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Secretary's Message

January 31, 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

The Governor’s Corner 

Thanks to our pro-growth policies, focus on job creation, and the work of Florida’s public servants, our state has made a great economic turnaround over the last three years. Recently, we unveiled our 2014-2015 “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.” This budget will continue to build on policies that keep Florida working and focus on giving money back to Florida families.

The “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” includes measures to give $500 million back to the hardworking taxpayers of Florida. This budget also rewards our hard working state employees by providing $167 million for performance bonuses.

In the four years before I took office, Florida lost more than 800,000 jobs, the unemployment rate rose to 11.1 percent, and state debt ballooned by $5.2 billion. Today, Florida’s unemployment rate is below the national average at 6.2 percent and we have created more than 462,000 private sector jobs since December 2010.

Florida’s economy is still growing. With the continued support of our public servants and with the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” we will keep working to make Florida the number one destination for opportunity in the world.

Community Conversation

This morning I was back on the road for a community conversation in Lake City at the Lake City Police Department. The meeting was well attended as we gave the residents of Columbia County the opportunity to let us know what resources and services are needed in their local community. This feedback input is vital to ensure that we provide the right services to each individual youth at the right time, so I truly enjoy and appreciate these opportunities.

 Legislative Update

The Florida Legislature will hold another committee week beginning Monday in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. On February 5, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will hear PCB CRJS-1401. This proposed committee bill is one of DJJ’s priority bills dealing with general revisions to the principle statues governing juvenile justice. Once again, Chairman Matt Gaetz has made this bill a priority of his committee and I would like to thank him and Representative Ray Pilon for his support and sponsorship of this important piece of legislation.

Probation Update

Last Friday, JPOS Cedric Pla, Reform Specialist Shirlon McCarty and JPOs Tiffany Patrick and Frank Grant, Jr. from circuit 15 participated in a career showcase at Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach. These staff members talked with high school students regarding the many career opportunities our agency has to offer. The showcase also exposed these students to career choices in many other fields as 62 other companies shared the platform with DJJ. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to CPO Gregory Starling for his collaboration in preparing the days’ event.

Last Saturday, Reform Specialist Tabitha Bush and Court Unit Coordinator Janice Charlassier manned the DJJ display at the Title One & Head Start Parents Resource Fair in Davie. Both Tabitha and Janice provided visitors to the DJJ Booth with valuable information about our Roadmap to System Excellence and our continuum of services. Guests of the resource fair rotated through various seminars on successful parenting and were entertained step-teams and a drum line all performed by local school children.

On Monday, Probation Staff from circuit 16, in cooperation with “Be the Change,” and the Monroe County Public Library held a Life Skills Seminar for high school students ages 15-19. The event hosted youth in our care as well as youth from Civil Citation, IDDS, Drug Court and Positive Peers. I would like to thank JPOS Geoff Peattie, Reform Specialist Elaine Thompson and JPOs Nancy Masry, Steve Meredith and Fred Vrgora for their help in putting on this wonderful event.

I would like to share the story of a young man named Tommy and his incredible journey that took him through the Henkel’s & McCoy Youth Program and Florida Youth Connections. It was passed along to me by Assistant Secretary Joan Wimmer. Tommy’s story shows us how so many of our youth are lacking the basic skills necessary to succeed in life and how just a little guidance can go a long way.

Tommy was a 20-year-old young man with an offender history and an incomplete high school education came to the Youth Connections Program with the primary goal of solidifying employment in order to become more self-sufficient, and a secondary goal to work toward his GED. Tommy worked diligently throughout enrollment in the program, attending all scheduled appointments and trainings/workshops, including Basic Skills training through workshops as well as 1:1 with Career Coach, and Work Readiness, including resume and cover letter development, interviewing techniques and practice, job search assistance, completing applications. He was eager to learn everything and intently took in all of the information offered to him. He wanted to further his employability skills and opted to complete the SafeStaff Food Handling Certification. Tommy worked very hard on his Basic Skills and while he did not raise his proficiency levels in basic skills during participation, he plans to continue coming to Basic Skills workshops while in follow-up, in order to complete his GED. He was a highly motivated youth and rapidly solidified employment from the trainings in Work Readiness and his SafeStaff Food Handler Certification. Tommy began employment through Luigino's Restaurant as a dishwasher with the potential of advancement.

