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Secretary's Message

January 17, 2014

Secretary Walters’ Weekly Letter

I am so proud to share every week the great work occurring here at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our colleagues, both DJJ employees and those who work for our contractors, and the youth in our care. I am always looking for opportunities to showcase the work you do – on and off the clock – to enrich your 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 (submissions after that time will be considered for the next week’s letter).


Wansley Walters

Juvenile Delinquency Continues Declines

 On Wednesday, Governor Scott announced that youth arrests in Florida have dropped 23 percent in the last fiscal year – the lowest rate in thirty years. Key indicators used to measure public safety and juvenile delinquency show that Florida had drastic reductions in nearly every juvenile offense category, including major offenses. 

As many of you know, the state invested nearly an additional $11 million toward preventing juvenile delinquency, and these numbers are proof that we’re making the right reforms to keep our communities safe and our youth on the path to successful adulthood.

These numbers show that the good work being done here at DJJ is bearing the fruits of your hard labor. As I mentioned to the Senate Justice Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, we are a lean, mean machine that has overcome many budget and program cuts. We have not only maintained our reform efforts but increased them, and this report shows that.

Deterring youth from the juvenile justice system not only saves taxpayer dollars, it affords our state’s youth more opportunities to chase their dreams and when our state’s children succeed, we all reap the benefits. I would like to thank each and every one of you for making these crime decreases a reality.  Please click here for Governor Scott’s press release.

FJJA Presentation

On Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Christy Daly, Assistant Secretaries Wanda Finnie, Laura Moneyham, Julia Strange, Joan Wimmer, Director of Education Julie Orange, Director of Program Accountability Amy Johnson and I each addressed the Florida Juvenile Justice Association (FJJA) Board of Directors’ Meeting to give an update on progress and accomplishments of the DJJ program areas. I also shared with them the exciting news about the dramatic declines in juvenile delinquency this past year and thanked them for their contributions in leading Florida’s youth towards the path of success.

Legislative Update

The Florida Legislature gathered this week for another committee session and it was a very busy time for our agency at the Florida Capitol. On Monday, Legislative Affairs Director Jon Menendez and Assistant LAD Marcus Smith attended the Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting to discuss Senate Bills 526 and 528 dealing with sexual offenses. The next day, DJJ Human Trafficking Coordinator and Gubernatorial Fellow Courtney McCowen gave an overview presentation  to the House Healthy Families Subcommittee to inform them on DJJ’s efforts to assess and combat human trafficking. In the same committee, Assistant Secretary for Probation Joan Wimmer gave a joint presentation with DCF on collaboration between the two agencies on crossover youth (youth that are part of or at risk of being a part of both the dependency and delinquency systems.) 

On Wednesday, I was honored to present the Senate Justice Appropriations Committee with an operational update on our residential contracting. Fred Schuknecht, Director of Administration, also updated the committee on the issue of detention costs shared by the state and Florida’s counties.


Service Delivery Improvement Update

The shared services project is steadily advancing and a lot of great work is being done by the various workgroups. If you are wondering how the implementation of shared services will impact the Department, have questions about what the workgroups are working on, or just want to get a good overview about the general initiative, go visit the newly updated Service Delivery Improvement website: http://www.djj.state.fl.us/roadmap-to-system-excellence/service-delivery-improvement.

Probation Update

Circuit 12 JPOs Adam Wiegand and Roy Dorman conducted numerous activities during the holiday season to support the on-going Pro-Social Mentoring program for the youth in our care. The Pro-Social Mentoring Program provides activities that correlate to identified risk domains in the PACT assessment tool. These activities enhance protective factors and contribute to a child’s positive development.

The youth participated in a variety of activities including community service projects in and around Manatee County, an educational hiking trip thru Myakka River State Park, fishing along the Skyway Fishing Pier, and aiding with the clean-up of litter and graffiti that have a negative impact on our communities. They contributed over 220 community service hours and earned a new respect for their community.

The partnership with community agencies has opened doors for youth to work with local Law Enforcement Officers and several agencies which has created the opportunity to build trust and mutual respect.

We would like to express our gratitude to the following agencies that without their partnership projects our Pro-Social Mentoring Program would not be possible: Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Keep Manatee Beautiful Program and the Florida Parks Service. 

Last Friday, Reform Specialist Tracy Olson went above and beyond for a pregnant youth in her care from Lake Academy. This youth needed a release after an emergency C-Section. Tracy received permission for the release from the state attorney’s office, but couldn’t find a judge to sign the paperwork. After several attempts, Tracy was finally able to get the delinquency judge on the phone and in turn was invited to the judge’s house after hours to get the paperwork signed. Once all of the documents were signed, the program was notified and the girl’s mother went and picked up her daughter and her new granddaughter.  Tracy’s diligence and follow-thru prevented the young mother from being separated from her new baby, and she is being given a chance to appropriately bond with her new infant.

During the holidays, Circuit 1 probation officers assisted with a number of food and toy drives. The youth in our care received the opportunity to donate toys or canned food items in lieu of community service hours. The items collected in the Milton office were donated to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots annual campaign and the food pantry at the Pace Assembly of God Church. The Crestview office collected 550 pounds of food for the Bay Area Food Bank. 

