New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives. This series has been
hosted by... sponsored by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the New York
State Office of Children and Family Services, together with the New York State Division of
Probation and Correctional Alternatives, and it s been a very exciting series, and I m pleased to
be able to moderate today s session with you. Welcome to the fourth installment on Cost-Effective
Juvenile Justice Reform. I m pleased to be here today as your moderator at this session, as this
session will focus on innovative community-based strategies that have effectively been implemented
by law enforcement, probation and prosecutors. The initiatives highlighted today will focus on
truly front-end policies, programs and interventions that effectively divert non-violent youth
from the costly and largely ineffective juvenile placement system. We are fortunate today to have
three leaders in local juvenile justice policy here with us to share the innovative and effective
community-based strategies that they’ve implemented in places with significant juvenile crime
issues: Miami, Washington, DC, and our own New York City. We will begin with an interview
conducted by David Guistina of Northeast Public Radio, to be aired on NPR at a later date. He
will have the opportunity to speak with Wansley Walters, The Director of the Miami-Dade Juvenile
Services Department. After the interview is complete we’ll take a short break, and then have the
opportunity to hear some summary remarks from Ms. Walters, followed by presentations from Terry
Odom, who is the Director of Court Social Services in DC, Washington, DC, about effective
community-based probation strategies being employed there; and then from Larry Bushing, Chief of the Family
Court Division of the New York City Department of Law, about prosecutorial tools to use
community-base strategies while preserving public safety. I m pleased to first introduce to you
Wansley Walters, Director of the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department. Ms. Walters has over 25
years of experience in child advocacy, and has led a transformation of the juvenile justice system
in Miami-Dade County, Florida, overseeing a national demonstration project rooted in one
centralized juvenile assessment center that serves as a centralized processing, referral and
evaluation center for all juveniles arrested in Miami-Dade County. The project allows
representatives from law enforcement and social services to work together under one roof to
provide a complete range of services and programs at the initial stages of the juvenile s
involvement with the juvenile justice system. This has proven to be an efficient model of
processing that has allowed the State of Florida and local communities to achieve system and
fiscal efficiencies. The delivery mechanism used to provide JSD/JAC services and programs is
achieved through four major components: the intake and screening component; the diversion
services continuum; the prevention continuum; and the clinical unit. Welcome to Albany, Ms.
Walters. We are looking forward to learning from the systems change that you have overseen. And
thank you, Mr. Guistina, for joining us at our symposium series. Welcome, everyone. David
Guistina: Well this is a lively crowd; Welcome. Yeah, you can clap, it s okay we’re having a
good discussion today. As you said, my name is David Guistina. Normally, in this spot today
would have been Dr. Allan Chartock. Unfortunately he sends his apologies; he had to have some
minor surgery, so he s been out this week. He basically turned to me and said you’re doing it.
And then when I began to read about what I was doing, boy was I excited. Because I think we re
going to have a wonderful program today. Wansley Walters, if you’ve been reading about what she s
been doing down in Miami of course not just you but your community it s quite an incredible
example, a benchmark I think for, not only around the country, but she s been traveling around the
world. She was telling me just now she was just in Thailand back in May, and they’re coming over
to Miami when she gets back from here, to study what they’ve been doing. So we are going to run a
radio program here, and when I introduce the program I hope that you will share your enthusiasm
and clap wildly, and then we will get right into it. It s going to go about, just about an hour.
My timekeeper here will dutifully tell me when we’re getting close to the end. And I just hope
you enjoy it, and we’ll try to get everything in if we can. Wansley, are you ready? Wansley
Walters: I m ready. Guistina: Gentleman who are recording, are you ready? I got the nod. Here
we go. Hello and welcome to the Huxley Theater and the New York State Museum for the fourth
symposium in our five-part series, Enhancing Community Safety Through Cost-Effective Juvenile
Justice Reform. [applause] A wonderful crowd here with us today. Thank you for joining us. I m
David Guistina for WAMC Northeast Public Radio and I m honored to be filling in for Dr. Allan
Chartock for this Division of Criminal Justice Services symposium series on juvenile justice. The
series is supported with a generous grant from the Public Welfare Foundation and is being
co-sponsored by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Children and Family
Services, the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, Assemblyman William
Scarborough, and Senator Velmanette Montgomery. A reminder that if you haven t heard our other
programs in the series or wish to hear one again, you can always visit our Website at Just click on the pulldown menu for WAMC Programs, and click on Speaker s Corner.
