Welcome to the new DJJ Website!
Find out how to use the new site.

Secretary's Message

September 10, 2018

Secretary Niermann’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter! I am proud to share the stories and events that encompass what we do here at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. I hope you will take a moment to read about the ways our DJJ staff, providers, and partners are working to improve the lives of Florida’s youth and families and how we are working to make our communities even better.

To share even more of our great work and all that we are doing, please send in your successes and accomplishments both on and off the clock so we can feature them in our next weekly letter. Please send your good news to news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon.


Interim Secretary Timothy Niermann

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Fred Schuknecht who was recently honored with the Louie L. Wainwright Award from the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency (FCCD). Fred received this award for his more than forty years of dedicated service to the state of Florida and his many years of service to FCCD. Fred has served at DJJ in various capacities including most recently as chief of staff. He is a member of many professional organizations and served as a past president of the FCCD Chapter 2 and as the council’s executive director from 2014-2015. Congratulations Fred on this well-deserved honor!

Pictured above (from left to right): Fred’s wife Randi Schuknecht, Fred Schuknecht and FCCD Awards Chair Maria DiBernardo

Congratulations to the juvenile probation officers who recently graduated from the Florida Public Safety Institute. Thank you to Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims for being our guest speaker and North Region Director for Probation Gwen Steverson for providing closing remarks.

(First Row: Kamri Pullins , Mercedes Rosa,  Jessica River, Stacy Vasquez. Second Row: Blissenobi Pendley, Deemarie Diaz, Jennifer Shoemo, Morgan Lewis, Jayne Campbell, Bria McSwain, Shantel Stokes, David Esarey, Sharon Scott. Third Row: Shequita Mitchell, Elvie Joseus, Kayla Caldwell, Karl Dorelien, Martin Kohn, Bennie Robinson, Domonique McCoy, Shani Griffith, Janise Best, Tanzileah Russell, Dawna Nihart.)

Congratulations to the juvenile probation officers who recently graduated from the Margate Academy in South Florida. Thanks to Chief Probation Officer (CPO) Cassandra Evans for being our guest speaker and CPO Elaine Thompson for providing closing remarks.

(First Row: Craig Murray, Jonathan Gonzalez, Korey Deveaux, Jose Ramos, Samantha Hitchcock, Magarith Cadet, Nayi Matarazzo. Second Row: Larriques Cunningham, Timothy Hennigan, Eric Carrasquillo, Victoria Salazar, Norge Tisdol, Sandra Laurent, Raynisha Perry, Naica Orilas)

Congratulations to GOC II April Walker from the Central Region Office of Detention Services who was presented with the Assistant Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement. This annual statewide award is given by Assistant Secretary for Detention Services Dixie Fosler in appreciation for the recipient’s service and commitment to the Department. Ms. Walker is very deserving of this honor as she consistently goes above and beyond to help promote the mission of the Department and Detention Services.

Congratulations to Major Dedilia Finlayson from the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was recognized with the Assistant Secretary’s “Going the Extra Mile” award from Assistant Secretary Dixie Fosler during the recent superintendents summit in Orlando. Major Finlayson received this honor for her willingness to mentor and support new superintendents.

Lieutenant Vincent Walker from the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently celebrated 27 years of dedicated service to DJJ and was recognized by his peers as well as Assistant Secretary of Detention Services Dixie Fosler. Lieutenant Walker was presented with a special certificate and a bracelet he can wear with pride.

Congratulations to Steve Owens who was recently promoted to Operations and Program Manager for the Office of Detention Services. Mr. Owens has been a valuable member of the DJJ team since 2001, serving as a detention supervisor, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the team in the Central Region. Mr. Owens has received numerous accolades and recognitions over the years for his dedication and service and will continue to be an asset to the Department in his new role.

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer II Joseph Llosa from the Pasco Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was recently recognized as the Juvenile Detention Officer of the Year. To celebrate the achievement, the facility threw a small party for Officer Llosa complete with pizza, cupcakes and lemonade. In addition, JDO Llosa will receive a special parking spot at the facility for the next year. Officer Llosa was very surprised and honored to receive this award.

Congratulations to Sargent Qualia Turner from the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was recently recognized as the Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor of the Year by the Central Region Office of Detention Services.

Pictured above (from left to right): Assistant Superintendent Eris Womack, Sargent Qualia Turner and Superintendent Ariel Veguilla

Congratulations to Facility Training Coordinator Freda Isom from the Pinellas RJDC who was honored as the Facility Training Coordinator of the Year by the Central Region Office of Detention Services. Ms. Isom was presented with a certificate and a gift card for the recognition by Pinellas Superintendent Ariel Veguilla.

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer Ashleigh Finletter from the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center who took home Employee of the Month honors for the month of August.

