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Secretary's Message

September 21, 2012

Wansley WaltersDear DJJ team members:

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

HUMAN TRAFFICKING SUMMIT: On Monday, Sept. 24, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins and I will lead the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet in a Human Trafficking Summit in Tallahassee. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and is a form of modern-day slavery. The summit is intended to raise awareness of the exploitation of Florida’s children, and bring together leaders, advocates, students and others to learn how to combat human trafficking and help victims. Several Floridians working to combat human trafficking in our state will also be recognized. The summit will be held at Florida State University’s Turnbull Conference Center. For those unable to attend, the event will be available online. You can ask questions on Twitter by including #trafficking2012 and on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/QaWuyJ. Click here for more information or to sign up for the interactive webcast. A brief event schedule is below.

Human Trafficking Summit, Sept. 24, 1:00-6:00 pm
1-2:20 pm: Welcome, Awards and Keynote
2:20-4:30 pm: Panels and Breakout Sessions
4:40-6 pm: Movie Presentation – “Very Young Girls”

My sincere thanks to DJJ Human Trafficking Coordinator Nicole Blanton for helping organize this summit. Earlier this year she received her law degree from Florida State University and was recently notified that she passed the Florida Bar exam. Nikki, congratulations and thanks for your hard work at DJJ.
JUDGES COMMEND CIRCUIT 13: I am extremely proud of Circuit 13 DJJ staff for their work in temporarily moving court proceedings to Hillsborough-West Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) during the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Detention hearings were moved from the courthouse to the RJDC to help minimize traffic in the downtown area. Thanks to Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr., Administrative Judge Ralph C. Stoddard and Assistant State Attorney Patti Pieri, chief of the Juvenile Division, for their support. They recently commended DJJ employees who made preparations months in advance to ensure success. Excerpts from their letters are below.

From Chief Judge Menendez and Judge Stoddard:

On behalf of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and especially on behalf of the Juvenile Delinquency Judges, I wish to thank you and the local members of your agency for the extraordinary effort and dedication they exhibited in assisting us in altering our operations due to the Republican National Convention…This required elaborate coordination among the offices of the Clerk of Court, Public Defender, State Attorney, law enforcement and DJJ…At every step of the way, your personnel, particularly your leadership team of Major Adonis Miles, Tim Niermann, Judy Roysden and Jon Loftheim, were invaluable…As time for the Convention drew near, your MIS (management information systems) workers, especially Larry Buss, were particularly helpful, taking the lead with the MIS departments from other agencies in reconfiguring required communications…(T)he hospitality at the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center was phenomenal. We would like to give special thanks to the Detention Center leads – Major Adonis Miles, Superintendent; Shannon Burch, Assistant Superintendent; Latesha Thomas, Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor; Edwin Clarke, Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor; Deborah Caldwell, Juvenile Detention Officer II; Jackie Walker, Juvenile Detention Officer II; April Walker, Juvenile Detention Officer II; Kevin Betancourt, Juvenile Detention Officer II; and Fred Williams, the Juvenile Probation Officer assigned to the Center. In short, all of the personnel involved in this operation went way above and beyond what was required, and additionally fostered a sense of camaraderie so that all of the agencies involved felt comfortable. Thanks again. If there is anything in the future that we can do to promote the improvement of the Juvenile Justice System, please don’t hesitate to ask.

From Juvenile Division Chief Pieri:

I am pleased to inform you that it was a major success…Two obvious issues were of great concern to all of us during the planning process: (1) converting a secure detention facility to a courtroom, and (2) having reliable access to the SAO (State Attorney’s Office) database…Larry Buss and Adonis Miles were nothing short of fantastic…When I asked for input from my staff, I received nothing but favorable responses…I would like to recognize the following employees for working with us and making our stay at your facility an extremely rewarding experience:

Larry Buss                
Adonis Miles
Shannon Burch        
Latesha Thomas
Edwin Clarke            
Deborah Caldwell
Jackie Walker           
April Walker

(Ms. Pieri’s letter included copies of emailed comments commending DJJ staff from assistant state attorneys Kevin Brick, Tony Julian, Rhonda King, Lindsey Pickel and Beth Vandergrif.)

Thanks to the judges and state attorneys for their letters and kind words acknowledging the efforts of DJJ staff.