Now for today s program. As we return to the series on juvenile justice today, we’re reminded of
past programs where we explored such issues as when children should be arrested, and whether they
should be jailed while awaiting trial; fairness and racial equity in the juvenile justice system;
what can be done at the community level to address juvenile crime; and how large justice systems
can be changed. All of this is an effort to help New Yorkers and New York State better understand
its juvenile justice system and, hopefully, improve it. To that end, I am pleased today to have
the opportunity to talk with Wansley Walters, Director of the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Justice
Services Department, whose mission is to serve arrested juveniles, those at risk of being
arrested, and the families of these youth. Formerly known as the Juvenile Assessment Center, or
JAC, it is the largest juvenile arrest processing center in the US, serving over 130,000 juvenile
arrests in Miami-Dade County alone since opening in 1997. In the mid-nineties the juvenile
justice system in Miami-Dade County was so dysfunctional that organized crime was recruiting kids
and employing them as laborers in their criminal enterprises. By 1995 annual arrest rates of
juveniles had hit 20,000 in a community of about 2 million, and it was roundly believed the worst
was yet to come, and as you can imagine in a state that relies so heavily on tourism, Florida, an
increase in high-profile and violent juvenile offenses was more than a little troublesome. The
system was, in short, a disaster. Authorities didn’t seem to know anything more about juvenile
crime than how many juveniles were arrested. Even that was hard to figure out, what with over
thirty law enforcement agencies individually processing arrested juveniles. Officials in Florida
knew they had to do something, and that initial something was to get a handle on what was actually
going on, and as is often the case, defining the nature and scope of a problem is the first step
toward solving it. Whatever they did it worked. Between 1998 and 2007 the recidivism rate for
juveniles dropped seventy-eight percent! Juvenile arrests were down 41%. And the daily
population of the juvenile detention centers dropped by nearly 67% - that s two-thirds. Today,
the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department is recognized as a national juvenile justice
model. The agency has partnered with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and
Ms. Walters developed and heads a national demonstration project with the US Department of Justice
and national researchers in the field of juvenile justice. Ms. Walters is a frequent presenter on
juvenile justice in both national and international conferences, and we welcome you, Ms. Walters,
to the program. Walters: Thank you very much, David. Guistina: Well, the obvious question is what
the heck did you do that worked down there in Miami-Dade, but we’re not going to start with the
obvious question because I want to get a little more personal first. I want to know what makes a
person like you tick; in other words, tell us more about yourself. I believe I read you’re from
Miami, a former cop Tell us what life experiences lead you to this career in juvenile justice
reform. Walters: Actually, I wasn’t a cop-cop. I was a Senior Police Bureau Commander.
Guistina: What does that mean? Walters: That means I held a position in the police department
that can be held by either a sworn person, or a non-sworn person. And I headed the Juvenile
Assessment Center as a non-sworn person when the JAC actually fell under the jurisdiction of the
County Police Department. And the way I got there was because I was one of the people, team of
people that got together in Miami to try to form a Juvenile Assessment Center because, as you so
eloquently stated, we had a real mess down there. Guistina: You sure did. But something got you
interested, initially, in this area. What got you there? Walters: The thing that most got me
interested in juvenile justice was that, growing up as a child, I was in trouble every day of my
life. Guistina: You were not! Walters: I was, I absolutely was in trouble every day, and I had
no clue still don t how I always got into trouble. And I began to realize that the vast
majority of kids in the juvenile justice system have something in common with that, they find
themselves constantly getting in trouble and many times they have no idea how they got there.
Guistina: Now what could you have done to get you in trouble? Walters: I m still pondering that,
and I haven t come up with it. But one of the things and I think the people who are here today
who work with juvenile justice on a day to day basis, particularly in the place in juvenile
justice where we sit which means everybody comes together, you can see that there s like three
very broad categories of kids coming into juvenile justice. You have kids who do something stupid
that day and they get caught and they get into trouble, and that might be the only thing that ever
gets them into the system. Then you have the vast majority of kids who are kids who have some
sort of issue. And those issues range from the temporary family problem or the temporary
girlfriend-boyfriend angst problem, to problems that are very serious and chronic learning
disabilities, abuse, neglect, substance abuse problems, domestic violence. And usually those
children, and I believe they’re children they’re acting out just like little ones act out. The
problem is the don t look like little children so people just sort of think they’re mini adults
and try to treat them in that manner. And the last group is the group that are committing the
serious crimes. They are the ones displaying the most criminal behavior. They are the ones that
people who don t work in juvenile justice think of when they hear the term juvenile justice. And
these are kids who usually start bouncing around before the age of twelve. They have a unique set
of issues that are sometimes different than the others. And there are patterns that emerge and
trends that emerge. And when you start having the ability to pay attention to those differences,
and starting to work with the child in his family, before the crime he commits becomes more
important than his own personal issues, you start to see a major difference. Guistina: These are
complex issues. These are different kids that you’re describing, despite the fact that they may
fit into some general categories. So what went wrong in Miami? What were you doing wrong?