Youth Succeeds in Vocational Training With Help From The FJJF

Ensuring youth have vocational and technical opportunities helps set them on the path towards future employability and successful adulthood. However, sometimes the cost of equipment for these programs can be a hardship, as it was for probationary youth M.K.

M.K. is a student in the George Stone Technical College’s Welding Technology Program. M.K. showed great promise with the welding trade, but needed a new grinder to further his talents. That’s when the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF) stepped in and purchased a new grinder for him. Since that time, M.K. is doing extremely well in the program and has recently completed the Assistant Welder 1 & 2 courses.

Probation Youth Serve Meals to the Homeless and Staff Participate in Community Forum

DJJ youth with the Eckerd Connects Project Bridge Program in Miami recently prepared food and served lunch to the local homeless population at Chapman Partnership. Chapman Partnership’s goal is to empower homeless men, women and children to build a positive future. The organization provides resourcesand assistance critical to growth and independence.

The youth were accompanied on this trip by Transportation Support Specialist Eugene Davis and Career Services Coordinator Paula Ramirez. All of the youth and staff had a great time volunteering in the kitchen, dining area, and giving back to those less fortunate.

DJJ probation staff from Circuit 6 participated in a forum hosted by Community Connections entitled “Youth Mental Health and the Church.” The amazing event brought awareness, information and resources to the community through the faith-based network. There was also a panel discussion with representation from law enforcement, education and mental health experts. In addition, a survivor gave a very powerful testimony on their struggles with mental health issues and attempted suicide.

Circuit 12 Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Mitzi Petty and Chaplin Barbara Waiter-White, who volunteers at the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center, recently volunteered during a week-long youth camp in Bradenton. Each morning started with services followed by classes in dance, flags and behind the scenes tech. After lunch each day, the youth were allowed to participate in volleyball, basketball, chess tournaments and obstacle courses. The camp was a week of incredible energy and amazing worship.

Connecting transition youth to positive, pro-social mentors is a big part of Project Connect’s individualized service model. Project Connect’s newest mentor (Life Coach) in Circuit 5 is Derrick Coles. Mr. Coles is a faith-based mentor recruited by Transition Specialist Stacy Baker at her church in the Ocala area. He is currently serving four youth and has been instrumental in helping these young men in their transition back home from residential placement. He has helped these young men fill out job applications, taken them to job interviews and drug screens and, as a former professional barber, given them haircuts as approved by youth and parents. Three of the four youth have gained employment while Mr. Coles has already secured a job interview for the fourth.

Pictured above (from left to right): Life Coach Derrick Coles, Transition Specialist Stacy Baker and Project Connect Executive Director Tony Read. 

Staff members from Project Connect in Circuits 5 and 7 recently held their quarterly training day in Ocala, which was followed by a fun-filled team building exercise at a local bowling alley. Life Coach Brandon Holsey brought a youth he is mentoring with him and introduced him to the game of bowling. Although he was very shy at first and suspicious of the funny colored shoes, Youth T.J. didn’t do so bad for his first time. He knocked down nine pins in his first frame!

Prevention Staff Meet with Charter School and Host G.A.A.P. Discussion

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Jashett Omeally and Reform Specialist Michael Byrd recently attended a meeting with Principal Cory Oliver from the Jefferson County Charter High School in Monticello. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss possible implementation of prevention and intervention programs in the school’s curriculum, focusing on services available to youth and their families in rural counties. Rhone Francis from Capital City Youth Services was also present and proposed a plan to implement the Stop Now and Plan (SNAP) Initiative at the school.

In addition, Ms. Omeally proposed incorporating G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) Discussions between law enforcement officers and youth at the school. These discussions provide a solid foundation for youth to foster a more positive relationship with law enforcement and create a well-balanced understanding by law enforcement of today’s youth.  

Pictured above (from left to right): Jason Ishley (CCYS), Michael Byrd (DJJ- Reform Specialist), Rhone Francis (CCYS), Jashett Omeally (DJJ-Prevention Specialist), Doug Brown, Courtney Oliver, Corey Oliver (Jefferson County Charter Schools)

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Jashett Omeally also attended the Tallahassee Community Connection Restorative Justice graduation ceremony at the Palmer Munroe Teen Center. A total of eight youth graduated from the program, which diverts at-risk youth out of the juvenile justice system. The youth receive core services including restorative justice conferences, non-violent communication training, mentoring, and much more.

During the ceremony, the graduates were given an opportunity to reflect on how the program has helped them to develop, all while sharing their experiences with the incoming class, friends and family. Some of the students of the incoming class were hesitant about entering the program at first; however, in the end, they all appreciated the information shared by the outgoing graduates.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Sandra Ferguson coordinated a recent Bridging the G.A.A.P. Discussion between Lehigh Acres youth and local law enforcement officers from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. The discussion was moderated by Circuit 20 Advisory Board Chairwoman Dr. Sandra Pavelka.

