DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – This week, students at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach headed back to class with a new opportunity: A chance to get results for Central Florida’s troubled teens.
Bethune has long been the pipeline that feeds local law enforcement agencies and now Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice is snatching up those students with a first-of-its kind partnership.
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Dr. Kideste Yusef, BCU Justice & Political Studies department chair, said the criminal justice program is so strong that law enforcement agencies across Central Florida routinely recruit from Bethune.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young is perhaps the most high-profile BCU grad who got his law enforcement start in the renowned criminal justice program.
“It’s very much a part of what we do,” Yusef said. “This is the work at Cookman.”
The school is one of the only colleges in the country to have its own virtual training simulator.
“BCU has one of the best programs in experiential learning,” Yusef said. “You cannot be a criminal justice major and not participate either in our use of force simulator on campus, or attend our community engagement training, or meet law enforcement officers or FBI or DEA agents on campus.”
So it wasn’t a surprise when the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice officially offered internships and jobs to some graduating BCU seniors. Never had the DJJ partnered like this with any university in Florida.
“And the goal was really to have youth who are from similar backgrounds, as are a lot of youth in our system to go, and be change agents and transform the system,” Yusef said. “Many of them come from similar backgrounds compared to a lot of youth here that live in high-call volume areas or go to school in high-call volume areas, so’s kind of like a natural partnership with some of the mentoring programs.”
Yusef said her students already analyze DJJ’s vast database for their senior thesis.
“Who’s arrested, what does it look like, what types of crimes are juveniles involved in,” Yusef said. “The end part is what can we do about it, what are the solutions.”
The existing relationship between BCU and the DJJ made sense to send students to work at the DJJ for real-world experience and at the same time give the Juvenile Justice Department a real-world perspective.
“And so the goal is to create cohortative individuals that are reform-oriented in their mindset but also are familiar with the cultural background and upbringing that a lot of the youth are involved within the system, who can go in the system and produce greater change and equity throughout the system. "
DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller said hiring BCU students will further DJJ’s research efforts and “provide opportunities for students interested in making a difference in Florida’s juvenile justice system.”
News 6 learned $23 million of the DJJ’s upcoming budget was shifted this year to delinquency and diversion programs, away from the residential corrections program, which houses and rehabilitates children.
In June, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood criticized the DJJ for not locking up two children after deputies dodged bullets for hours from the heavily armed runaways, just 12 and 14 years old, holed up in a house they’d broken into. The children had a history of mental illness and violence, including lighting fire to a group home.
“The Department of Juvenile Justice is failing to do its job,” Chitwood said after the incident.
The DJJ defended itself saying the department is just one component of the system that holds juveniles accountable.