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Secretary's Message

September 18, 2019

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter, with the latest on what’s going on and what the team is doing across 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.

Please keep sharing your great work, successes, and accomplishments both on and off the clock in serving the youth, families, and communities touched by DJJ. Your stories inspire us all to do more. So, send your good news to news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon.


Secretary Simone Marstiller


Secretary Marstiller and DJJ Staff Attend FCCD Training

Secretary Marstiller Speaking at FCCDSecretary Marstiller along with DJJ staff recently attended the 90th Annual Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency (FCCD) Training Institute in Miami.

FCCD is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of high professional standards for criminal justice agencies and criminal justice personnel. With a mission of serving as a catalyst for the prevention and reduction of crime and delinquency and to enhance the quality of justice for all Floridians.

This year’s Training Institute featured remarks and presentations by DJJ employees, including Secretary Simone Marstiller, who provided remarks at the opening session. Office of Youth and Family Advocacy Director Elizabeth Phillips and Maureen Honan with Staff Development and Training also led a session on trauma-informed care. Additionally, several other DJJ members were in attendance, including Assistant Secretary Alice Sims, Program Accountability Director Christopher Goodman, IT Chief Dennis Hollingsworth, and DJJ staff from various program areas. Members of FCCD Chapter 2, including DJJ staff, were recognized and received awards in the areas of community service and chapter effectiveness.

Themed “Respect the Past, Embrace the Future,” this year’s Institute highlighted and honored the sacrifice, dedication, and service of our veterans and their families through the years.

Featured speakers at the event included nationwide recognized individuals such as Carrie Hill, a correctional law expert, Susan Pamerleau, a US Marshal, and Tadar Muhammed with the Home Builders Institute. The 2020 FCCD Training Institute will be held in Panama City, FL.

staff at fccd


Staff Announcements and Kudos

   Pictured above: Sergeant Jonathan Swift, Sergeant Ariel Austin and Sergeant Hector Navarro
Pictured above: Sergeant Jonathan Swift, Sergeant Ariel Austin and Sergeant Hector Navarro

Congratulations to newly promoted Orange Tough Sergeants Jonathan Swift, Arial Austin, and Hector Navarro. Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center held a “pinning ceremony” for the new Sergeants, where Captain Kutina McLeod did the honors. A pinning ceremony provides newly promoted officers a moment of recognition and a welcome into the team. 


Congratulations to Circuit 6 Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor (JPOS) Takeria Peterson for being recognized as the Central Region Probation and Community Intervention Employee of the Quarter. JPOS Peterson was surprised with the award during the Circuit 6 Appreciation Day held at Brooker Creek Reserve. Peterson consistently demonstrates going above and beyond in her support of the circuit. It is a pleasure to recognize her efforts and hard work. Great job JPOS Peterson!


Pictured above (from left to right): Assistant Chief Joyce Lehman, Regional Director Cathy Lake, JPOS Takeria Peterson and Chief Probation Officer Melissa Fuller
Pictured above (from left to right): Assistant Chief Joyce Lehman, Regional Director Cathy Lake, JPOS Takeria Peterson and Chief Probation Officer Melissa Fuller

Kristin Usher receiving tenure awardStaff Assistant Kristin Usher (left) recently received a wristband signifying 20 years of tenure with the state of Florida. Thank you for your service, SA Usher!








Residential Youth Work with PAWS Group Therapy Dogs

residential youth with PAWS dog

The PAWS Group recently commenced at Pompano Youth Treatment Center, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, and four youth had the opportunity to participate. The PAWS Group is designed for the youth to increase communication and social skills by building confidence through the use of dog-assisted therapy. The group teaches mindfulness and impulse control techniques while decreasing the negative symptoms related to mental health issues through interactions with the group’s dog. The youth read and work from the PAWS: Impulse Control curriculum which allows them to participate in skill-building exercises to increase self-confidence, motivation, and strengthens mood management skills. The youth really enjoyed their interactions with the dogs and look forward to the next therapy session!


broward youth at gymRecently the youth and staff at Broward Youth Treatment Center (BYTC), a non-secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, LLC, were graciously invited by CARES Mentoring South Florida to participate in a full-body workout at Body Transformation Gym in Davie, Florida for an intense workout session. The BYTC youth were put through a circuit workout where they performed high-intensity training on various muscle groups which were timed and monitored by 3 personal trainers from the gym. Youth learned about the importance of taking care of your body and what it takes to be in shape. Special thanks to CARES Mentoring for providing the experience and to Body Transformation Gym for opening their doors. It was a great experience for all involved!