If it had not been for the Henkels & McCoy Youth Program, Tommy would not be where he is at today. He has found a career that he can excel  in, and one that allows him to be self-sufficient.


Assistant CPO Johnny Alderman (left)  received the following email from a parent to whom he provided assistance regarding her son’s prior record:

“I want to thank you again for your quick response to me. Quite frankly, when I wrote the email to Ms. (Gladys) Negron, I wasn’t hopeful of getting a response. I had been banging into brick walls all other places and was starting to panic. Your kindness, professionalism, helpful information and words of encouragement were a real blessing to me, in the middle of my stress.

I too, have a job corresponding with the public involving State housing issues. This makes me all the more appreciative of someone who performs their job seriously, professionally and with a great personal touch.

Once again, thank you so very, very much!”

Last Saturday, circuit 17 probation team members participated in the Mt. Bethel Human Services annual “33311 Walk” at Joseph C. Carter Park in Ft. Lauderdale. The walk’s theme was entitled “Love Being a Girl,” which centered on inspiring teen girls to be their very best. Our agency staff assisted with food services, platform speakers and workshop presentations. Mt. Bethel has been a long time partner with our agency and is a staunch supporter of our Roadmap to Excellence.

Last Friday, the Broward County Project Bridge program from circuit 17 hosted an Open House at their South Florida office. Project Bridge is a transitional services program that helps our youth reintegrate back to their homes and is a very proud supporter of our agency’s mission and vision. The program gave their visitors an in-depth overview of their services and provided other stakeholders the opportunity to network with each other.

Last Saturday, JPO Nancy Masry from circuit 16 participated in a Key West Beautification Project hosted by A Positive Step of Monroe County. Under Nancy’s supervision, our youth painted the dumpsters of area businesses and received valuable community service hours for their hard work.

West Palm Beach Quarterly SAG Meeting

SAG members Judge Daniel Dawson and Lucas Boyce, Prevention Assistant Secretary Wanda Finnie and Deputy Manager Rhyna Jefferson and others listen as Secretary Wansley Walters speaks at the SAG meeting in West Palm Beach.

Last week, the State Advisory Group held its quarterly meeting in West Palm Beach. I was honored to provide the opening remarks to the SAG members in attendance. I took this opportunity to update the SAG on our priorities for the upcoming legislative session, specifically Chapter 985 revisions (SB 700), and the other important department initiatives.

After the meeting, SAG members visited Belle Glade Central High School and toured the local Boys and Girls Club, Belle Glade Teen Center and the Palm Beach County JAC. I would like to extend a special thanks to JDAI Monitor Brandon Hurbs and JDO Andre Kingdom who served as drivers for the SAG members and CPO Greg Starling who coordinated the SAG’s community tour to Belle Glade.

According to SAG member Chery Massaro, “It was delightful meeting Belle Glade High School staff and students who are obviously committed to provide positive activities and outcomes to all youth. The students we interacted with were wonderful and represent everything that is right with Belle Glade youth today. As a SAG member, it is our responsibility to maintain civility within their communities, allowing these youth to prosper in adulthood. SAG members must never forget Belle Glade, and work hard to provide every youth within the community an opportunity for success.”

SAG members visit Glades Central High School in Belle Glade during the SAG meeting in West Palm Beach.

Circuit Eight Advisory Board Meeting

The Circuit 8 Advisory Board meeting was held at the Alachua Regional Service Center in Alachua last Thursday and was hosted by probation and prevention staff. Circuit Advisory board meetings are conducted regularly throughout the state. The circuit 8 board is very proud of the progress they have made in recent months and they attribute that progress in large parts to the gracious work of Delinquency Prevention Specialist Becky Linn from the Office of Prevention. Becky will retire from the agency at the close of business today and was honored graciously with a reception during this board meeting. Congratulations, Becky!

Circuit Fourteen Family Engagement Training

Last Friday, Youth Engagement Coordinator Cici Battle and Statewide Reform Coordinator Kara Ahearn, provided training to probation officers from circuit 14 on family engagement in Panama City including Regional Director Jill Clemens and JPOSs Michelle McCaskill and Fred Womack. This training helps our officers to improve their interactions with families as an attempt to provide better support and services. By understanding the communication style of others, the probation officers will be better equipped to help the families of the youth we serve.   The training session was held at the Panama City Children’s Advocacy Center, one of our very supportive community partners. 

