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Secretary's Message

January 24, 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

Out and About

This week I have been traveling the state hosting community conversations and visiting some of our wonderful programs. On Tuesday, I spent time in the South Region and met with the Regional Superintendents and facility staff as well as visiting with Justice and Oliver our resident pet therapy dogs at the Miami-Dade RJDC and Southwest RJDC, respectively. This week marked the one year anniversary of our pet therapy program, and I am elated at the positive energy that these dogs are bringing to the children in our care.

Bottom row left to right: Joe Seeber, Broward RJDC, Daryl Wolf, Miami RJDC, Dr. Gladys Negron, South Director Detention Services, Lawanna Tynes, Collier, RJDC, me,  Vincent Vurro, Monroe RJDC. 2nd row: Douglas Kane, Palm Beach RJDC, Banika Randall: OMCM Manager Regional personnel, Jorge Guerra, Chief, South Region, Patricia Head, Regional Nursing Consultant, South Region, Michelle Brandon, GOCII South Regional Training Coordinator, Kevin Housel, St. Lucie RJDC, Dr. Leslie Swanson, South Regional Consultant Mental Health Services,  Genise Lamar, GAII,  Dennis Driscoll, SW RJDC.

On Wednesday, I hosted a press conference with officials from the Department of Children and Families and Department of Health in West Palm Beach to raise awareness in observance of Human Trafficking Awareness Month and update the public on the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking in Florida. At this event, I shared the results of the multi-county pilot project which implemented a screening tool to identify victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children immediately upon arrest. I am excited to share that our pilot was a success identifying victims that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. It is my hope that in the coming weeks and months I will be able to share even more successes with you.

Next, I was honored to make a visit to Circuit 19 to participate in three distinct community conversations. These conversations gave me the opportunity to listen to the concerns of local residents and discuss what resources and services are needed in their communities. Thank you to the Circuit 19 probation staff for their work in scheduling the conversations and encouraging community members to attend. I especially want to thank Chief Probation Officer Wydee’a Wilson for going above and beyond to make these meetings a success.

The conversations, which have taken place all over the state, have been a valuable tool in shaping our reform efforts.  The Community Conversations this week were in St. Lucie County on Wednesday followed by Okeechobee County on Thursday and Indian River County this morning. Another special thank you, this time to Indian River County Sherriff Deryl Loar for being such a gracious host.

I had such a wonderful time visiting several DJJ programs on Thursday. Jim Hill and his team from G4S were excellent hosts and tour guides. The girls at Okeechobee Girls Academy participate in the Homebuilders Institute and made me these adorable gifts. They are going to personalize the butterfly with their favorite inspirational saying and sign their names on the back. Also while visiting, three girls performed songs and one recited a poem about how the program has helped her thrive. It is always exciting to visit these programs and see the impact they make on the youth.

WaveCREST staff also were very gracious hosts for our visit there in the afternoon. Thank you to Kristi Walsh for her hospitality. Another program working hard to change lives.

Pictured left to right: Kristi Walsh, (Program Supervisor), myself, Kelly Barnett (Residential Supervisor) and Matthew Anderson (Program Director). 

Legislative Update

Over the past year, I have been updating you on our proposed Chapter 985 revisions which will enable DJJ to move forward on additional reforms and ensure that our youth are receiving the right combination of services and sanctions, in the right place, at the right time as we keep the public safe. On Wednesday, those proposed revisions were given a name and a face in the Florida Legislature as Senator Robert Bradley (R-Orange Park) sponsored and filed Senate Bill 700. On behalf of our entire agency, I would like to thank Senator Bradley for his hard work and dedication to make our reform efforts a reality.

