Miami-Dade Official to Lead Juvenile Justice Overhaul

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida


Gov.-elect Rick Scott named the head of Miami-Dade County’s Juvenile Services Department to lead an expected wide-ranging overhaul of the state’s Juvenile Justice Department.

Wansley Walters was appointed Friday to succeed former St. Petersburg state Rep. Frank Peterman, a Democrat, at the helm of the $400 million agency, which currently spends more than half its budget housing youth offenders in residential lockups.

Scott’s transition advisers last week recommended a sharply different approach that could also reduce department spending. They were especially critical of state legislators who cut $10 million from Florida’s Healthy Families program and who were labeled “tough on crime but fiscally short-sighted.”

A goal of the Scott team: cutting by half the $5,500-per-youth average cost for the agency.

“Wansley is one of the nation’s most prominent juvenile justice experts and I am excited to bring her experience and passion for juvenile justice reform to our state government,” Scott said.

According to Scott, Walters in Miami-Dade has managed to reduce juvenile arrests by 51 percent, re-arrests by 80 percent and juvenile detention by 66 percent over the past 10 years, while saving the county $33 million each year.

Florida TaxWatch, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which last week also urged a revamped approach to juvenile justice that de-emphasized confinement, have praised the Miami-Dade program, the governor-elect said.

Walters is a member of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and chairs a mental health committee for the state’s Department of Children and Families, which Scott advisers say should be more incorporated into juvenile offender services.

In Miami-Dade, Walters oversees services for arrested juveniles, their families and youngsters at-risk of becoming involved in crimes. She also is a former commander in the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Peterman, who was ordered to repay $26,000 for excessive travel to his St. Petersburg home during his time as DJJ secretary, was among a handful of appointees of outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist told not to remain for the opening days of the Scott administration.
Scott’s transition team also recommended that Peterman’s successor have a powerful, new deputy called the “assistant secretary of service coordination,” charged with dismantling the “silos” approach advisers said plagues the department.

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