SPOTLIGHT ON TAMPA: From 2002 to 2011, crime dropped a whopping 64 percent in Tampa. Police Chief Jane Castor credits this success to a shift in philosophy that emphasizes “proactive and preventative policing” and a corresponding effort to target the crimes most frequently committed. Called the “Big Four” by Tampa police, these crimes are burglary, robbery, automobile burglary and automobile theft. As the Tampa Police Department (TPD) worked to reduce overall crime, they implemented several effective strategies that have reduced youth offending. At the beginning of summer, TPD hosts a fun community event that includes a job fair, life-skills instruction and promotes the city’s parks and recreation program, to build interest in positive pursuits. School resource officers expand beyond the schools into high-crime areas, including malls, hotels and tourist attractions, where their familiarity with youth is helpful in deterring and solving crimes.

TPD found that certain youth have lengthy histories of “Big Four” offenses, and decided to target them for diversion efforts with a program called the Worst of the Worst (WOW) Initiative. Police check in on youth offenders to ensure they comply with court imposed sanctions, including home detention, curfew, school attendance and school discipline. The officers are familiar with the young offenders who live in their patrol area and the kids quickly realize that police are keeping a close eye on them. Through an agreement with the courts, police are provided with youths’ court appearance information and are able to give them a ride to court, which has reduced technical violations that can qualify a youth for DJJ custody. The court also created a “fast track” for repeat juvenile offenders, allowing youth to face swift consequences while being directed to local services for help. In high-crime areas, a member of the TPD’s Rapid Offender Control Squad is automatically dispatched to investigate with the patrolman on the scene, which reduces the lapse that can occur before a detective is assigned. Through the Reduce Auto Theft Program, officers enforce court-ordered curfews and house arrests imposed on juveniles convicted of auto theft. The extra efforts pay huge dividends in reducing juvenile delinquency. In the past nine years, summer crime has decreased more than 51 percent and auto theft has decreased more than 90 percent. Kudos to Chief Castor and the Tampa Police Department for making their city and Florida a safer place!

DETENTION ALTERNATIVES UPDATE: This week, participants from Florida, California and Pennsylvania attended Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) training in Pittsburgh. The JDAI is critical to juvenile justice reform, as unnecessary use of secure detention has been shown to increase recidivism and the likelihood the child will drop out of school, and strains child-parent relationships. JDAI targets youth to appropriate detention alternatives, such as home detention, community supervision, evening reporting centers, supervision by a third-party mentoring program, and reception centers. It helps to lower detention populations safely while avoiding the cost of confining low-level offenders in secure facilities. Representatives from law enforcement, schools, juvenile justice systems and community service providers, as well as judges, state attorneys and public defenders attended the training, which was designed to reinforce JDAI values and core strategies. DJJ attendees included Deputy Secretary Christy Daly, Assistant Secretary for Probation Michael McCaffrey, JDAI State Coordinator Colleene Scott and Probation regional directors Timothy Niermann and Vanessa Hargray. Trainees discussed the importance of collaboration, data-driven decision-making, detention assessment, case processing, disproportionate minority contact and improving conditions of confinement. The training was sponsored by our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, for whose support we are deeply grateful.

FUNDING FOR YOUTH IN TRANSITION: Circuit 13 is happy to announce that the Eckerd Family Foundation and Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner successfully secured more than $41,000 to assist youth transitioning from juvenile justice commitment programs back into the local community. Hillsborough County Schools Juvenile Justice Transition Specialist Chrissy Dorion coordinated this collaborative project that will facilitate successful community transitions for our aftercare youth. The Eckerd Family Foundation donated $20,000 to the district to provide grants for students to purchase items that will aid them in their return to the community. The grants can be used to pay for uniforms, fees, transportation, housing, driver license fees, and other items that students need to complete education and career training programs. Commissioner Beckner secured $21,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to help up to 80 at-risk youth obtain a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. The funds will provide necessary support, tuition, and testing fees for youth.

PROBATION STAFF VOLUNTEER: Circuit 5 Chief Probation Officer (CPO) Jeff Shealy was recently recognized as an outstanding leader by the local chapter of the United Way for his service as chairperson of the Loaned Executives. He also serves as local chairperson of the Florida State Employees Charitable Campaign (FSECC). Assistant CPO Lori Bright and Administrative Assistant Joan Croye joined him at the United Way Kick-Off Campaign, which was held at the Ocala Hilton. Lori and Joan, who are United Way Loaned Executives, volunteer with the Allocation Committee, are members of the Campaign Cabinet, and participate in the Reading Pals Program. Joan also serves as the FSECC liaison. Kudos to Jeff, Lori and Joan for their generous volunteer service.

