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Roadmap to System Excellence endorsed by the Tallahassee Democrat

Nov 19, 2012


We are pleased to announce that the Tallahassee Democrat endorsed our Roadmap to System Excellence in an editorial published Sunday. This is a great start to our roll out of the Roadmap as we travel around the state to meet with employees, stakeholders, citizens and the media. The next Roadmap Town Hall meeting is in Gainesville on Tuesday, Nov. 27 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Santa Fe College.


Tallahassee Democrat editorial: Juvenile justice 'Roadmap' leads to a new way of dealing with children

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012

The state Department of Juvenile Justice’s new Roadmap to System Excellence is indeed an exercise in common sense. The Roadmap, which was discussed Thursday in Tallahassee in the first of a series of town hall meetings to hear from citizens and stakeholders, has the lofty goal of making Florida a leader in juvenile justice.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, is perfectly suited to lead this initiative.

When she was the director of juvenile services in Miami-Dade County, she recognized the absurdity of sending children who are first-time or nonviolent offenders to what she calls the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system — that being handcuffs, court and detention. She pushed a program of issuing civil citations in Miami-Dade, and the success was such that the concept has expanded to nonviolent adult offenders. Indeed, Leon County is now part of a pilot program involving adults and civil citation, with State Attorney Willie Meggs, Sheriff Larry Campbell and Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones all on board.

With the Roadmap to System Excellence, Ms. Walters is pushing to make this different way of dealing with at-risk youth the core of DJJ’s culture.

Ms. Walters talked of three kinds of youths who might cross paths with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

There are the violent children, the sociopaths, and she assures us that DJJ is well-equipped to handle such children and keep us safe from them.

The second group is children with “issues.” These are children who might have suffered abuse, or who have mental illness or substance-abuse problems. The tough job here is gauging the risk and finding the right help for these children, whom Ms. Walters said do much better being served at home or in the school system.

A third group is children who have done something stupid, such as shoplifting. “These are children who need very, very little in the resource department,” she said. Usually, getting the parents involved is enough, though Ms. Walters recognizes that more support is needed when the child comes from a dysfunctional family.

The bottom line is that the DJJ would be an “advocate” for a child rather than the state agency set up to punish and detain a child.

The Roadmap sets specific goals in key areas, including keeping youth from entering the juvenile justice system (which can mean getting the right services to youths before problems escalate), diverting them from the system (through means such as civil citations), utilizing detention only when it’s necessary and redesigning existing resources.

To reach these goals, DJJ plans to retrain staff, keep data to monitor progress, and keep a close watch on how DJJ spends its money. There also may be a need for legislation, for example to redefine the role of juvenile justice boards and councils, which work at the local level to make sure services meet the needs of juveniles and their families.

But there’s one more important step in this initiative, and that is getting buy-in from law enforcement and the community at large. All the goals in the world won’t work if a child who acts up in school is taken away in handcuffs and tossed into the maw of the court system.

Not only is detention bad for children, but it also is expensive. Ms. Walters jokes that the state could keep an offender in a hotel, with room service, cheaper than it can house a delinquent juvenile.

“We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy children’s lives,” Ms. Walters said.

The Roadmap will require that communities feel they own the system, that public defenders and state attorneys work together, that police reach out to partners and that communities take pride in keeping children out of the system.

The Roadmap to System Excellence is a bold plan, and Ms. Walters finds it hard to contain her enthusiasm.

“We could literally be the first place in the world that pulls it off,” she said.

Then again, it’s simply common sense