Orange outh getting ID cardYouth from Orange Youth Academy and Orlando Intensive Youth Academy, both non-secure programs for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had a chance to receive a Florida identification card from the Florida Licensing on Wheels (FLOW) vehicle. The FLOW vehicle arrived at the facility and youth were able to take a picture for their identification card. The youth were also able to verify their personal information and appoint an emergency contact. Everyone learned the rules and regulations of being a responsible Florida ID card holder. Youth were very excited to be able to receive an ID card while on the bus. All youth were respectful and engaged in conversation with the FLOW employees.




CSI youth graduationCSI-Ocala, a non-secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, LLC, recently hosted a graduation celebration for one of their youth. At the graduation ceremony, the  young man entered the dining hall to receive his high school diploma from  the program’s lead education teacher, Mr. Elkins. This young man held his head high and his face was filled with joy, as his peers and the staff at CSI-Ocala gave him a standing ovation. He is the first youth at CSI-Ocala to earn his high school diploma upon completing the program, and everyone is proud of this awesome achievement. All the departments were present for this ceremony. He  gave a speech to his peers inspiring them to stay focused, get their education, and to respect everyone.







Prevention Staff Hosts Girl’s Court G.A.A.P. Discussion

prevention staff and youth at girls courtCircuit 6, 10, and 13 Delinquency Prevention Specialist Audrey “Pat” McGhee recently coordinated a Girl’s Court Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives (GAAP) meeting at the Pinellas County Justice Center, Clearwater.

The Gender-Specific GAAP took place through a collaboration with DJJ Offices of Prevention, Probation and Pinellas County Girls Court. It was moderated by the Honorable Judge Patrice Moore.

The GAAP was an open discussion between teens and female law enforcement officers. The conversation centered around life experiences, global events, and self-reflections.

The idea to present the GAAP to Girls Court came about when Judge Moore suggested the girls gain a new experience in communicating positively with members of law enforcement.

The officers listened attentively and replied with feedback and support. In the end, both the youth and officers bonded. Judge Moore left the girls speechless as she made closing remarks of tough love which included respect, honor, and future growth.

Both parties left feeling motivated. The topics of conversation included: reasons why youth steal; negative perception of youth and law enforcement, and gun violence in the community.

The GAAP involved a total of 14 officers from various agencies and 11 young ladies who represented Pinellas County Girl’s Court and PACE Center for Girls.

prevention staff at orange youth shelterCircuit 9, 18, and 19 Delinquency Prevention Specialist Shanteria Randall recently conducted a site visit at Children in Need of Services/Families in Need of Services (CINS/FINS) Orange County Youth Shelter in Orlando.

The shelter’s Division Manager Tracy Salem introduced her to Counseling Services Supervisor Sonji Johns, who provided information about the Family Services Division and Paulette Hinton, who shared information about the operation of the shelter and newly-piloted programs. While touring the facility, Shanteria noticed the kids were very cheerful and in an at-home environment. 

Orange County Youth Shelter offers temporary housing to youth ages 12-17 and individual family counseling, linking youth and their families to community resources. Youth are referred to the shelter from a variety of sources including DJJ. The shelter provides a safety net for Children and Families in Orange County.



human traficking meeting with preventionDJJ Statewide Human Trafficking Intervention Director Katherine Gomez recently spoke at the staff meeting of the Office of Prevention & Victim Services at DJJ Headquarters.

Katherine provided updates on the Department’s efforts to collaborate with other stakeholders to combat human trafficking in Florida and elsewhere.

Among the areas discussed were the DJJ history of human trafficking intervention that began in 2012. She distributed information to Prevention staff members and answered questions about trafficking.

Katherine indicated that every part of Florida has seen some form of human trafficking. Reports have come from cities, suburbs and rural communities throughout the state. Human trafficking victims include high school students, maids in hotels, employees in country clubs and adults.