GENERAL COUNSEL KUDOS: Reaching out to the community is an important aspect of our service, and DJJ staff does this in a variety of ways. Each team member’s service is important, as Judge Ralph C. Stoddard’s commendation for DJJ General Counsel Brian Berkowitz illustrates. Judge Stoddard, as mentioned earlier in this letter, is a unified family court judge in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.

Dear Secretary Walters: I cannot thank your office enough for allowing Brian Berkowitz to assist Judge Abby Cynamon and myself in planning a curriculum and teaching at our recent Circuit Judges Conference. He and his office took the lead by preparing the materials and the PowerPoint (presentation) and by helping Judge Cynamon and myself better understand both the statutory and procedural requirements. The class was titled “See You Directly, Juveniles in Adult Court” and was directed toward judges in the adult criminal divisions with a goal toward encouraging them to impose juvenile sanctions whenever appropriate. As Florida has the highest rate of juveniles in adult court and prisons of any other state, it is incumbent upon all of us in juvenile justice to do what we can to remedy the situation, while still maintaining public safety. We have received positive feedback so far from the class and are hopeful that this program will be the first of many and that we can begin a dialogue with the adult criminal judges in an attempt to improve the situation. We could not have done it without Mr. Berkowitz, and I am grateful to your office for his services. If there is anything further we can do in this regard or anything we can do in improving juvenile justice, please don’t hesitate to ask.

NEW CHIEF PROBATION OFFICER: Congratulations to Chris Carr, who has been appointed CPO in Circuit 4. Chris has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Ohio State University and more than 35 years’ experience working with troubled youth and families in Florida. She worked for the former Florida Department of Family Services and the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services before joining DJJ when the agency was created. In addition to her extensive experience, Chris is a dependable leader with a reputation as a team player in the community, which enables her to form collaborative alliances and enhance services for youth.

PROBATION KUDOS: Below are two emails received this week commending our probation officers. The first is from a parent regarding Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Becky Jo Seamon. The second is from court psychologist Dr. Christine Jaggi, praising Senior JPO Katherine Gomez.   

I wanted to take a minute and give a compliment to one of your employees in Circuit 6 New Port Richey. Her name is Becky Jo Seamon. She represented DJJ in a case involving my 15-year-old son. She was very professional and helpful. I like to give compliments when they are due. Thanks for taking the time to read my email.

Thank you,

(Name redacted for confidentiality)


You have handled this complex and challenging case amazing well. You managed to keep on top of the many tasks and people involved while still keeping your composure even though it must have felt like herding cats at times! I think (youth’s name redacted) is leaving with the best possible discharge plan. This is how things are supposed to work with everyone getting on the same page and a smooth handoff with no gap in services. Thanks for all your good work! 

CONDOLENCES: We lost a valued member of our Residential team this week. Robin Robertson, a Residential program monitor in the northeast region, passed away Wednesday after a long illness. Robin’s co-workers describe her as a friend and a great resource, saying she was instrumental in providing technical assistance to programs. Assistant Secretary for Residential Services Laura Moneyham noted, “She was dedicated to the cause of helping troubled youth improve their lives.” Our thoughts and sympathy are with Robin’s friends and family during this difficult time. 

OPEN ENROLLMENT: Open enrollment for state benefits will be Oct. 8 – Nov. 2. This is an opportunity for state employees and retirees to make changes to their insurance benefits for the 2013 calendar year. This year, DMS has created a simple Dependent Certification process that needs to be completed by all state employees who receive insurance benefits from the state. This process will certify that dependents who receive insurance benefits from the state are legally eligible to do so. The Dependent Certification needs to be completed prior to any change in coverage. For questions about the process, employees may contact the People First Service Center at (866) 663-4735; TTY users call (866) 221-0268. You may also contact Margo Rogers at margo.rogers@djj.state.fl.us or 850.921.6420 or Morrison King at Morrison.king@djj.state.fl.us or 850.921.0850.

As always, thank you for your continuing commitment to youth and to juvenile justice reform.




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.