The room is bittersweet for everyone inside the Lee County Justice Center, who are dedicated to protecting children.
"The kinds of things that happen in here involve getting kids ready to testify, typically in front of a grand jury and sometimes in front of a trial jury, and the subject matter is absolutely awful. So, anything we can do to minimize that impact as to reliving what they have gone through, well, it's what we have to do," explained Lee County District Attorney Robbie Treese.
A serene beach landscape with crystal blue water, palm trees and sand that's actually grainy to the touch decorates the room. Animals like a giraffe, monkey, and even tiny ants on a leaf adds a playful touch. A Tiki hut chalk board and kid sized furniture, with plenty of colored pencils and coloring books encourage children to relax, sit and play.
"Part of our training says we are supposed to when you first meet the children you try to put them at ease and don't discuss the subject matter as to why they are there for the first visit. You just get to know them and you play," said Treese.
Prior to the expansion, the DA's office did not have a children's space. Prosecutors did their best to make children feel comfortable by playing with them on the office floors or in a hallway, but the environment always felt sterile and intimidating.
So during the planning stages of the expansion, Treese focused on creating a playroom like this.
He says the room is his favorite part of the new District Attorney's Office, but at the same time it's a room he hates the necessity of having it.
"We had a grand jury not too long ago and the door was propped open and I walked by and I saw the kids in here smiling and laughing, running around. Considering the circumstances they were here under, well, it just doesn't get any better than that. It really doesn't," he said.
Treese says the playroom will be used by several hundred kids each year, through the juvenile court system. On top of that, his office normally handles 12 to 15 felony cases involving children who are either victims of violent crime or witnesses.
He says a local benefactor paid for an artist to decorate the playroom and several more citizens have donated supplies to make the playroom as friendly as possible.
Treese is dedicated to getting justice for all of his victims and this playroom plays a vital role in that. As a father, children victims occupy a very special place
in his heart.
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