Walters: In the beginning first of all you have a juvenile justice system and people again, who
are not in the juvenile justice system sort of see this as sort of this one unit that’s sort of
gyrating there. But when you actually understand what constitutes the juvenile justice system,
you recognize that it is a group of very different agencies that have very unique statutory
responsibilities and they sort of fit in together to create this juvenile justice system. You have
law enforcement, you have the courts, you have the juvenile justice people, you have the social
service people; you can t involve a child or a juvenile without having the education system at
least in some fashion engaged. Many times you have the child welfare people because sometimes the
more serious children are children who have crossed over from other systems. So when you put this
group together you have to start moving it in the same direction even though what brings them to
that system may not be moving in that direction from the very beginning. Guistina: Well that s
easy to say, huh? I mean, all these different facets you’ve got to bring together, these
different groups from the community; the law enforcement, social service agencies. That s a
monumental amount of change. So you have to start somewhere. So I m going to name a few key
phrases and you go from there. Now we’ve heard this phrase a lot and in past elections. It s
been used to make fun of people, but I think it really is something that you really take to heart
when it comes to dealing with this issue of juvenile justice: It takes a village. Walters: Yes,
it does. And what we worked very hard to do was to get a group of people who in the very
beginning when we started this effort didn’t work terribly well together, didn’t think very highly
of each other, and absolutely didn’t like each other; how we could start developing some sort of
common ground that would allow us to move forward. Now clearly the best change-agent in this
system was going to be our JAC because when we put our Juvenile Assessment Center by statute in
the State of Florida, that constitutes an arrest facility, so by being at that entry point with
all of the police departments bringing the juveniles to the JAC where the booking would take place
and the processing and the organization would take place, it allowed us to really act as that
focal point change-agent. So, as we began to operate, clearly we could not operate without the
partnership and the involvement of all of the other juvenile justice partners. And from the very
beginning we established that we all wanted to bring fewer children into the system. We wanted
less arrests, we wanted less crime. And that was really the launching pad from where we took it,
to where we are now. Guistina: You said something in answering that question that struck me which
was change-agent. Someone had to step forward and get the ball rolling. And that was you, wasn t
it? So what point did your head come off of your shoulders and you say it s time to do something?
Walters: Well, when we pulled together the opening of the Juvenile Assessment Center, which in
the very beginning co-located everyone, but over the years has evolved to us pretty much doing
everyone s jobs for them but in the very beginning when we first opened - and we had, as was
mentioned previously, an incredibly dysfunctional system. So, we worked for two and a half years
really to pull this facility together and to sort of revisit all of the processes so that we
could start to function. And amazingly enough, when a child would be arrested in Miami-Dade
county before the JAC, it could take up to six weeks to move them through the process. Guistina:
And you mean juvenile assessment center when you say JAC, just for our listeners. Walters: Yes,
the facility that processes arrests. It would take unless they were actually detained, and that
was difficult to do because detention of a juvenile is contingent not only on what he commits at
that moment but his past record, and when you didn’t actually have reliable records at that point,
or access to those records, it was very difficult to know who should be detained and who should
not be detained; and if a child was not detained, sometimes the paperwork could take six weeks to
get to a point where the State Attorney was making filing decisions and the court got involved.
And of course that s a lifetime to an adolescent. So when you get in trouble and nothing happens
a week later, or two weeks later, or four weeks later, some credibility issues start to emerge.
So when we began to operate our JAC and we joined together our Juvenile Assessment Facility we
literally took six weeks’ worth of work and reduced it into a couple of hours. We implemented the
first LiveScan fingerprint system in the United States for juveniles actually, and what that
allowed us to do is to know whether this child was being arrest for the first time, or for the
fifth time, which means everything based on what you’re doing in juvenile justice. And so with
that level efficiency achieved, we began to see the next level, and then the next level, and start
to work through. Guistina: Let s go back now, for a second. Forgive me, we got ahead of
ourselves here because I want to really set the stark contract between what was going on in
Florida before this model came to be, and it starts with a name. Martin Lee Anderson. Can you
talk about that, and the boot camps versus the academies, for a second? Walters: Well, That is a very
painful thing for people in the juvenile justice system to discuss in the State of Florida. And
there was a just for people who don t know about Martin Lee Anderson, he was in a boot camp that
was being operated by a Sheriff s Department. And, he was engaging in physical activity and
something began to go very, very wrong, and what ultimately happened was, being restrained
forcefully by the Deputy Sheriffs, he ended up dying. And it was a tragic event, it was
particularly painful for us in Miami, because we had this young man had been arrested and put into
this boot camp because he was joyriding in his grandmother s car while she was sitting in church.
And in Miami we don t detain children for that. But in this particular part of Florida he was put
into this boot camp and, even under the direct vision of a nurse, he was not able to breathe and
he ultimately died. And it is extremely painful, and I know there s been some similar type tragic
events that have happened in New York State. Guistina: But of course that led to the Martin Lee
Anderson Act; maybe you could talk about what that is, and then maybe talk about the Star Sheriff
Training and Respect program. Walters: Boot camps have always been fairly controversial,
particularly when you are putting thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year olds in them,. They might
serve a purpose preparing young men of adult age to go into the military, but when you’re talking
about thirteen, fourteen year olds, it s an approach that many people believe, myself included, to
not be a particularly productive approach. But it was an avenue that was being used by several
Sheriff s Departments in the State of Florida. We did not have it available in Miami-Dade. One
of the things that did come out of this terrible tragic event was the elimination of the boot camp
concept. So that now any law enforcement agency having a program that works with juveniles must
base it upon the needs of the child; assessment and service-driven, and respect for the children,
where the children are treated with respect and they are taught to respect in return. Guistina:
So no physical or mental intimidation. Walters: No, not at all Guistina: Another aspect of this
of course was you had to get people to buy into it. And you went the route of police chiefs,
right? Talk about that. How do you get different groups to buy into these solutions and go with
it? You could easily stereotype and say lots of police officers say hang em high; that’s a no
goodnik, that’s a no-good kid Walters: We have 37 police departments in Miami-Dade County, and
also instead of an elected Sheriff in Miami-Dade, we have an appointed Police Director who
operates a county-wide police department with nine district stations, so you could almost say we
have almost forty different individual departments. Guistina: Sound familiar, New Yorkers?
