Former judge calls for changes to juvenile justice center

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A retired Central Florida judge is calling for changes at the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

Her call is prompted by a handful of recent incidents over the past year, including fights and the alleged assault of a teenage girl by a corrections officer

Department officials said the agency has made significant safety enhancements here over the last six months. 
Retired judge Maura Smith, who spent years working with juveniles in the court system, called the conditions she saw inside "sad and broken."

"What I saw was disgraceful. It was like a ticking time bomb," Smith said.

The now-retired 9th Circuit judge said she found a discouraging number of juveniles locked up at the regional juvenile detention center and questions whether there are enough staff members to watch over them.

“I saw a totally broken system," Smith said.

In May, corrections officer Marcus James was arrested, accused of forcing himself on a 17-year-old inmate.

In April, a fight left five people injured and sent two employees to the hospital.

In December, more than 30 of the juveniles were involved in a fight.

"This is embarrassing. It should shock the conscience of this community," said Smith.

Smith is looking to rally a group of community partners to possibly form a citizens’ board that would recommend changes at the JDC.

In an email, department officials said they welcome any feedback.

They also said the department had worked diligently to recruit, hire and train additional staff and that increased training has been ongoing, including crisis management.

Statement from Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s top priority is the safety and security of the youth in our care. DJJ takes our responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the youth in our custody very seriously and we welcome feedback from all our community partners and stakeholders.  Over the last six months, our agency has made significant safety enhancements at ORJDC. This includes:

·    DJJ leadership and staff have met with the sheriff’s office in addition to the SWAT team to tour the facility and discuss additional safety measures.

·    Physical improvements are being made to the facility’s door and locking systems.

·    Increased trainings have been ongoing at the facility for all staff, including crisis management training.

·    Supervisory staff have been added to the facility and statewide trainers are onsite regularly to oversee and ensure compliance with policies and procedures.

·    DJJ has worked diligently to recruit, hire, and train additional staff for the facility.

We always look for ways to improve and keep youth safe.

Len Kiese

Len Kiese

I am extremely excited to call Central Florida home.