Research indicates traffickers target young victims through social media websites, after school programs, on the streets, at shopping malls, or in clubs. In some cases, teens who are already involved with the traffickers are used to recruit other victims.

prevention staff at meet and great

Prevention Assistant Secretary Alice Sims recently attended a meet and greet session with DJJ staff, stakeholders and providers from Circuits 11, 15, 16, and 17 at the Joseph Caleb Center in the heart of Liberty City in Miami.

During the meeting, each attendee was given the opportunity to introduce themselves and share information about their organization and the programs and/or services they provide. This information exchange was truly impactful as it sparked questions, interest and set the ground work for future collaborations, as stated by many of the attendees.

Additionally, Assistant Secretary Sims gave an inspiring address, emphasizing the continuous need for and importance of effective programs and activities to reach, engage and empower youth and families.  She also acknowledged the great work that providers and community leaders are already doing in their local areas.

Hats off and our sincere thanks to Ms. LaTousha Daniels, President/CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative, her Executive Assistant and Program Coordinator, Ms. Arnitris Williams; the entire MCI staff and the Board of Directors for their assistance in making the event an overwhelming success.

The event was organized by Johnny Sanders, Delinquency Prevention Specialist for Circuits 11, 15, 16, and 7 and hosted by the Miami Children’s Initiative for DJJ providers, community stakeholders, including Faith Community Network & Circuit Advisory Board members, to have an audience with the Assistant Secretary, ask questions and network.

Some of the attendees included: DJJ Prevention Service Providers: Mary Williams, Program Director, Center for Family and Children's Enrichment (Circuit 11); Deloris Dunn, President/CEO, Center for Family and Children's Enrichment (Circuit 11); Terence Washington, Program Coordinator, Mount Bethel Human Service Corp (Circuit 17); Aggie Pappas, Regional Executive Director, Pace Center for Girls, (Circuit 11, 15, 17); Sherry Thompson Giordano, Executive Director, Pace Center for Girls Broward (Circuit 17); Gale Nelson, President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami (Circuit 11); Dayna Bhaggan, Ft. Lauderdale Police Department, Public Safety Grant Manager (Circuit 17); Officer Laurenia Fahie, Ft Lauderdale Police Department (Circuit 17); Sonya Woodard, Executive Director, Girls of Transformation Mentoring Program (Circuit 11); Stephanie McNeil, Program Director, CitiKidz-Citi Church (Circuit 11); Elizabeth Deveaux, Youth Program Coordinator, Town of Cutler Bay (Circuit 11); Chandra McClain Burgess, President/CEO, CMB Visions; and Lanee Orange, Program Manager, OIC of South Florida.

Community/Faith-Based Service Providers: Fannie Gilbert, President, Diaspora Arts Coalition (Circuit 11); Deborah Toomer, Director of Marketing/Advertising/Community Engagement for AM 1490 WMBM/New Birth Baptist Church (Circuit 11); Rev. Dr. Carol Nash - Lester, Pastor of Bethel Apostolic Temple, Chairperson of Bethel Temple Community Development Corp.(Circuit 11); Rev. Charles Dinkins, Pastor of Hosanna Baptist Church, President of Urban Partnership of Miami Dade County Coalition (Circuit 11); Rev. George Ellis, President/CEO, Miami River of Life, and Chairperson, DJJ Faith Community Network (Circuit 11).

DJJ staff in attendance included Frank Manning, Chief of Probation; Arthur Brandt, Statewide Coordinator, Faith Community Network; Onazina Washington, Prevention Services Contract Monitor; Jacquelyn Helms-Singleton, Federal Grants Coordinator; Jashett Omeally, Budget Specialist/Federal Liaison; Maria Gihooley, Reform Specialist; and Johnny Sanders, Delinquency Prevention Specialist.

Miami Dade County - Juvenile Justice staff in attendance included Cathy Burgos, LCSW, Division Director of Operations; Elena Angulo, LCSW, Mental Health Assessment Specialist; Elena Napolez, MSW, Juvenile Assessment Counselor Supervisor 1; and Leticia Loredo, BSW, Prevention Coordinator.