Walters: And one of the things that from the very beginning, because I happened to be working at
the police department, I was for the Police Director I was one of the people who were able to be
a part of the original group putting the Juvenile Assessment Center together. Now at that time we
determined that the average amount of time that an officer spent off the road processing a
juvenile was about six hours of down time. Because of the protections in place for juveniles,
these 37 or 40 different locations, if the detention center would not accept the juvenile, or if
they were not arrested for something, it was up to that police officer to find a responsible adult
and not commingle that juvenile with any the adults. So many times you have police officers off the
road for many hours, more than six hours, with a child handcuffed to a chair, trying to find a
relative, trying to find a responsible adult to take custody of the juvenile. And there is a
legendary young man in Miami-Dade County who kept an officer on overtime for eighteen hours,
insisting that his name was Donald Duck. And they could not do anything but just sit there with
him, and of course no other officers wanted to take custody of him so the arresting officer was
ruing ever laying eyes on this kid. But he sat there for eighteen hours until he became bored
enough to actually tell them who he was because he was ready to go home at that time. Guistina:
On that note we remind you that you’re listening to an interview with Wansley Walters, Director of
the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department. I m David Guistina from WAMC and we’re taking part
in the fourth program in our five-part symposium series on juvenile justice reform, sponsored by
the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services in partnership with the State Office of Children and
Family Services, the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternative, Senator Velmanette
Montgomery and Assemblyman William Scarborough. The series is supported with a generous grant
from the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC. Well, no doubt, Ms. Walters, having been in
New York now for a little bit and I know you’re going down to New York city after this you’re
aware that New York has a little deficit problem. We don t have any money. And I noticed in an
article I was reading that one of the things you tell people is to forget about the money.
Walters: Yes. Guistina: When you’re planning a whole project like this forget about it! Don t
worry about the money, plan the project it ll come. Talk about that field of dreams, will you?
Walters: We I believe that very, very much, and it sounds very much like a Pollyanna, but I m
too old to be Pollyanna at this point and we’ve been doing this too long to not realize that there
s some actual value to Guistina: Results? Walters: Results. When we began planning our
Juvenile Assessment Center, again, pulling together the very people who didn’t care much for each
other, the only way we could get everybody into the room and to start actually thinking about how
we could re-think everything we do, was to tell them to forget about the money. Just forget the
money. We’ll come up with the money just let s figure out just if we had the money, how we
would do this. And so, everyone began to very earnestly engage in the planning of how we would
pull together this Juvenile Assessment Center. And somehow by the time we were narrowing it down
to open, we got money from the Legislature, we got money from the County, a building materialized
downtown, and we were able to get our JAC open. Once we opened and we began to achieve the
efficiencies, we began to see the patterns, we began to see that we were doing everything We had
these different categories of children, they were all had very individual situations, and we were
had this cookie-cutter way of processing and it didn’t make any sense, and it didn’t it was
illogical. We could have a juvenile arrested on Monday and we d go through these motions, and he
gets arrested on Wednesday, and we d go through these same motions, and it just was not logical.
So, we decided we wanted to change what we how we do it. And we weren’t really sure how we were
going to do that, so we started engaging in a community-wide plan to if we could reform the
system, how we would start to reform the system and what would be the things we needed. And we
decided to go to Washington, and at the time my husband was doing work in Washington, and we
decided we would ask our congressional delegation to help us get some money, because there was no
grant to do what we wanted to do. And we thought we d ask for a million dollars, because that
seemed like a whole lot of money at the time. And he said if you want one million, you should ask
them for three. So we went up and we asked for three and we said we’re going to change the system
and we’re going to do thing s differently, and within six months we had three million dollars.
Guistina: That s amazing. You know you mentioned you’re not Pollyanna about this and I know you
re not because one of the things that s great about how you describe how you went about this, you
don t cover over the rough edges. You really say, in order for us to make change we’re going to
fight. We’re going to scream at each other and we’re not going to like each other. But on the
other side, something will happen. Talk about that. Walters: Something will happen. We when we
initially began the changes that have led us to make so much progress in our community, it was
almost human nature that if we said we want to do one thing, somebody else was going to argue
about it. Even if we were convinced that it would improve the system, improve life, bring world
peace and eliminate world hunger, it didn’t matter. It was just human nature from every
perspective to fight it. But over the years we have worked through those issues mainly by having
everybody at the table. You know it s easy to build up a head of steam and fight people when you
don t understand what they do. And when you sit around a table long enough and you hear that it
doesn’t work well to do things in this manner, and we’re required to do these things in this
manner, because you as the State Attorney or you as the judge or whatever, have dictated that we
do it this way, but it actually makes no sense So suddenly you start revisiting how you do
things. And you start trying to do things At lunch I was having a conversation with someone
about planning processes. Every time we wanted to implement change we would bring everybody
together and we would plan, and plan, and plan, and it s easy to just plan for ever. But you
really should just start trying it out. Just you have to start doing it, because no matter how
well you plan, what you will find is there are always things that you didn’t plan for. So you
always have to fine-tune it. You always have to rethink it. It never goes off the way you think
it will. But if you’re all in it together then you will start to pull it together and when you
start looking at these children as individual children with individual issues and families,
something starts to change. Now I can tell you that ten years later, actually less than ten
years, I d say five years later What we have in Miami - and Miami is not a warm, cuddly - It
might be hot, but it s not a warm, cuddly community is a system within our juvenile justice
system and our child welfare system, where it is very easy for people to say we need to do
something different with this group of children. And no one blinks. People sit there and if it
doesn’t involve their actual agency, they’ll still be a part of the planning, providing the input,
knowing that the actual decisions have to be made by the affected agencies, and it has become
nothing to change what we do. And it is truly a night and day situation. It is that dramatic.
