Last week, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), under the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis, looked back at its record in 2020 and insisted it continues to serve as a national model for juvenile justice systems.
In its response to COVID-19, DJJ along with its providers, stakeholders and community partners mobilized and adapted quickly to respond to the pandemic to ensure public safety and the continuation of important services to Florida’s at-risk and justice-involved youth and their families.
“I applaud and thank Governor Ron DeSantis for his bold leadership and strength as our state faced unprecedented challenges this year,” said DJJ Sec. Simone Marstiller. “Under his direction, DJJ was able to coordinate a proactive and comprehensive strategy to respond to this public health emergency. I want to also thank DJJ’s direct care staff, the doctors and nurses who work inside our programs, and our stakeholders for navigating these uncharted waters. Collaboration and partnership have not faltered during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“2020 has been a challenging year but our commitment to our criminal justice partners such as the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has not wavered,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley. “It is critical that the focus on reducing juvenile delinquency and crime remain a priority at the local, state, and federal levels.”
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice showcased several initiatives and accomplishments for 2020. These initiatives are in keeping with DJJ’s commitment to protect Florida’s communities while offering comprehensive rehabilitative services to help youth get back on the right track and succeed.
“Florida’s juvenile justice system continues to set the standard for excellence nationwide. Despite having to navigate obstacles presented as a result of the pandemic, uninterrupted service provision to our at-risk youth remained at the forefront,” said Florida Juvenile Justice Association Executive Director Christian Minor. “I’d like to thank Governor and First Lady DeSantis, not only for their continued investment in Florida’s children but also in helping ensure the safety of those in our custody and care, as well as those who serve them. Additionally, I’d like to thank Secretary Simone Marstiller for her unwavering leadership and commitment to DJJ’s mission. It is with a servant’s heart that she continues to lead the agency.”
“On behalf of the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF), I am proud of our work this year with DJJ to help change the lives of Florida’s youth and families who have needed it the most,” said FJJF Chair Monesia Brown. “By working with DJJ to support and encourage academic opportunities for youth, we can help them realize their full potential and turn around their lives for the better.”
Juvenile Arrests Reach 45-year Low in Florida
Juvenile arrests declined 17 percent in Fiscal Year 2019-20, and are down 35 percent in the last five years, marking the lowest juvenile arrest level in Florida in 45 years. Comparing the months July 2019 through March 2020 for the last five years, FY 2019-20 was down eight percent from the prior year, and 27 percent from five years ago. This indicates that arrests were trending downward prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Partnership with First Lady Casey DeSantis on Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Youth Success
DJJ has partnered with First Lady Casey DeSantis on several initiatives focused on the well-being of Florida’s young people. DJJ took part in a roundtable discussion with both the Governor and First Lady DeSantis on the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and substance abuse. DJJ has also worked with First Lady DeSantis in her capacity as chair of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet on the important issues facing Florida’s youth including mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide. First Lady DeSantis also honored the 2020 Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Ambassadors at the Florida’s Governor Mansion in celebration of Youth Success Day.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Launched the First-Ever Florida Race Equity Challenge Aimed at Reducing Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System
DJJ joined together with other Florida Youth Justice Commission partners to launch the Florida Race Equity Challenge. The Florida Race Equity Challenge is a web-based, interactive experience that provides juvenile justice stakeholders with the education and tools to reduce racial disparities within the juvenile justice system. DJJ staff helped to coordinate the efforts of the commission both at the local and state level and created the concept and programming for the Florida Race Equity Challenge.
FJJF Partners with Florida Prepaid College Program to Provide Higher Education Scholarships to DJJ Youth
The Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF), the direct support organization for DJJ, has partnered with the Florida Prepaid College Program to provide scholarships for deserving DJJ youth. Funds raised by FJJF will be matched dollar for dollar by Florida Prepaid and will be used to recognize youth who have successfully completed their DJJ programs and need tuition assistance to continue their education.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to Evaluate and Offer Services for Youth with Traumatic Brain Injuries
DJJ has partnered with the University of South Florida, the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Youth Opportunity Foundation, Youth Opportunity Investments, and prominent neuropsychology and neurorehabilitation experts to create a full range of services focused on youth with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The project will focus on youth served within DJJ’s juvenile residential commitment programs. As part of the project, youth will be screened and evaluated for the presence of a traumatic brain injury. Services will be provided while residing at the commitment program and then continue in the youth’s home community. The goal of creating TBI-focused services is to provide specialized treatment to reduce a youth’s likelihood to reoffend.
Continuation of DJJ’s “It’s No Joke” Campaign To Combat School Threats
DJJ continues to raise awareness regarding school threats through its “It’s No Joke” campaign. This awareness campaign aims to dissuade youth from making school threats and educate both youth and parents of the consequences one can face when making these threats. The “It’s No Joke” awareness campaign seeks to educate youth and parents that even threats made online, including on social media and gaming sites, can lead to a youth being charged with a felony offense. The campaign has been supported by DJJ’s law enforcement and education partners around the state. As part of this awareness campaign, DJJ has created a resource guide to help educate families on the law, responsible social media use, and tips on how to discuss these important topics with the young people in their lives.
DJJ Hosts Virtual Discussions Between Youth, Families and Law Enforcement Partners
DJJ has hosted Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) discussions since 2012, but this year, was able to expand the scope and reach of these discussions by using virtual platforms. G.A.A.P. discussions allow youth to gain a more positive relationship with law enforcement and create a better understanding by law enforcement of youth. The discussions are designed to reduce juvenile arrests and rearrests, keep youth from moving deeper into the juvenile justice system, to promote the use of civil citation, and to address disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system. Youth who participate in these discussions come from diverse youth organizations and DJJ prevention programs like the Pace Center for Girls, Boys and Girls Clubs, youth shelters, church youth groups, detention centers, alternative schools, and community programs. This year, DJJ hosted eleven virtual G.A.A.P discussions statewide with a total of twelve law enforcement agencies represented and 345 participants in total.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Strengthened Oversight of Programs and Providers
DJJ created the Office of Accountability and Program Support to ensure programs effectively provide for the safety, well-being, and treatment of youth under the state’s care. This new office places a greater focus on the management of programs operated or contracted by the department. Successful programs lead to positive youth outcomes, which increases public safety.
DJJ Partnered with the Florida Department of Education to Strengthen DJJ School Programs
DJJ worked with the Florida Department of Education to create an education program improvement process for DJJ schools. This process establishes new intervention and support strategies for low performing DJJ schools to provide for greater accountability and to ensure youth within DJJ school programs receive a high-quality education.
Expanded Volunteerism in the Juvenile Justice System amongst Community Partners and Stakeholders
From January 2020 to date, a total of 1,900 individual volunteers performed 4,000 hours of service at DJJ programs and facilities. Volunteers perform such activities as assisting with faith-based services, mentoring, tutoring, assisting with vocational programs, and counseling services. Volunteer hours have generated a cost savings this year of close to $109,000. The use of virtual platforms has equipped volunteers to provided needed wrap-around services to youth in the DJJ’s care.
The Department of Juvenile Justice and Bethune-Cookman University Partner to Extend Internship and Employment Opportunities in the Juvenile Justice Field to Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) and University Students
DJJ and B-CU have partnered to provide internship and employment opportunities to qualified B-CU students (undergraduate and graduate) majoring in Criminal Justice, Sociology, Psychology, Education, Political Science, and Health Science. The partnership will afford B-CU faculty and students the opportunity to work collaboratively with the DJJ’s Office of Research & Data Integrity staff to identify and conduct cutting-edge juvenile justice research to improve the effectiveness of juvenile services across the department’s service delivery continuum.