Prevention Update

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Marie Boswell and probation staff participated in the 5000 Role Model Program hosted by U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (FL-24) and the Miami Dade Juvenile Service Department Non-Violence Forum on January 19 at the Joseph Caleb Center in Miami. The Non-Violence Forum featured Charles “Roc” Dutton from the hit T.V. series “Roc” as the guest speaker. The panel consisted of  Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson; Betty Wright, international recording artist and victim advocate; victim advocate, Chanae Forshee; victim advocate, Queen Brown; Jomarie Payton from the T.V. series “Family Matters”—Erkel’s mother, and Candyce Haynes, professional speaker and author. The three victim advocates shared their stories on being parents/relatives of murdered children and spoke with the youth regarding making the right decisions.

On January 18, Marie Boswell attended the “My Life Matters” Peace Rally and Community Resource Fair at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Center. The resource fair, which was hosted by the City of Miami Gardens, was designed to educate the community on resources available through DJJ in addition to gaining information on programs and services offered in the community that can benefit the youth and families we serve. In addition, they recruited volunteers to help with the Department programs.

Last Friday, Delinquency Prevention Specialist Tina Levene received an award from Juvenile Delinquency and Dependency Court Judge Ralph Stoddard during the Juvenile Justice Board Meeting at the Hillsborough County Center in Tampa. In honor for her work to help the youth of Circuit 13, Tina received a plaque and Godiva chocolate gift certificate at the Board meeting. Judge Stoddard wrote to her: “I wish there had been time to have praised you more ... your dedication, attention to detail and leadership have been a huge contribution to our success. Not to mention you even found time to write an inspirational book.”

Juvenile Justice Academy Graduation

Congratulations to the following juvenile detention officers (JDOs) who graduated today in a ceremony at Hillsborough College in Tampa. JDOs supervise youth in state-operated regional juvenile detention centers (RJDCs) as they await an appearance before the court, or placement in a juvenile residential treatment facility. The graduates successfully completed 240 hours of training to become certified officers. They will work in the DJJ facility listed next to their name. Thanks to Jeffery Lonton, acting superintendent of Hillsborough RJDC, for delivering the graduation address. Kudos to Learning Consultant Kiva Hagans, who trained the officers for this position of critical responsibility.

Front row (left to right):  Shaneice Rhodes-Manatee RJDC, Laquanda Johnson-Manatee RJDC, Terika McDaniel-Manatee RJDC, Nathanial Culbertson-Manatee RJDC, Robin Cannon-Manatee RJDC

Back row:  Vada Wynter-Hillsborough RJDC, Servenot Servius-Manatee RJDC, Shane Ayala-Manatee RJDC, James Procopio-Manatee RJDC, Jason DeRee-Pasco RJDC, Robert Smith - Pasco RJDC, Marco Schirato- Pasco RJDC

Detention Update

On Monday, the Miami-Dade RJDC found itself with a small group of very troubled, educationally limited, mental health affected youth who required special programming in order for them to be successful.

In order to ensure their success for the day, Superintendent Darryl Wolf planned and implemented a special day filled with numerous activities that were rotated every few hours so that the youth did not lose interest in the activities, and our resident therapy dog, Justice, was summoned to greet the youth upon their waking up and was tasked to do his magic and stay with the youth all day.

Supervisors first started with choosing the right officer to provide the individual supervision, JDO Tekeika Taylor provided individual supervision as she exhibited the right amount of patience, compassion, empathy and understanding of each youth’s limitations and issues.

The day began with recreation and running, which assisted in reducing all their pent up energy by playing with Justice.  They ate lunch together, socialized together, played with Justice, who, by the way, never left their sides and laid with them which provided the much need attention they all craved.  Justice was there for them and he knew his job.  Justice performed as he always does by unconditionally loving them, listening to them without judging and being their friend and companion for the day.  He earned a great dinner and lots of treats.

Having Justice integrated fully into program and spending his time with the most troubled youth has created a distraction to the youth’s anxieties and negative thoughts.  Now they wake up and wait for their four-legged friend to kiss them good morning, run and play with them or just be by their side, providing the attention each child craves.  He is everyone’s friend and has the innate sense of when to give the love a child needs and deserves.