Guistina: You may need to talk to our Governor and legislative leaders because they’re having a
hard time making it to December to make decisions on what to do with our money. We may be in
arrears. I want to move to something else, here, which I think is also important, something you
talked about as you went forward and all these different groups were involved. And it s
simplified by one phrase keep them in their own lane. Walters: Yes. It s important to be in the
room listening to how people do their jobs because it does bring the hostility level down. It s
kind of hard to get angry at a police officer when you start to understand exactly what he s trying
to do and what his job responsibility is to do. The same with the clerk of the court; the same
with the social worker, same with the probation officer, and one of the things that was extremely
amazing was that people really, even though they thought they knew what everybody did, they didn
t. But when you’re in a room and the police officer has to change what he does, and the social worker
has to change what he does in order for a process to be facilitated, they have to be the ultimate
decision-maker. You can t have someone who isn’t in that particular line making those decisions.
But it is incredibly helpful to have everyone there. Because they begin to have an understanding
of what each other does, and a little compassion for their role in this thing we call a system.
Guistina: Another phrase that was used that I thought was very powerful and I think it probably
could be applied to New York and to every other state in this country, if not the world, is
something that other states unlike or other city, counties like Miami-Dade don t do, which is move
the rules to fit the child, not the child to fit the rules. Can you talk about that? Walters: When we
started to actually make progress and we actually began to understand everyone s rules and roles,
we began to also recognize that the things that we had to most be sensitive to were the state
statutes and the laws that governed us. But even at that point we began to understand we could
change those. But many times we would be making these sort of arbitrary decision and dictates on
this When a child would come into the system he would automatically have to do this because this
is what is the rule, and he would have to go to this one, because that was the rule And we
started to realize that in a whole lot of cases those rules didn’t make any sense. And the rules
in fact were going to ultimately do more damage to getting that child moved out of the system,
than helping them. And so we began to sort of change the rules to fit the child. And let me give
you a couple of examples In one case we learned that there were two nine year olds who were
found with heroin, and that is a pretty shocking thing to hear, that you have two nine year olds
with heroin in an elementary school. But by this time we had made a lot of progress. And so the
police officer got on the phone with me, and we got on the phone with the State Attorney, and we
decided that before we put handcuffs on the two nine year olds - which used to happen fairly
regularly in Miami What we would do is we would go to the school and try to learn what was
happening with these two children. And so we got with our child welfare people, and we got with
some of our case workers, because we have a whole set of protocols we work with, with children
under the age of 12. We went to the school and learned that these two little nine year old boys
found something as they were walking to school. They weren’t selling it, they weren’t using it.
They didn’t know what the word heroin actually was, but they were showing it to their friends,
which is what you usually do when you’re nine years old. And so what we did was we talked to the
children, we went to the children s homes, we talked to their families. Actually one family was
absolutely fine. One family actually needed some services that weren’t even really related to
that child. And we were able to access them. And we explained how dangerous it is to pick up
things like this, and what the repercussions could be, and these little wide-eyed boys were sortof
mortified that what they had was so serious that they could have been in the back of a police car,
and with a felony arrest that could have changed their lives forever. And this is something that
I think is very critical. It costs a lot of money you can approach this from a variety of
different directions... It costs a lot of money to make an arrest. Actually we determined in the
State of Florida many, many years ago and we even stopped tallying it up It costs about five
thousand dollars every time you book someone into the system because you have to engage so many
systems, so many cross-checks, and after that point that agency has to have a tie to that name and
that number so that their statutory role gets fulfilled and that takes people and it takes a lot
of money to pull that off. And what also happens is that a lot of juveniles in particular get
arrested. They get arrested for things that adults don t get arrested for they just get
citations and have to go to court. So what do we do? We take a child, we put handcuffs on them
and we put them in the back of a car and I don t care if he s eight years old or he s sixteen
years old his life will completely change. Let me give you another example. You’ve got
children who will go to a mall on a Saturday afternoon; 5-6 kids. And one of them will shoplift
or even potentially one, somebody might think they’re about to shoplift. And you ll have a store
manager get crazy, you will have other customers get frightened that there s a group of kids,
anyway. The store manager insists that some shoplifting took place and all the juveniles get
arrested. So then they’re either taken to the station, or they’re taken to a juvenile assessment
center or a booking facility and what you have are five kids getting arrested and five kids who
end up going to court. Now, let s just say that you’ve got one juvenile who s a good student; he
s in an after school prevention program that s having a very positive effect on him. He comes
from a single-parent household and his mother s working hard to keep that family together, and she
doesn’t work in a job that she can just announce that she s got to show up in court because she s
in a situation where she doesn’t have that. So what you have is you have this juvenile and he has
this court date, and he now has been arrested in front of his friends and his neighbors and
everybody looks at him differently. His school starts to look at him differently. The prevention
program that he was doing so well in doesn’t want him anymore because he s now been arrested, and
he s crossed some kind of line that they don t find acceptable. His court date comes; his mother
either forgot about it, maybe she didn’t understand the whole process, maybe she was told she
would lose her job if she left whatever it is, an adult did not go to that school and physically
pick up, check the child out of the school and take him to court. So what do we do in the State
