are recognized. Each walker starts out to accomplish the mile on their behalf.

 

PASCO SUCCESS STORY: Earlier this week, a letter came across my desk that I had to share. It was written by a young lady who spent time in the Pasco Juvenile Detention Facility and was sent to the officers and staff at that facility. It reads:

 

I am 18 years old and I have struggled with addiction for the majority of my life. I have committed crimes in my past that led me into different treatment facilities where I was forced to live my life sober. My life spiraled out of my own control until I was homeless with no personal possessions by the clothes on my back. Twelve step programs constantly talk about a “rock bottom;” the situation I previously described was my life at its worse. From experience, I can say when you finally hit bottom you honestly have nowhere else to go but up. When I was arrested at seventeen and I found myself sitting in a familiar police car on my way to the Pasco Juvenile Detention Center, I began to cry. To my surprise the crying was out of relief. Handcuffed in the back of that cop car was the safest I had felt in a long time. I was a week away from my eighteenth birthday and was facing serious charges. Honorable Judge Crane showed sympathy when he offered me one last opportunity to change my life. At that moment I decided I would not take my life for granted. True liberation accumulated inside of me as I knew I was lucky to be alive. My probation officer Ron Sermin, collectively all of the staff in the PJDC, and Ms. Patricia Wright my English teacher supported me every step of the way. Their relentless encouragement helped define in myself my own determination to succeed. The staff, teachers, supervisors, and the superintendent became my family. They allowed me to depend on them. A bond was created that assisted in changing my life. Today, I do not find myself as a criminal or drug addict despite the fact that any general background check would describe me as such. I am beginning my second semester at Brevard Community College. I want to help others and give back and have every intention of following through. I am bracing myself for my venture home. I aspire to become a substance abuse behavioral counselor and am working feverishly towards just that. I am confident in myself to succeed. Thank you so much to everyone in my juvenile detention center. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for caring for good, bad or indifferent and most of all thank each and every one of you for being exactly who you are. I would not have gotten where I am today without your help.

This powerful message shows the triumph of the human spirit and I wish this young lady all the success in her life. That said, what makes me shed a tear is the prideful exuberance I feel for everyone in our department who hears the call to help our young people. You are the reason that kids like this one have turned their lives around, and I thank you so much for your commitment and dedication.  

Have a wonderful weekend!

 

Wansley Walters

Secretary

 

PS: Please send any noteworthy or newsworthy items for consideration in my weekly letter to the Communications Office at News@djj.state.fl.us or call 850.921.5900. Submissions are considered on a space-available basis and may be edited for clarity and length. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

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