Prevention Update

Last Tuesday, Delinquency Prevention Specialist Tina Levene coordinated a Gospel Doo-Wop concert for 43 of our youth conducted by national recording artist Walter Santos at the Hillsborough West Detention Center in Tampa. As a professional percussionist, Santos has played with the "Who's Who" in the world of modern jazz and rock music. Now he sings and plays for the only "Whom" that matters: Jesus Christ. Santos got his first break in the music business by playing percussion at Carnegie Hall on the same bill as the legendary jazz group "The Jazz Crusaders" and George Benson. He later played with other renowned jazz musicians, including Weather Report, Wayne Shorter, Charles Earland, Stanley Turrentine, and Les McCann and many others. Despite his success, Walter had a terrible secret that was destroying his life -- he was addicted to drugs, a habit that nearly had him sentenced to life imprisonment. Then finally Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Icon Dion Dimucci of Dion and The Belmont's showed him the way home to Jesus Christ. Now he tours the world constantly sharing the good news that has truly set him free.

Government Operations Consultant Erika Gaeta (right) and Elizabeth Lesiak from the Office of Research and Planning volunteered with the American Red Cross in Tallahassee on Monday to speak with children and families on the importance of fire safety and prevention. In order to promote fire prevention health and safety for children and adults, Erika and Elizabeth distributed pamphlets and information on fire safety and prevention. They also held an impromptu fire safety lesson for children in the neighborhood.


Federal Grants Coordinator Juliet Westmoreland volunteered at Gilchrist Elementary School in Tallahassee last Thursday celebrating Literacy Week. To promote reading and literacy, Juliet read to kindergarten students about Tu B’ Shevat, the Jewish celebration of the “New Year of the Trees.”  The celebration occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which is January 15 this year. The “New Year of The Trees” is celebrated as an ecological awareness day and trees are planted in celebration.

Last Friday in Tallahassee, DMC Specialist Craig Swain and Federal Grants Coordinator Juliet Westmoreland recruited new youth and adult members for the State Advisory Group. The SAG is composed of individuals appointed by the Governor who are experienced and dedicated to the prevention of juvenile delinquency throughout the state of Florida. In order to continue maintaining compliance with Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002, recruitment is periodically conducted.

Detention Update

Last Saturday, The Leon RJDC in Tallahassee welcomed two very special guests: Heather People from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and Dale White from The Living Harvest. Both Heather and Dale shared information on drunk driving with our youth and left quite an impression. Their goals were to encourage the youth to not drive while drinking, and as important, don’t enter a car with someone else who has been drinking. They also encouraged youth to help save a life by just taking the keys from an intoxicated driver and call for another means of transportation for themselves and their friend.

I would like to thank JDO Holley Pryor from Escambia RJDC for coordinating a sponsorship drive to help one unique foster child have a Merry Christmas. Holley collected money and put up signs around the facility. The staff at Escambia responded by donating $280 which was enough to buy nearly everything on the child’s Christmas list. The foster child was overwhelmed by all of the presents he received and sent a sweet thank you card to facility staff.

Probation Update

On Wednesday, Reform Specialist Lut Clarcq from Circuit 20 attended the Parenting, Family Culture and Addicted Youth Conference presented by Joseph Lee, M.D. at Hodges University. The conference focused on critical issues families face when a child has addiction and/or mental health issues and how clinicians work with parents in establishing a culture of leadership within their homes.

Each week, Circuit 19 Public Defender Diamond Litty produces a 30 minute television program entitled “Legal Affairs,” that runs on WLX-TV in the Treasure Coast. This week’s show featured Statewide Civil Citation Coordinator Theda Roberts and Circuit 19 Reform Specialist Michelle Simpson. Theda and Michelle discussed the merits of Civil Citation as well as our Roadmap to System Excellence. To watch the interview in its entirety, click here.

On January 11, Circuit 9 Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson attended the third annual Empowering Our Daughters against Human Trafficking Workshop. This workshop provided information to young girls and their families about human trafficking. Guest speakers included a teenage survivor of human trafficking, Sergeant Patrick Gukiam of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation Ninth Judicial Circuit, and Registered Nurse Wendy Joseph. 