of Florida? We re-arrest him. And now we automatically put him into the detention center where
we have spent more money, and we are now paying extra money for this pre-adjudicatory cost in the
detention center and his life really has changed. His mother is angry and hurt that he got
re-arrested, without realizing that she s the reason that he got rearrested. His neighbors, his
school, his school that he was doing so well in, they start to really back away with their
expectations. And in this get-tough society we have taken a kid who really never did anything to
begin with, and we have sort of systemized him right into jail where, if he s a minority child he
might have heard all along you’re going to end up locked up, and you never really have to do
anything to have that happen. And those are the kinds of thing s that are happening in our system
today, and many times it takes an awfully strong support system around that child to help him
overcome that, because it s very hurtful. Guistina: I ll let you all think about that while I
remind you that you’re listening to an interview with Wansley Walters, Director of the Miami-Dade
County Juvenile Services Department, who s taking part in the fourth program in our five-part
symposium series on juvenile justice reform, which is sponsored by the New York State Division of
Criminal Justice Services in partnership with the State Office of Children and Family Services,
the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and
Assemblyman William Scarborough. The series is support by a generous grant from the Public
Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC. I m David Guistina and Wansley, my goodness It really
sounds like you’re saying that the juvenile justice system in general in the United States keeps
kids down, doesn’t allow them to escape in some cases, their circumstances. And why don t you
just move this over into what you actually did the civil citation program. Walters: Yes. We
saw a lot of juveniles that were having the type of thing I just discussed happen, or maybe even
they got into a diversion program, because we do offer a continuum of diversion programs from
minor offenses, to more serious offenses. But they were finding that they were not able to get
school loans, many times when they were in academically competitive situations and all things
being equal those forms don t ask if you were convicted of a crime, they ask you have you ever
been arrested, and explain yourself. And if all things are equal and it s down between you and
some other person and they’ve never been arrested and you are, with those records - that can hold
you back. And children were not able to get the normal after school jobs because of this. And so
initially we developed a program where with our state statute we went to Tallahassee, we changed
the statute that if you completed a post-arrest diversion or any kind of diversionary program,
that you could have your record expunged and not use the one-time lifetime expungement that every
Florida citizen has a right to. And we thought that we had really worked something out, and we
worked with the families and we were getting those records expunged, only to find out that the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement was selling databases to these major companies that the
department stores and other business and credit bureaus and all sorts of things were using to
access to find out if people had records. So the possibility of you have some sort of minor
thing, you successfully complete whatever we put you through, your parents pay their $75 and get
everybody to sign the paperwork and that paper comes back that says your record has been expunged,
but when you go to apply at McDonald s, McDonald s Corporation uses some other corporation that
has bought a database and finds out that not only have you been arrested, but you have lied. So
we realized that we needed to have something in place that would allow kids to get in trouble and
do something stupid, without actually having to pay for it with their futures. And so we used
something that was in the state statute called civil citation. I don t know if that s something
that you have in place in the State of New York, but it was something in our state statute that
allowed a police officer to make the decision not to arrest a juvenile, but in fact take him home,
talk to the parents, maybe assist them in getting services And this was a perfectly acceptable,
legal avenue for a police officer to take. But in Miami-Dade County those programs as a rule
operated when a department had a grant, or when the department was in a very affluent area. And
the police officers didn’t have a lot of crime that they had to contend with. They were not only
public safety but also somewhat of a chamber of commerce function for the community. So those
were the programs, those were the areas where you would find the civil citation. And usually they
would peter out after a while. It would be dependent upon that one officer and that one child.
Never happened in the less affluent areas. Never happened in the high-crime areas. So you had a
situation where certain children were given that opportunity but other children were not. So we
went to all thirty-seven police directors, police chiefs and we said, will you let us manage this
population? And we will hold this arrest form, and we will address the speedy trial and all the
legal processes, but if we work with this child and this family, and we get them through this
process, can we keep them from going into the system? And furthermore, they not only agreed to
that, and our State Attorney agreed to that, but we’ll let them get in trouble twice they can
get in trouble again, as long as they successfully completed the first time, if they get in
trouble later, we’ll do it all over again. And what we do is exactly what we do when they re
under arrest for a minor offense. We do an assessment, we determine if they were shoplifting
because they were just tagging along with their friends, or were they shoplifting because they re
using drugs and they needed to sell what they were stealing. Or were they doing it because they
were being sexually abused by mom s boyfriend and they were acting out in some capacity. And we
start to get them exactly the service that they need which allows us to be very strategic with our
resources. And what we have found since we implemented this in April, 2007, is that we’ve had
over 5,500 kids who would have been arrested receive a civil citation. And of these juveniles
with civil citation plans 83% of those juveniles successfully completed, with the involvement of
their family, exactly what they had to do. And of the 83%, only 3% have gotten in trouble since
then. And 95% are minorities. So this is a critically important program when we think about how
easy it is for children to be sucked into the deeper end of the system, how if we can just work
with them outside of the system The system can be outside the system you know you don t have
to have this legal arm pounding them over the head to be working with them and helping them.
