Florida juvenile justice: Dozier School Superintendent Mary Zahasky steps down
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers
In Print: Saturday, December 19, 2009
MARIANNA — Mary Zahasky, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys' sixth superintendent in eight years, stepped
down as the head of the troubled high-risk facility.
In a performance evaluation Thursday, Zahasky was blamed for failing to control the reform school, which has been
scandalized by a series of institutional failures. The evaluation criticizes Zahasky for not being visible to the boys
and staff, not addressing safety and security lapses and not identifying issues "before they are known to outsiders."
Dozier has been under scrutiny since last October, when a group of men confined there in the 1950s and '60s
came forward with stories of bloody whippings and filed suit. The St. Petersburg Times profiled the men in a series
called For Their Own Good. The Times has also documented recent cases of abuse, neglect and improper
supervision resulting in bloody noses and broken bones.
In October, Times reporters visited Dozier, where Zahasky said the school was improving under her leadership.
But that same day, administrators launched a review of closed-circuit video on campus, and found six staffers
falsifying documents. Those six, according to disciplinary reports obtained by the Times, did not do head counts of
the inmates every 10 minutes, as required. But they filled out paperwork suggesting they had.
Two employees admitted it. One said he fell asleep, a reoccurring problem at Dozier.
Those two probationary employees were fired. DJJ lawyers are reviewing the discipline for the other four.
Zahasky's evaluation cites "significant safety and security issues," and says the school must reduce physical
restraints, youth grievances and staff turnover.
During much of 2008, Dozier had four nurses when it should have had nine. Boys complained of medical neglect
and mistreatment. In the past two years, documents show, the school has employed drug users, drinkers, a man
who broke his wife's shoulder and a number of people with criminal histories.
Zahasky's sudden retreat surprised DJJ officials. Neither Secretary Frank Peterman nor spokesman Frank Penela
would say why Zahasky stepped down.
"That's a personal decision that she made, not that we made for her," Penela said. Zahasky will remain employed
by the department. Officials said they would disclose her new position next week.
Reached by phone Friday morning, Zahasky directed questions to headquarters. She replied to the evaluation in
writing: "Due to the Dept. feels I am unable to do this job and has lost faith in me, has left me recognizing I need to
step down with Residential."
Zahasky, 55, was hired as superintendent in 2007. She has been replaced by James Godwin, who was
superintendent at the adjacent Jackson Juvenile Offender Correctional Center.
Zahasky told the Times in October that she wanted to stay for a few more years. "When I came here, I knew that
there were problems," Zahasky said. "And you feel like, oh my gosh! Do I really want to do this? It certainly needed
Several other changes have been ordered at Dozier in the past few months. The population is being reduced from
135 boys to 105, and the school has closed two of its residential cottages.
Employees have been told that Dozier scored poorly on a recent annual evaluation and may be placed on
"conditional status" for the second year in a row. That report, conducted by DJJ, has not been made public.
"Conditional status" means a program is subject to more intense scrutiny and must make changes within six months.
Acting on rumors, state NAACP leaders held a town-hall meeting in Marianna on Monday to organize against the
possible closure of the school. Leaders said they opposed child abuse, but wanted to save the jobs the school
Peterman said closing Dozier is not in the department's plans.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8650. Waveney Ann Moore can be
reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.
The Dead at Dozier: 31 crosses mark the school cemetery. But where are the other 50 dead boys?
For complete coverage of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, go to magazine.tampabay.com.
[Last modified: Dec 18, 2009 09:16 PM]