Two weeks ago, the Bay RJDC hosted a career week' which was coordinated and implemented by Bay District School Board member Anne Martin and Beth Mathis from the circuit advisory board. Throughout the week, speakers from the local community came into talk to our youth about their individual jobs and the pros and cons within each field. Representatives from the fields of construction, automotive and HVAC repair, the Coast Guard, Florida Wildlife Officers and the University of Florida Extension Office were on hand as well as several of our JPOs who explained to our youth about how their charges and impact their job prospects and which options are available to them. It was a learning opportunity for all and another excellent way our educational partners are assisting our youth in preparing for their futures!

Please join me in welcoming Fernando Crespo as the new Superintendent of the Hillsborough RJDC effective today. Fernando takes over for acting Superintendent Jeff Lonton who performed a fabulous job in the transition. Fernando comes to DJJ by way of the New Jersey State Juvenile Justice Commission where he spent his time working with delinquent youth. 

Residential Update

Last week, a select group of 15 young men from the Okaloosa Youth Academy, the Okaloosa Sex Offender Program, and the Crestview Sex Offender Program—which are operated by Gulf Coast Treatment Center—served at the annual Crestview High School Football Awards Banquet.  Another select group of six young men assisted with setting up for the annual event.

The 15 professionally-dressed young men were chosen to serve as waiters for the event based upon criteria to participate in off-campus activities.  Each of the youth must have completed social skills training and previously participated in community service projects, as well as having met their treatment plan goals.

The youth were trained by the program’s food service director in the delivery and serving of meals, drinks, etc.  They also were trained on how to properly iron dress clothes in preparation for the event.  Each young man looked professional dressed in white oxford shirts, black trousers and ties.

These young men were accompanied by six staff members, including Program Director Mike Currie, the assistant director, case managers, program support staff and youth care workers who provided supervision and assistance.

The group served drinks and three-course meals to approximately 400 guests.  This was all done in one hour and without a single spill!

All of the young men who participated in the event setup, meal staging and serving received rave reviews for their professional appearance, interaction and exceptional delivery.  Each participant received the benefit of community involvement, credit for community service hours, were able to see that hard work does pay off and they enjoyed the meal themselves once all of the attendees were served.

One youth from  the  Impact House (operated by Gateway Community Services) was chosen as the weekly “MVP” winner of the “City Streets 2 Student Athletes” competition sponsored by City Streets to Student Athletes, Inc. (CSSA).  Competitors include 175 northeast Florida youths, ages 8 to 18, with 10 Impact House youth included in the competition.

The weekly MVP award includes a visit with City of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.  The youth learned of his MVP award when a representative of the mayor’s office visited the young man on Jan. 15. 

Each selected competitor then participates in mentoring for academic improvement and an athletic training program every weekend at Plantation Park in St. Johns County.

Subsequent to the July daylong meeting with all DJJ residential providers that was reported on in an earlier letter, the Residential Services Leadership Team has been working with the program providers to develop action plans that identify the steps for each program to increase normalcy in the areas of (1) grooming, (2) clothing, (3) behavioral expectations of youth and staff, (4) the physical environments of the programs, and (5) “stuff” youth are required to do in the name of safety and security.  Each plan explains how the program will address the five components of normalcy (e.g., grooming, clothing, behavioral expectations, physical environments, and rules placed upon youth in the name of safety) and identifies the obstacles to attaining those goals.

DJJ utilizes a holistic, multi-faceted approach to system reform efforts; engendering normalcy in juvenile justice settings is an enhancement of the agency’s reform efforts.  Last week, I got to see first-hand how one private provider—G4S Youth Services, Inc.—is implementing its plans in Okeechobee County where the programs have initiated phase one of their normalcy plans.  Examples of those changes include issuing “street clothes” to youths instead of jumpsuits, teaching youths how to paint and personalize their living areas, and decorating each facility in a more homelike fashion.  The following are examples of some of the programs’ efforts to create normalcy for the youth in their care:

  • Overall paint schemes were changed from an institutional white to a three-tone scheme to soften the look.

  • Metal spider tables were painted to match the current paint colors.

  • Youth were issued 6-inch thick mattresses, comforter sets, rugs, and oversized pillows to add comfort to their individual rooms.

  • Motivational quotes, posters and large throw rugs were added.

  • New carpet was installed in the classrooms and additional posters were hung throughout the facility.

  • The Adams Honors Cottage now has cloth couches, loveseats, art work, large area rugs, and motivational quotes throughout.

  • For the youth at the Okeechobee Girls Academy, their involvement also included choosing the color and style of their new uniforms.