Guistina: It seems like in a way you were able to create an atmosphere of discretion. And,
probably the most important group to have in hand is police. You need, I think, right, you would
say the police have to believe in what you’re doing or it probably won’t happen. Walters: It is
important to have police, absolutely you must have police. And I believe that the leadership in
law enforcement agencies recognize that you can t arrest yourself out of a crime problem. Too
many officers arrest people over and over and over again. They’re sort of the gatekeepers. So it
s very frustrating to them to be re-arresting the same people and then for one reason or another
they’re back on the street or they come out of prison or whatever. And so most leadership in a
law enforcement agency who s sort of been there and done that, and they realize that something
that we’ve been doing in this country hasn’t actually worked. The challenge we found was civil
citation had been the individual officers. And that was why it was so critical to have the
leadership because when the officer and we have a great State Attorney We actually have great
judges, we have and I didn’t always say that we’ve come full-circle. And they didn’t care much
for me either, I will have to give them that. Guistina: I don t believe it Walters: Anyway, the
one thing that we found was you would have officers coming in because our statute does say that
the officers has the final say. But what we would Guistina: That was smart. Walters: Because
we have police lieutenants there who really oversee that initial entrance into the arrest process,
we would let them know that since their police chief signed off on it, if they said that they did
not want a juvenile in the civil citation program, then we would go back to their police chief -
and we would. And many times what it got down to is what I think happens with police officers and
kids from the very beginning, is you’ve got kids who make officers mad. They’re not respectful.
They want An officer will ask them to stop, give me your name, and this thirteen year old in all
of his judgment hauls off And so it makes the officer mad. Or you will have, you know and this
is particularly prevalent with girls. If you don t treat a girl with respect - ladies, is this
not true we get a little feisty and we will be disrespectful in return. And so a lot of times
the girls will smart off at the officers and they get arrested. So by the time that they get to
our facility, they’ve all built up a head of steam and the officer is very, very angry. And this
something that we need to take into consideration when we put the child into a series of services,
and that is it s just not a smart thing to be smarting off to the police officer. But it also isn’t
Smarting off at a police officer shouldn't ruin the rest of your life. And if you are coming into
that system and you don t have a support structure that can make sure you are crossing your t s
and dotting your I s and moving you out of here, you could get sucked in to the deep end just
because you had a big mouth . And as someone who had a big mouth I can tell you that I could
easily have been one of these children. Guistina: And the fact of the matter is, and this is no
insult to police officers, but they’re not psychologists and they’re not social workers. And
there s a statistic that I saw when I was researching that two-thirds of boys in Florida, the
state , the whole state, have some type of psychological disorder. So people coming in have
problems, and it s not personal for the police. Walters: No it s not personal to the police. Let
me tell you a story that just made this great impression on me. One day I was actually walking
through the secure part of our facility where the arrested juveniles are being booked. And there
was this very sweet-looking young man who was sort of dejected and I asked him why he was there.
And he told me that he had hit a police officer. And I was kind of taken back and I said, you know
what would make you think that was a good idea? And he explained that his mother had a new
boyfriend, and when he went home He was sixteen years old, actually taking courses at the
community college in pre-college. Great student. He came home and his mother s new boyfriend
told his mother to tell him that he couldn’t live there anymore, because the boyfriend didn’t want
him there. And he was hurt, and he was angry. And I remember thinking, I m a grown woman and I
think if my mother told me that she didn’t want me to come home, it would really hurt my feelings,
and I don t even live with her anymore. Guistina: It s hurting my feelings, and I m not even
involved Walters: Well, what he did was he was so angry that he got in his car and he peeled
off, and he did some sort of traffic infraction in front of an officer who pulled him over and it
was just the final straw. He got out of the car and he hit the cop. So sometimes when you start
to delve into the situations, they just melt your heart. And that is why when we were all there
as this collective unit and started to realize how some of the things that we were doing to
protect our agencies, to protect our statutory responsibility, to show that we were tough and
whatever was just doing so much more damage, and I can tell you that I am the greatest supporter
of our law enforcement in Miami-Dade county. But what we have We’re actually now down to 46
percent fewer arrests than we had in the late 90 s. We don t have that because officers are not
making arrests for crimes being committed. We have less crime. And that is even before the civil
citation. We have less crime. Guistina: Now of course we’re in New York State, where we re
working on the old model here. So we could argue that the results that we’re getting we re
probably not happy with, and I can hear many of the more conservative friends of ours in the state
saying, come on, Pollyanna, you can t do it this way, this is too easy on the kids, they don t
learn anything this way Individual by individual They did something wrong they should be
punished. So is the way to go about this with folks who maybe hold these attitudes to point out
the recidivism rate drops, crime drops, and then money Walters: Money. Money is big. What we’ve
been able to do with our Juvenile Assessment Center, which if you recall was co-locating all of
the different agencies We now have become so efficient at what we do that we do their jobs for
them. And by paying attention to the juveniles and working with them and using any community
service that was available, not just a juvenile justice service, but any community services
whether it s substance abuse or anger management or mental health services What we’ve been able
to do is reduce the population so all of our related agencies: the State Attorney s Office, the
public defender, the courts, the clerk s office, the judges, the court dockets That is all half
of what it used to be. So we have saved a huge amount of money. And the White House and the
Justice Department held a Juvenile Justice Summit in Miami last May to focus on our model that we
have collectively put together, and a separate independent group did an economic analysis, a very
conservative economic analysis that showed that the way we do business in Miami-Dade County saves
over $30million a year. And when you back out the cost of our department, you’re still saving $21
million every single year. Guistina: It s truly amazing. We’re starting to run out of time, but
I really want you to share a success story with us, and the name Theresa Sinclair jumps out.
