Anthony Schembri, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for the last eight months, has a taste for the flamboyant, reports the Orlando Sentinel. He’s a lawyer, author, and former Hollywood consultant. It is not clear how successful he will be, though early signs are promising, says the newspaper. Schembri ordered his staff to stop twisting youths’ arms and shoulders, which had led to broken limbs, and barred them from lashing offenders into restraint chairs. He unveiled a bill of rights aimed at guaranteeing food, medical care and human rights to the underage criminals in his care.
Schembri, 62, is running a state agency that was demoralized and left leaderless by the series of child-abuse and neglect scandals. Last month, the Sentinel reported that the department had been shuffling hundreds of young offenders between long-term treatment programs, increasing by months or years the amount of time they were locked up and resulting in more than $20.3 million in excess spending over five years. Schembri said, “I don’t see any problems here.” “He’s a man of action, and he’s not afraid to mix it up, and that’s a good thing,” said Mark Fontaine of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, a trade group of private companies that manage most of the state’s long-term lockups for juveniles.