The programs toured last week included the Okeechobee Girls Academy (OGA); the co-located programs Okeechobee Youth Development Center (OYDC) / Okeechobee Youth Correctional Center (OYCC) / Okeechobee Youth Treatment Center (OYTC) / Okeechobee Intensive Halfway House (OIHWH) / Okeechobee Transition Center (OYCC-TC); and the co-located programs Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center (OJOCC) and OJOCC Sex Offender Program (SOP).

***To see more photos of the incredible esthetic transformation inside these facilities or, as I like to call it, “Extreme Makeover: DJJ Edition,” click here, or watch the slideshow featured below. ***

Bay Area Youth Services Annual Meeting

At the BAYS Annual Meeting in December Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and BAYS Board Chairman, took great pleasure in announcing JDAP Case Manager Dexter Battle as the 2013 Lawrence Siegel Employee of the Year! This annual award provides a special opportunity to honor an employee who embodies the agency core values: professionalism, responsibility, integrity, dedication, and enthusiasm. Dexter is an excellent representative of these values and a shining example of a compassionate professional who is making a difference in the lives of youth and families.

The outstanding work of our case managers is not always formally recognized, but in this case the parent of a young man Dexter served took the time to submit an Employee of the Month nomination for showing deep concern for her son’s future and helping him back on the right path. She praised the manner in which Dexter encouraged her son to improve in school, focus on goals, and for “showing him that he can be more than society sees in him.” She noted receiving positive calls from her son’s teachers and football coach regarding his improvements in the classroom and on the playing field, and credited Dexter for his positive achievements.

BAYS’s goal is to provide each youth and family served with the necessary services and support to help them improve their lives and achieve their goals. Dexter’s professional skills, dedication, compassion and enthusiasm have truly made a difference in the lives of clients he has served. In the words of the grateful mother who nominated Dexter for Employee of the Month, “I encourage Mr. Battle to stay in this line of work because he is an asset to your agency, to the community, the families of our youth, and single mothers raising young boys. We can use more men with his type of loyalty, commitment, compassion, and dedication to help change the lives of our youth today, especially the young men. The level of his professionalism has allowed him to be successful as a youth counselor.”

We applaud Dexter for his inspirational service to youth and are honored to bestow him the title of the third annual Lawrence Siegel Employee of the Year. Congratulations, Dexter!

BAYS brought in Gina Castaneda, a juvenile probation officer from Santa Cruz, California to address the annual meeting. Gina has received national recognition through the Casey Foundation JDAI Initiative and international recognition through ESPN. Gina was one of six women from around the world featured in an ESPN documentary series that aired during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The film, “The Save” intertwined Gina’s past and present to create a rich and compelling narrative of her mission to literally save lives with soccer.

Gina shared her personal story with our staff and spoke from the heart about how she works with high-risk youth to create change in behavior and hope in the future. When Gina says, “It’s not just a soccer team” she challenges us all to be more creative and compassionate in our work. Gina will be a keynote speaker at the FJJA Adolescent Conference, May 12-15 in Orlando.

Quality Improvement Update

The Bureau of Quality Improvement (QI)<http://www.djj.state.fl.us/partners/QI> conducts an annual review of each state-run and contracted provider program. This is a highly interactive process between the review team and the program, and the focus of these reviews is continuous improvement in services to children and operational processes. Upon completion of each QI review, the program has an opportunity to evaluate their overall QI review experience, including individual QI team members. The feedback DJJ receives ensures fairness and fidelity to the purpose of the review, and allows for the continuous improvement of the QI process. Recently, the QI team in Tampa conducted the annual review of Bartow Youth Academy a residential program located in Bartow. Program Director Adam Bazini offered the following comments:

“I felt this was one of the least stress inducing audits since I started working with DJJ in 2006. The team was helpful on their explanations and requests. The entire team maintained objectivity and provided clear information during the whole process. At this time I cannot think of any changes to the process, as the team was very professional and objective. They listened to my team without any negative responses. If there was something wrong or considered an exception, they explained why with an appropriate response.”

Thanks to the Tampa QI team and peer reviewers: Kent Rinehart, Scott Luciano, Glenn Garvey, Dave Bassler and Glenn Searles. Your conscientious commitment to helping programs improve is one example of DJJ’s reform efforts to make Florida a leader in the humane and effective administration of juvenile justice.