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Secretary's Message

September 14, 2012

Wansley Walters

Dear DJJ team members:


Welcome to my weekly letter. Please allow me to share some recent news and announcements.


COLLABORATING WITH SCHOOLS: I was pleased to address the Florida Association of District School Superintendents during their leadership conference in Orlando on Thursday. School referrals to DJJ continue to decline and there is opportunity for further improvement through alternatives to arrest, such as Civil Citation, mediation and teen court. One example of a collaborative approach to more effectively address misbehavior in schools is the Palm Beach County School-Justice Partnership, in which DJJ is partnering with Palm Beach County Schools, judges, the public defender, state attorney and the community. We are working on a pilot program to reduce in-school arrests, violations of probation and out-of-school suspensions.


SPOTLIGHT ON PREVENTION: Assistant Secretary Wanda Finnie has been with DJJ since June 2011. An attorney for 30 years, she is a strong advocate for troubled youth. She represented juveniles in the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office for 13 years, served as an assistant district attorney in Pennsylvania, and was in a private law practice. Wanda holds a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a law degree from Antioch School of Law. In 2007 she joined the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department, where I became acquainted with her and learned first-hand about her passion for children. She recently discussed the work being done by DJJ’s Office of Prevention.

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Wanda Finnie

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Wanda Finnie

Q. Tell us about the Office of Prevention.

A. We are a dedicated, passionate and professional team that works to put Prevention as the first element of juvenile justice reform. I have an awesome team. I could not be an effective leader without their support. In terms of staffing, we are the smallest unit in the agency; we have a total of 28 staff, eight of whom are permanently placed in the field. We are small, but mighty. As the focus of juvenile justice shifts to front end services designed to keep youth out of DJJ or prevent them from becoming drawn more deeply into the system, it is vitally important that we continue to reach out to our supporters and stakeholders and bring other entities on board.

Q. Share with us more about Prevention’s work.

A. DJJ is committed to funding programs that work and adhering to state mandates. To do this most effectively and efficiently, we are sharing resources with other state agencies and we continue to partner with community stakeholders. We are in the process of determining the most accurate ways to define program effectiveness. Since youth in prevention programs often do not have a history with DJJ, this presents a challenge in gathering and tracking reliable data to measure program effectiveness. We have made some progress toward gathering data through use of the Prevention Web in the Juvenile Justice Information System. A Prevention priority is disproportionate minority contact (DMC). We have created a DMC unit and just this week there was a train-the-trainer, two-day session at DJJ headquarters. The next step is to take the training statewide. In October, we are partnering with the Florida Department of Children and Families to host “Our Children, Our Future: Restoring Hope” National Faith Symposium in Orlando. This is part of our effort to unite supporters and stakeholders in addressing the needs of at-risk and troubled youth. During that week, the Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group will hold its first meeting since last year. This is a great opportunity to work with state leadership.

Q. Frequently, Prevention receives questions about funding. Tell us more about that.

A. Florida Statutes guide the manner in which state revenue is awarded. For needed services, funds are awarded to eligible providers on a competitive basis. Details on applying to be a vendor can be found here.

Wanda, thank you for your time during this interview and for your leadership and commitment to juvenile justice reform.


DMC UPDATE: As part of DJJ’s disproportionate minority contact (DMC) reduction strategy, Prevention hosted the first DMC youth/law enforcement facilitator training, September 10-11, at DJJ headquarters. The two-day training was conducted by trainers from the Defender Association of Philadelphia. DJJ staff from most program areas participated. The curriculum was designed to reduce bias by promoting positive communication between youth and law enforcement officials. The training allowed DJJ staff to interact and discuss a major component of strengthening DMC reduction efforts statewide.

PREVENTION UPDATE: All Prevention staff participated in a mandatory retreat, titled “Prevention: Shaping Today, Saving Tomorrow” on Sept. 12-13 at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy in Tallahassee. Prevention staff worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and DJJ Staff Development and Training to develop the agenda. The goal of the retreat was to provide training to enhance staff teamwork and promote understanding and support of the goals and vision of DJJ.

CIRCUIT 13 KUDOS: Thanks to all the DJJ staff in Circuit 13 who participate in producing a circuit-wide newsletter. This is an excellent way to encourage team members and share local information!

PROBATION KUDOS: Michelle McMurtry, the assistant public defender and juvenile supervisor for Circuit 19, recently sent an email praising juvenile probation officer (JPO) Steve Basty.

I would like to commend Steve Basty for the excellent job he did on the [youth’s name redacted] case. We had some challenging issues, but Steve handled everything in a timely fashion and with great professionalism. He is an exemplary representative for the Department of Juvenile Justice. He is always willing to go above and beyond for his clients and the Juvenile Justice system. Thank you for your assistance.

PROBATION KUDOS II: Circuit 10 Chief Probation Officer Lisa Haynes shares the following email she received last week regarding senior JPO Natalie West:

I wanted to drop you a little note about Natalie West. As part of the prevention committee for the DJJ Board, I had the opportunity to work with Natalie on the recent Teen Summit. I wanted to let you know how professional she was, very prepared and eager, along with a real joy to be around. The summit went very well with all the thanks to Natalie along with the group of staff who were there to assist. Thank you for the opportunity to work with such a lovely lady along with your additional staff. I look forward to future endeavors with your agency!


Lisa A. Jones
StandUP Polk Coalition Coordinator


PROBATION UPDATE: DJJ is partnering with the FSU Center for Prevention to begin offering Young Parents Project (YPP) services to Probation youth in Tallahassee. The program was initiated in Miami, where its success has driven the program’s expansion. YPP is an intensive home visiting program that uses a professional, multidisciplinary team to provide care coordination, outreach and trauma-informed care to address the complex needs of young mothers in the delinquency system and support the teen in understanding the judicial process. Probation officers, the judiciary and other court and DJJ personnel are able to refer youth, and YPP participants show improvements in relationships with family and others, and reduced involvement with the court and juvenile justice system.


EDUCATION UPDATE: Last week, DJJ Education Director Joan Wimmer attended the AMIkids National Educational Conference in Safety Harbor, Florida. The keynote speaker was Hotep, founder and CEO of Hustle University and the author of “Bored of Education” and several other books focused on encouraging education and entrepreneurship among urban youth. AMIKids and Florida Atlantic University have partnered to develop an experience-focused learning curriculum based on research-validated techniques. The curriculum was originally piloted at eight sites, two of which were in Florida. AMIkids programs will present the science curriculum this semester, which includes hands-on learning activities in subjects such as green technology and watersheds.


As always, thanks to all employees for your service to Florida’s at-risk and troubled youth. Enjoy the weekend.




Wansley Walters



PS: Please send any noteworthy or newsworthy items for consideration in my weekly letter to Communications Director C. J. Drake at cj.drake@djj.state.fl.us or call 850.921.5905. Submissions are considered on a space-available basis and may be edited for clarity and length. Thank you for your cooperation.