Manatee Detention Center Upgrades Soft Room

manatee rjdc soft roomManatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) recently upgraded their soft room. The goal was to make the room more appealing and comfortable while allowing the youth to embrace the process of peace and tranquility. A music system was also installed that will pipe in sensory rejuvenation and soothing sounds. The detention center’s focus is to assist youth by providing tools to help balance emotions of life-altering traumatic events.








st lucie visited by nursesA group of student nurses from Fortis College recently visited the St. Lucie Juvenile Assessment Center and Detention Center. The purpose of the visit was educational in nature and so that they could observe operations at the facility.






Hillsborough RJDC lunch meetingHillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently held an advisory board lunch meeting. Advisory Board President Freddie Barton, Captain Jason Grice, Bryan Ferguson from Experian LLC, and Howard Johnson from the PACE Center for Girls were in attendance. One of the topics discussed in the meeting was the detention center’s behavior management system, and the discussion inspired Mr. Barton to provide an incentive for the youth and detention officers. Hillsborough RJDC would like to thank their awesome advisory board for providing lunch and belief in their vision.


Probation Staff Host Barbeque and Information Fair

staff volunteer, police officer and service dog.Circuit 9 recently hosted its annual Back to School Barbeque and Information Fair. Youth and families affiliated with the Department as well as the surrounding community were invited to participate in the event.

DJJ providers Eckerd Kids (Project Bridge), Chrysalis Health Partners, and AMIkids set up booths and passed out information to the youth and families about their programs and services.

Circuit 9 community partners including the Metropolitan Urban League, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Youth Advocate Program (YAP) also came out to support the event and provided information to the youth and families.

Food and drinks were provided by Orange County Fire Rescue with support from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. A great number of youth and families participated in the festivities and took advantage of the services the providers offered. Youth also received backpacks with a full load of school supplies.

Several youth took advantage of the Florida Highway and Safety and Motor Vehicle’s Florida Licensing On Wheels (FLOW). The youth were able to secure identification just in time for the 2019-2020 school year. 

A good time was had by all. Central Regional Director Cathy Lake came out to speak with the youth and family participants as well as personally thank all of the providers and community partners for their participation and support. This year’s event was spearheaded by Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Irma Melendez.

staff at back to school event



youth bowlingYouth in Circuit 1 Project Connect were recently treated to a free bowling outing compliments of General Manager Steve Reynolds of Cordova Lanes in Pensacola.  Circuit 1 Transition Specialist Ron Gaines and Life Coach Joyce Nichols provided pizza and cupcakes for the occasion to celebrate their achievements in the transition program. Pastor Neal of the Lord’s House Christian Ministry also joined the group for the celebration.  Pastor Neal provides mentoring for the youth and affords them opportunities to complete community service requirements after school, during the weekends, and in the summer.         



Project Connect would like to share the success story of Youth MQ.  Youth MQ came to Project Connect in December 2018 significantly behind in school and very introverted. However, with the assistance of Circuit 1 Transition Coordinator Ron Gaines, he began to show an enthusiasm to complete the goals on his individualized service plan. Youth MQ decided very early in the program that he wanted to right the wrongs he had done in his life.  He was motivated to prove to his family that he could be a trusted and mature son and sibling. He owned his mistakes and verbalized his responsibilities for his actions. With a newfound confidence, Youth MQ exceeded his own expectations by joining a church coffee club.  He became a leader in this group and organized readings for youth in the group. 

At this point, Youth MQ began to soar!  With his confidence now firmly seeded, his efforts at home greatly improved and he began completing his online academic course work ahead of schedule with exceedingly good grades.  He enjoyed the support of Project Connect Life Coach Joyce Nichols, who not only helped him with school work and assignments, she also baked cookies with Youth MQ and discussed his future goals and opportunities. Youth MQ was awarded for his hard work during Circuit 1’s Youth Success Week activities but he did not stop there.  Youth MQ could now see tangible results of his hard work and dedication.  He doubled down, worked even harder, and earned his way back into public school. In August, Youth MQ entered his freshman year at Tate High School as a confident young man with a bright future, an infectious personality and a plan to succeed. Proudly, Youth MQ successfully completed Project Connect in August soon after starting school.  Congratulations to this young man and his extraordinary accomplishments!