Walters: Theresa was a young lady who is she s a very lovely beautiful young lady, and when she
was about fourteen years old there was a young man who had a crush on her. So he was kind of
insistent on trying to get her to be his girlfriend. And it was nothing terrible about it, I
mean, he would like try to walk her to class and so on and so forth and this had just gone on a
long, long time. So one day he was sort of interjecting himself into a line and some shoving took
place. He sort of bumped into her being playful and she had just had enough and she shoved him.
So she ended up getting arrested for this. Now she happened to be from one of the families that
didn’t quite get her into court on time. So she found herself in the detention center. And it
was very traumatic and very hurtful, and very painful to her. But she survived it, she went to
high school, she got out of school, she enrolled in college and she applied at the Juvenile
Services Department in Miami-Dade County, where we had to fight with the State of Florida to hire
her because she had been arrested. And we had to get clearance from the Department of Juvenile
Justice and I love the people at the Department of Juvenile Justice though, I m not..l But at
that time that s what we had to do. Guistina: She was on the list. Walters: She was on the list.
And we were able to hire her and she turned into a model employee. She is a very eloquent public
speaker who told her story at our White House Summit and also for the media. And she s now a
mother, and she s just this wonderful, wonderful young lady that we never would have come to know,
had we not wanted to give a chance to someone who had been arrested as a juvenile. Guistina:
What a wonderful story. Now I know you’ve been traveling a lot, and not only pushing this
benchmark, this model of yours around the US, but overseas as well, and you mentioned to me before
we came on here that you recently had been in Thailand. Talk about some of the international
places that you’ve been and what their systems are like and what you’re doing with them. Walters:
Well, when I first started working in juvenile justice I never imagined that I would travel so
much, but particularly travel around the world which is actually a responsibility when you do a
national demonstration project because your responsibility with the federal dollars is to help
people replicate it. But amazingly enough the European Union has been incredibly interested, and
we’ve been there several times. In particular, Ireland had us be the focus of their research
project and they’re really focusing on the collaboration. But our real thrill is the fact that
the Kingdom of Thailand had been to visit us and other places and decided that they wanted to
model their entire country after what we’ve done in Miami-Dade County. And so we went and worked
with about 50 people, judges And the same people in juvenile justice that work in the United
States, work in Thailand. And they spent some time with us this summer. And when we return from
New York the head of juvenile justice from Thailand and many of the judges will be in Miami going
through a whole week program and visiting our services delivery, our courts, the detention center,
and all of the other pieces of our system. Guistina. My goodness. We’re quickly running out of
time here. Wansley Walters, take just a moment now to address our audience here, not only on the
radio but this specific audience in the room, who are looking to implement solutions and solve
problems, rather than be mired down in the same old system that seems not to work. What would you
say to them now? Walters: I would say that if you care about these kids, then you need to be
relentless and you need to never give up on changing the system. Because so much of what we re
all doing just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And if you have reached a point where you believe
that you believe that you cannot change the system, that it might work in Miami, but it won’t work
in my community because I have a rural community, and it won’t work in my community because my
community is twice the size of Miami, or I live in a middle-sized city, or I we have a police
chief that won’t do this, and we have a that... Then you need to care enough about these children
to get in another field of work. Because if we don t change the way these systems are acting as a
feeder pattern into our prisons... If we don t care enough to understand that every child that
gets arrested has feelings and many times they don t have the support structure around them that
we give our own children. If you think it can t be done then you need to let someone else who
does believe this take your place. Guistina: Well I m sorry, we are all out of time for our
program today. What an incredible time we had with Wansley Walters. And of course you’ve been
listening to a fourth symposium in a five-part series Enhancing Community Safety through
Cost-Effective Juvenile Justice Reform. The series is supported with a generous grant from the
Public Welfare Foundation and is being cosponsored by the Division of Criminal Justice Services,
the Office of Children and Family Services, the Division of Probation and Correctional
Alternatives, Assemblyman William Scarborough and Senator Velmanette Montgomery. A huge thanks,
again to Wansley Walters and a special thanks to Lorraine Hogan for her assistance with the
program today and finally a reminder if you want to hear this or any of our other interviews in
this series, just head to our Website at Until next time, thanks for listening. Bob
Maccarone: What a wonderfully rich exchange. And, very informational and helpful and I think
something that causes us all to reflect on the challenges that you’ve laid out, Wansley. I want
to thank Wansley Walters and David Guistina for that exchange. And we’ll be coming back but we’ll
be taking a short break until 2:20 so if you could try to be back on time we’ll try to continue
this rich dialogue Thank you.