Last Saturday, JPOs Gregory Wade, Pierre Conner and Yvette Carethers from Circuit 6 supervised four youth as they participated in the Gulfport Neighbors community project. This experience gave the youth valuable community service hours, while enabling these officers to build rapport with the youth. 

Last Wednesday, North Regional Director Jill Clemens attended the organizational meeting of the new Circuit 14 Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. The new board, which will address juvenile issues in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties;  established committees to oversee new bylaws, set priorities and organized activities for Youth Success Week in April.  This first organizational meeting was well attended with more than 35 people in attendance. Special thanks to the City of Panama City and Economic Development Director Michael Johnson for coordinating the meeting space and accommodations. 

I would like to welcome Derreck Wellington to the JDAI team in Circuit 17. Derreck holds a Master’s in Criminal Justice from Grambling State University. Before starting his new position with DJJ he worked at the Swanson Center for Youth as a Juvenile Justice Specialist, providing community supervision for probationers and parolees in the housing developments of New Orleans.

Residential Update

Okaloosa Youth Academy, which includes the Okaloosa Sex Offender Program and the Crestview Sex Offender Program, held its annual youth dormitory decoration contest.  Each youth dormitory was provided a set of supplies and given time to decorate their dorms for Christmas.  The youth quickly became engaged and their creativity took over. The staff became equally involved and a friendly competition ensued.  The end result was amazing!  The youth were rewarded for their participation with a steak and potato dinner grilled on-site by the assistant director.  It generated great enthusiasm and a festive atmosphere for the holidays.

Program Monitor Melissa Johnson, Central Region, assisted in facilitating the daylong Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) Training on Friday, Jan. 10.  The CSEC training was planned in conjunction with Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  The 13th Judicial Circuit-Administrative Office of the Court’s—Children’s Advocacy Center, Mary Lee's House, and the Tampa Bay Rescue and Restore Coalition joined together to provide this three-part training series, educating professionals and community members about this form of modern-day slavery.  Approximately 140 people attended the training, including several DJJ staff members: JPO Supervisors Linda Leslie, Yvonne Ortiz, Philipa Robertson and Juvenile Probation Officers Lesa Regan, Quianda Fields, Kimberly Dandeneau, Janet Schnering and Katie Mabe.

Shown above are facilitators (L-R):  Renee Ristow, Giselle Rodriguez, Andrea Thompson, Kathy Arnold, Heather Mackin, Shannon Martucci, Robin Latimer and Melissa Johnson.

Detention Update

Officer Terressa Crews, a twenty-two year veteran of the Orange RJDC, lost her battle with a terminal illness on December 26. Terressa touched so many people with her hard work ethic and consistent personality. She was admired, respected and loved by the staff as well as the youth in her care.  She was driven and dedicated to her job which she carried out with such perfection. Terressa was laid to rest on New Year’s Day to a standing room only congregation with many members from her DJJ family in Circuit 9 in attendance. January 9 marked what would have been Terressa’s 49th birthday. Accordingly, the supervisors and staff at Orange RJDC released balloons from the facility in a touching tribute which you can see here. On behalf of the entire agency, I would like to extend my condolences to Terressa’s entire family in this time of loss. 

Marion Regional Detention Center’s hydroponic garden is providing home grown, nutritional vegetables and herbs to be incorporated into the youth’s daily meals.

The gardens springing up all over the state are part of detention reforms and the expansion of the trauma-informed environments at our facilities. Youth participate in planting, caring for and cultivating the gardens. This stress-relieving activity not only gives them the opportunity to get their hands dirty, but also provides life skills training and teaches the importance of nutrition and well-balanced meals.   

Prevention Update

On Tuesday, Special Projects Administrator Eugene Morris stopped by the Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts in Tallahassee to donate pencils, pens and other school supplies. In order to help maintain the high expectations of achievement at Apalachee and to promote the importance of education, lifelong learning and to assist students to reach the highest academic and social standards, Eugene donated school supplies that will be used to increase student performance.

On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary Wanda Finnie and Special Projects Administrator Eugene Morris attended “A Celebration of the Dream,” a tribute to observe the actual birthday of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee. This celebration featured a speech by Earle Lee, Director of the Boys Choir of Tallahassee. It was sponsored by Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor and the MLK Foundation of Florida.


Quality Improvement Update

The Bureau of Quality Improvement conducts annual reviews of Department of Juvenile Justice and/or contracted provider programs based on established minimum thresholds for each program component.  Upon completion of each QI review, the program is provided an opportunity to evaluate their overall QI review experience, to include evaluating each QI team member.

Recently, the Bureau of Quality Improvement, Area One team (Tallahassee) conducted the annual review of Bay Regional Juvenile Detention Center program located in Panama City. Below is an email from the Superintendent, Heather Hart sent to Area One, Program Administrator Dave Cornuet:

“I wanted to extend our gratitude for yet another very positive Quality Improvement experience.  The entire team was very professional and truly personified the mission of helping us improve service delivery for our youth.  The process continues to evolve and the individuals that participated were dedicated to recognizing our exceptional practices, but also offering honest feedback and real solutions in the areas that needed improvement.


I joked about the stress that is associated with any review process, but I can say without hesitation it was a pleasure to have your team at our facility this week!”

Members of the review team included, Dave Cornuet, Barbara Campbell, Bruce Morton, Cody Wood, Juan Youman and Davenor Brown.