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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  • by level6nurse Location: Quincy on Jan 3, 2011 at 02:02 PM
    What needs to change is the amount of money that is spent on the "criminals"!Commit them early not after several charges, these are not brats they are criminals parents can't or won't take responsiblity for!Most parents can't afford boarding school so the state has found a way to provide it through DJJ c/o taxpayers.The state shouldn't expect crime to decrease as long as they are treating the inmates/juveniles to free food clothing cable healthcare therapy recreation & education.It's ridiculous the amount of care & paperwork the state requires for each admit to a program!I asked one of our youths what deterred him from breaking into a house thinking surely they had limits & he said "nothing i have a gun on me hell we all do" he just turned 16 has a wrap sheet a mile long & this is his 3rd program!He is nice & seems quite content here smiles all the time makes straight A's. Punishment I think not!Any wonder how they end up in prison?It's better than home & free!
  • by Patricia Location: Miami on Jan 3, 2011 at 01:36 PM
    Kids arent bad....they just do bad things.....when they are taught the difference between right and wrong, they usually man up and grow up. The majority of these kids come from homes in which all they see is dugs, violence so how are they to learn any different. I think it's horrendous that you people have them all labeled, incoreectly I may add !!!!
  • by Dee Location: Tallahassee on Jan 3, 2011 at 01:04 PM
    Good idea Responsible parent, and if the parents WERE responsible it would work. But HQ is right and that's where the problem lies. The root of the problem is people having children who have no desire or ability to be responsible parents. Chances are they were raised in the same fashion - it's a vicious cycle. The govt needs to stop rewarding people for having illegitimate kids, period. "One and You're Done" - govt. assistance for the first, and that's it. Have as many kids as you want, with as many dads, but no more money from the taxpayers. Guaranteed the illegitimate birth rate would plummet! Juvenile crime rate would follow.
  • by clmiii on Jan 3, 2011 at 07:53 AM
    What most people don't realize is that most kids are arrested several times before they are ever held in detention. The kids that get held have committed multiple felony crimes before they are ordered to be held. Now they are saying they are going to cut the number of juvenile offenders that are arrested and held in detention. So much for a safer community.
  • by HQ Location: DJJ on Jan 3, 2011 at 07:31 AM
    Evertime a new Gov. comes in the Department is "revamped". The whole first year is people fired, shifting roles, etc. What people don't get is that there are a lot of bad kids out there. They hurt you, murder, you rob you. You can't send them home as home is what got them into this in the first place. These kids today are 3rd, 4th generation criminals and inmates. It is all they know. DJJ is not charged with changing the family or removing the family from the picture...but that is what has to happen. At first arrest. The home has to be investigated for a complete plan to be put in place if we ever hope change with kid criminals.
  • by Responsible parent Location: Tallahassee on Jan 3, 2011 at 06:25 AM
    Put an ankle bracelet on the little brats and send them home with their parents instead of housing them for the state to take care of. It's time we made parents responsible for teaching their kids manners and respect.
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