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Department of Juvenile Justice’

House passes bill requiring DJJ to pay funeral costs for kids who die in state care

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House unanimously approved a measure requiring the Department of Juvenile Justice to pay $5,000 to the families to help cover the funeral costs for children who die in the state’s care.

The bill (HB 173) was prompted by a dispute last year over funeral costs for Eric Perez, who died on July 10. Guards at a West Palm Beach DJJ facility waited more than six hours before calling 911 after Perez began vomiting, hallucinating and complaining of severe headaches, according to official reports of the incident.

In August, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office denied a payment to a funeral home to cover the costs of Perez’s funeral after initially approving the request from DJJ. Atwater’s staff told DJJ to cancel it because the agency lacked the authority for the payment, although DJJ has had a policy for at least two years to provide up to $5,000 for funeral costs of children who die while in their custody whose families are indigent.

The House unanimously approved the measure, which would put the agency’s policy into law and avoid disputes that arose over Perez’s funeral payment.

The Senate has yet to send an identical measure (SB 504) to the floor for a vote.

Senator demands financials from DJJ on psychotropic meds

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After blistering Department of Juvenile Justice officials earlier this week in her own committee, Sen. Ronda Storms again took the agency to task over its use of psychotropic medications, this time during a budget presentation in the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.

The department is conducting an internal investigation into the use of drugs after The Palm Beach Post revealed that agency has plied jailed kids with heavy doses of psychotropic medications and that one in three DJJ psychiatrists had taken payments or gifts from the makers of the drugs.

Storms compared DJJ’s use of the mind-altering medications to that of the Department of Children, Families and Elder Affiars, which her committee oversees and with which she has also butted heads on the use of the meds.

“We have children who have been scalded and burned and had acid poured on them, who have been starved, who have been beaten, who’ve had bones broken, who have had horrible things happen to them. In that population, only 14 percent of the population is medicated. Of your population, over 34 percent of your population is medicated with psychotropic drugs,” Storms, R-Valrico, told DJJ director for administrative services Fred Schuknecht. “As you know, the ongoing invetstigation is whether or not the department was using psychotropic drugs possibly as a result of bribery or as a result of discipline.”

Storms ordered Schuknecht to come back with a financial analysis of DJJ’s spending on psychotropic drugs “for your entire population for whatever the reason.

“And I would like that post-haste,” Storms added.

“We’ll do it,” Schuknecht assured her.

Atwater will reissue check for funeral expenses for teen who died in DJJ care

Monday, August 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Monday he will sign off on a $5,000 payment to cover funeral expenses for Eric Perez, an 18-year-old who died in state custody in West Palm Beach on July 10.

The Palm Beach Post and The Miami Herald reported this weekend that Atwater blocked the payment. His office told Department of Juvenile Justice officials they lacked statutory authority for the payment although the agency has had a policy for two years to pay up to $5,000 for funeral costs of children who die while in their custody and has issued the payments twice before.

On Monday, Atwater blamed Department of Juvenile Justice officials for what he called “a tragic delay” in a press release Monday afternoon. Atwater promised to send a check to the Perez family’s attorney within 48 hours.

“Regrettably, this tragic delay would not have occurred if the Department of Juvenile Justice had not blatantly ignored guidance from my office,” Atwater said in the release. “In the future, I would hope that DJJ would be more transparent in its dealings with the public and with taxpayer monies.”

CFO Atwater stops payment for funeral costs for teen who died in DJJ custody in Palm Beach County

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office has blocked a payment to cover the costs of the funeral of Eric Perez, the 18-year-old who died while in state custody in a Palm Beach County juvenile detention facility on July 10.

The Department of Juvenile Justice had promised to pay $5,000 towards the cost of Perez’ funeral, as it has done twice before in the past two years.

Atwater, in charge of the state’s check book, had gone so far as to print a $5,000 check for Tillman Funeral Home in West Palm Beach on July 13.

But before DJJ officials released it to the funeral home, Atwater’s office asked that the money be returned.

“Since the agency does not have statutory authority to make the payment, we are requesting a warrant cancellation for the following vendor payment,” Mark Merry, head of the Department of Financial Services auditing department, wrote to DJJ in an e-mail on Tuesday.

DJJ has had a policy of paying up to $5,000 towards funeral costs for children who die in their custody since 2008, department spokesman C.J. Drake said. Since then, the department has twice paid families the maximum amount – once in November 2008 and again in January 2009.

Discussions are now underway between the two agencies about how the payment can be made, Drake said.

“So far everyone’s been very cooperative and agreeable. We just have to resolve it. I’m confident that we’re going to make the payment,” he said.

Scott to name DJJ head today

Friday, December 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov.-elect Rick Scott will name Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department chief Wansley Walters as secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, according to sources on his transition team.

Walters initiated a pilot diversion project in Miami-Dade in which juveniles receive civil citations for first offenses and has more than two decades experience working with children, substance abuse, diversion and mental health issues.

That program is considered a national model and was lauded by the White House two years ago.

Walters was Scott’s lead transition team member on juvenile justice.

Among the team’s recommendations was a statewide expansion of the civil citation program as an arrest alternative for juveniles who commit misdemeanor crimes.

Juveniles who receive the citations must perform community service and participate in intervention programs to avoid having an arrest record for their crimes.

More than 8,000 children in Miami-Dade, most of them black, have successfully completed the program and arrests have gone down by 21 percent, according to transition team documents.

The citation program is one of the recommendations to keep youth out of detention and reduce their chances of winding up in prison as adults.

Scott has said he supports programs that will keep juveniles out of lock-up as part of his plan to reduce recidivism and save money on prisons.

Walters replaces former secretary Frank Peterman, who came under fire for misusing state funds to pay for travel between Tallahassee and his home in St. Petersburg. Peterman, a former state representative who is a Democrat, was one of the few agency heads Scott asked to leave after he requested that others remain on the job for up to three months after he takes office on Tuesday.

PBC Commish Chairman Aaronson pleads with Crist to let $175K in budget stand

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson asked Gov. Charlie Crist to keep the lid on his veto pen regarding $175,000 in the state budget for the county’s juvenile assessment center.

Crist, who has until Friday to use his line-item veto on the $70 billion budget, is expected to axe tens of millions of dollars in local projects tucked into the state spending plan. His office is finishing up work on the budget today and is likely to release the final product tomorrow.

The $175,000 is part of a $25.3 million project to design and build a new complex that will house both the county juvenile assessment center and the juvenile detention center and was recommended by state Department of Juvenile Justice.

“We believe housing these two facilities together will enable the Department to provide wraparound services to at-risk families and will lead to increased efficiency in meeting the needs of these children,” Aaronson wrote in a letter to Crist sent yesterday.

The funding is a county priority, Aaronson wrote, to replace the current assessment center shared by the school district, DJJ, the county, the state attorney and others.

DJJ currently leases space from the airport and subleases it to the other agencies, but the lease is scheduled to expire soon.

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