Last Friday, members from the Circuit 14 probation offices and the Jackson County Sheriff Office hosted a blood donation drive with the OneBlood organization from Marianna. SJPO April Cannon organized the project which was held in the parking lot at the DJJ Probation office. This local event helped blood banks in the area replenish their much needed supply. 

On December 13, JPO Regina Johnson and Assistant Pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church and Church of God donated gifts for the Betty Griffin House’s annual Children’s Christmas party. Regina was the Children’s Director for the shelter before beginning her role with DJJ, and her church has donated gifts to the shelter for the past 21 years.

Panama City’s AMIKids Day Treatment Program participated in a county wide food drive entitled “United We Can,” on December 12. This food drive gave the youth in our care the opportunity to earn valuable community service hours by sorting food and delivering it to the various local food banks. 

JPOs Kathy Cason and Pierre Conner from Circuit 6 participated in St. Petersburg’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade on Monday. Kathy is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Pierre is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Both groups sponsored their youth organizations in the Annual MLK Celebratory Parade. 

Last Friday, Circuit 6 CPO Adrienne Conwell attended the Pinellas County School Resource Officer (SRO) meeting. This meeting was designed to enhance relationships to help better understand the roles of SROs as they interact with the school board. Among the topics discussed at this meeting were reducing school arrests, safety on campus, drug trends, search & seizure, and bullying.  

On January 14, Circuit 6 probation staff attended WEDU’s presentation of the documentary “Too Close to Home,” in support of Human Trafficking Month. This alarming film features the Tampa Bay area which is a growing hot bed for human trafficking. Following the broadcast was a panel discussion with local advocates in the human trafficking services provider community.

Last Saturday, JPOs Antonio Henry, Julia Rogers, Jonathan Darby, Nakeshia Pelham and Reform Specialist Tracy Olson from Circuit 18 participated in the “Get in the Game: From the Court to a Career,” event sponsored by Workforce of Central Florida and the Orlando Chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. This unique opportunity was for local youth 16-21 who may be considered “at-risk” or have experienced barriers to success and to learn valuable lessons expanding far beyond the sport of basketball. These young adults gained on the court skills directly from NBA greats but more importantly they learned how these skills can be translated into future success in life.

Residential Update

This week was the kickoff for the “AMIkids 2014 Winter Challenge Event,” an annual academic quiz bowl that is held at the Word of Life Conference Center in Hudson, FL.  The Winter Challenge hosted 12 teams from Florida, South Carolina and Texas, accounting for more than 100 young minds competing against each other.  Among the 12 teams were eight students from the Melbourne Center for Personal Growth and eight students from the Youth Environmental Services program—both moderate-risk residential programs for males that are located in the Central Region.

Participants in the Winter Challenge displayed science fair projects and defended their theories.  One of those science fair projects is shown here (left).

 The students also competed in a written spelling bee.

Those who won the written competition then competed in the final round of the spelling bee by standing in front of the audience and spelling the challenge words aloud.  In addition, there were six finalists in the speech contest and the first youth to voluntarily present his speech first was a resident of the Melbourne Center for Personal Growth.

SkillPro Update

The SkillPro learning management system is proceeding on schedule for release on January 27! Please visit the SkillPro webpage to view two short video tutorials that will help you prepare to use the system: “Logging In for the First Time” and “Orientation.” It will not be necessary for most users to watch the “How to Add a New User” video, which is intended for training coordinators.

Upon system rollout there will be an abbreviated course list available to users. The SkillPro Team has prioritized the release of courses that are needed by DJJ direct-care staff. Therefore, Phase I pre-academy courses for probation and detention officers, and new employee and mandatory annual training courses will be available on SkillPro when the system goes live.

Although not all of the courses that were in the CORE system will be available, we will continue to add courses to SkillPro over the next few months. All mandatory courses will be available in plenty of time for users to meet the deadline for annual online training on December 31, 2014. Please check with your supervisor or training coordinator for your specific training and certification deadlines.

As always, if you have any questions, please send them to SkillPro@djj.state.fl.us.