Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Scott's pick for juvenile justice chief widely praised

Wansley Walters was a headstrong kid, full of sass and ready for a fight.

Which might explain how she ended up Friday as Gov.-elect Rick Scott's choice to take charge of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

"As a child, I was in trouble every day of my life and I never understood how it happened," said Walters, 57, head of the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department. "I see so much of that in juvenile justice that I feel great passion for these kids who find themselves in these situations."

Walters, who lives in Miami Shores but will relocate to Tallahassee, will be the first woman to lead the department.

In a statement, Scott called Walters "one of the country's leading juvenile justice reformers." He said Walters' successes include reducing Miami-Dade's juvenile arrests by 51 percent, re-arrests by 80 percent and juvenile detention 66 percent in the past 10 years while saving the county $33 million every year.

"She's probably the most qualified person in the entire state to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice," said Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez. "If she can make some of those innovative practices that we've tried in Miami work throughout the state, I think that bodes well for all of us."

Walters spearheaded the effort to open a juvenile assessment center in 1997 that developed a civil citation program that deals with first-time juvenile offenders by diverting them to counseling and doesn't land them in handcuffs. She also has paid special attention to offenders under age 12. Recently, her department started a program tracks misdemeanor offenders through a bracelet with a Global Positioning System rather than putting them in a detention center.

"The vast majority of these children are not serious criminals," Walters said. "And many of them have issues in their lives that we have found in Miami that if you address them as soon as you find out they're at risk, or after they've gotten in trouble, you literally can keep them from going deeper into the system."

Walters helmed Scott's juvenile justice transition team, which issued a report that suggested many of the reforms already tested in Miami.

Walters will replace Frank Peterman, who became secretary in 2008 and resigned earlier this month. He had come under fire for taking taxpayer-funded trips between Tallahassee and his St. Petersburg home.

Scott's appointment of Walters earned praise from those working in the criminal justice system as well as outside groups like Florida TaxWatch. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said she couldn't think of anyone better to run the department.

"I think that she changed the face of juvenile justice in South Florida by putting an emphasis on where it needs to be: keeping children out of the juvenile justice system and providing services to them and their families," Lederman said.

Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller and the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

Scott's pick for juvenile justice chief widely praised 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 8:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]
  2. Ex-TPD sergeant LaJoyce Houston takes plea deal in stolen tax refund case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston, a former Tampa police sergeant accused with her husband in a federal tax refund fraud scheme, has agreed to plead guilty to receiving stolen government property, court records state.

    Former Tampa police officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2015, to face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES
 ]
  3. Deputies: Vet who practices in Gulfport, Port Richey abused animals at Lakeland home

    Crime

    LAKELAND – A veterinarian who practices part-time in Gulfport and Port Richey was arrested Tuesday along with her husband after Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies found more than 30 severely …

    Veterinarian Gail Nichols, 66, (above) who practices in Gulfport and Port Richey, was arrested Tuesday along with her husband Paul Smith, 74, after Polk County deputies found more than 30 severely abused animals at their Lakeland home. The two are each facing several counts of felony animal cruelty, among other charges, after at least 38 horses, birds and dogs were found at 3211 West Bella Vista Street in dire states and in filthy, unlivable conditions. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Several key players still sidelined

    Bucs

    Greg Auman gives an injury update, with several key players still sidelined from practice three days before the Bucs play the Cleveland Browns in Tampa, and a full recap of your favorite scenes from Tuesday …

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans was held out of practice Wednesday at One Buc Place. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  5. Steve Kornell says small fix can help St. Pete's sewage problems

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG— Steve Kornell knows his idea won't put much of a dent in the $326 million bill the city must pay over the next five years to fix its inadequate and outdated sewer system.

    St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell (right) during a 2012 council meeting at City Hall. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]