Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters has personally revised her agency's recommendations about sanctions for the teenagers accused of beating a 13-year-old on a school bus in Gulfport. She is now advocating a tougher form of probation.
The department previously had recommended giving two of the three 15-year-olds nine months of a program known as court-supervised probation. Prosecutors had recommended they get at least a stricter form of probation known as DJJ-supervised probation.
"Upon further consideration, we have determined that the highly violent nature of this crime warrants highly structured probation under DJJ supervision, as the state attorney's office recommended," Walters said in a statement released Thursday morning.
Walters also said in her statement: "I want to make it clear that DJJ will do everything in its power to ensure youth are held accountable for their actions. Moreover, these youth will receive an array of services to hopefully keep them from ever reoffending."
DJJ spokeswoman Meghan Speakes Collins said that youths who are given the court-supervised probation are generally in a diversion program. That means that if they complete all requirements of the program, they are not given a conviction in the juvenile system.
On the other hand, youths sentenced to DJJ-supervised probation do get convicted in the juvenile system, and they wind up with a juvenile record, Collins said. During their probation they can be ordered into several programs to address such problems as substance abuse, mental illness, anger issues or others.
Walters said in the statement that a local probation official had asked her to study the initial recommendation, which became public after a court hearing Tuesday.
Officials have said the incident apparently began when two of the youths asked the 13-year-old if he would buy marijuana from them. He refused, and told school officials.
Afterward, the two boys — plus one other — began beating the younger youth in apparent retaliation.
The brutal beating was captured on a surveillance video camera on the school bus and became national news as it was broadcast repeatedly.