The youth in attendance received valuable information relating to their local community, public safety, anti-bullying, and stereotyping. After the discussion, Dr. Pavelka opened the floor up for comments. One youth stated, “Not all police officers are bad. If you need help you can ask an officer and they will assist you.”

Residential Youth Attend Career Expo and Visit Local Solar Farm

A few weeks ago, seven HBI students from Okaloosa Career Center, a non-secure program for boys operated by Gulf Coast Youth Services, were able to attend the Gulf Coast Home Builders Expo in Pensacola. The students toured the expo floor, engaging with many vendors that showcased the latest innovations in the industry. The HBI students gained additional knowledge about the home building industry and the demand for entry-level workers.

St. Johns Youth Academy, a secure program for boys operated by Sequel, is very fortunate to have an excellent group of volunteers that come out every week to provide programs and activities for the youth. The activities can range from piano lessons to meditation groups and the youth are always excited to participate. The volunteers are consistent and have really formed a rapport with the youth.

One of the program’s dedicated volunteers is Tom Brown, better known as “Mr. Lucky.” He volunteers every week to provide a one-to-one religious service with one youth each week. Mr. Lucky visits with a youth and that youth refers another youth to see him the following week. Mr. Lucky is 93 years young and he starts each new conversation off with “I am a very lucky man.” He talks about his time in WWI and the young men are amazed at some of things he has experienced in his life time. It is very interesting to see the interaction between Mr. Lucky and youth who come from very different places and experiences. Mr. Lucky shares how he learns something new from the boys every time he is in the building. The program is very lucky to have him as part of their volunteer team!

Six youth from Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, recently attended an interactive youth summit hosted by Strong Youth Strong Communities. The summit featured professional football hall of famers and the youth listened on as they shared their own stories of struggle and how they became successful on and off the field.

The young men then had a turn to share their views about solutions to the problems they face today. The youth felt very empowered after listening to the athletes speak and really enjoyed the summit. 

At the end of last month Chris Johnson, owner and operator of Alpha Barbershop located in Ocala, invited several youth from Marion Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, to his business. Mr. Johnson educated the youth on proper hair grooming and etiquette and how to obtain their barber license. The youth were intrigued by Mr. Johnson’s presentation and the prospect of possibly owning their own barbershop.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Johnson and his barbers offered each youth a haircut. After receiving their haircuts, the youth volunteered to assist Mr. Johnson in cleaning the barbershop. The youth were excited with their experience and are looking forward to returning to the barbershop as well as becoming licensed barbers.

The following day, the HBI class at Marion Youth Academy visited the Ocala Solar Farm, which completely operates off solar power. The youth were tasked with installing and painting the fence, cleaning horse stalls, landscaping, caring for the horses, and basic carpentry work. Although the tasks were somewhat demanding, the youth were attentive to their work detail and enjoyed the day.

At Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, an intellectual battle ensued when two debate teams of five youth took on the challenge of defending their stance on the following statement: legal drugs are more dangerous than illegal drugs.

Team One, the affirming team (agree with the statement), was coached by Health Services Administrator Janet Koch, RN. Team Two, the opposing team (disagree with the statement), was coached by Case Manager Mack Allen.

The judges and observers agreed Team Two presented the more convincing argument. Special thanks to the debate moderator, Clinical Director Francine Walker, and the team coaches. Thank you also to Miami Dade Public Schools’ Office of Alternative Outreach Programs. The youth have vast talents and demonstrated abilities to speak intelligently and respectfully. The program hopes that the next debate will be against the Dade campus with the topic: Florida's next governor.

Five youth from Miami Youth Academy were escorted by two staff to the world-renowned Zoo Miami in West Kendall to perform community service. Our titans performed various horticultural and general maintenance tasks. Titans did so great, the Zoo Miami gave them free unlimited access passes into the zoo.

Detention Field Training Coordinators Host Their Annual Meeting

The Office of Detention Service’s Field Training Coordinators (FTC) recently met at the Florida Public Safety Institute in Midway for their annual meeting. This meeting allowed our trainers to network, participate in team building activities, and brush up on training themselves.

Many thanks to Sonia Taylor, Karimah Horne and Kiva Hagans for providing training for our FTCs. These coordinators participated in many activities that encouraged creativity, thinking outside the box, as well as thinking quick on your feet.

The Pasco Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) recently had a visit from their devoted faith partner Let’s Talk About God (LTAG). LTAG brought a host of sling packs which were filled with school supplies for all of the youth. The group also set up a nacho bar for the youth and served homemade carrot cake and drinks. LTAG is a group that visits the youth at Pasco RJDC each week and the youth enjoy the fellowship they bring.