Sheriff meets with new DJJ secretary

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Sheriff A.J. Smith’s push for a stepped-up response by state agencies towards juvenile crime bore high-level fruit last month for the second time in recent weeks.

Eric Hall, the newly appointed secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, traveled down for a Dec. 17 meeting with the sheriff. It was the second such meeting with a state secretary in recent weeks, the first coming Dec. 7 when Smith met in Eastpoint with Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“Sheriff AJ Smith and I had a very productive conversation surrounding some of the issues this community is encountering with youths’ delinquent behavior and services to address the needs of those youth and their families,” wrote Hall in an email last week. “I look forward to working with both Sheriff Smith and our sister agencies to ensure we are providing the necessary and vital services to meet those needs while also addressing the public safety of the Franklin County community.”

Smith said he came away impressed by Hall, a lifelong educator who holds a doctorate from the University of South Florida in education leadership and policy studies. 

In 2019, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran tapped Hall to serve as the first chancellor for innovation and senior chancellor, a role that oversaw such areas as K-12 public schools, the Florida College System, career and adult education, vocational rehabilitation, blind services, the Office of Safe Schools and the Office of Early Learning.

In November, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Hall to lead DJJ.

“Secretary Hall and I share a common goal of wanting to help prevent juveniles from offending and find the best resources to help them change their current course,” wrote Smith. “We are looking forward to a great partnership.”

Among the areas that Smith has said he would like to see addressed are refining of the risk assessment score sheet that is used to determine whether a youth is eligible to remain in custody of DJJ at a facility in Tallahassee.

Points are assigned in five areas, including the most serious presenting offense, prior referrals, delinquent history, current legal status and current age.

All violent first or second-degree felonies, or ones that include use of a firearm, call for detention, while others, such as five or more burglaries, require supervised release, and may call for detention.

Points are also assigned for prior felony or misdemeanor referrals, as are prior absconding or escape, a history of violations, or prior failures to appear. Points are also assigned for the age of the youth, with those between ages 13 and 16 given a point, while those under age 12 or over 17 are not.

Youth who tally six or fewer points are released, while those who get between seven and 12 points are granted supervised release and those with 13 or more are detained.

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