Reports of boys' abuse at Arthur G. Dozier School come as no shock to some
By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, September 25, 2009
Note: Had Roger Kiser not kept up a page with the account of his beating and a picture of the "whitehouse"
punishment room, this story and the investigation would have never taken place...Thank You Roger
Special report: For Their Own Good
Roger Kiser is appalled, but not shocked, that the violence continues. He was beaten and bloodied at what is now
called the Arthur G. Dozier School back in the 1960s, but reports this week from the Department of Children and
Families confirm that abuse at Florida's oldest reform school is not just an ugly chapter in the past.
"I'm not surprised," said Kiser, 63, of Brunswick, Ga. "I can almost guarantee that for every incident that is known,
that there are 20 or 30 that are not known."
This week, the St. Petersburg Times received investigative summaries of abuse complaints made to the DCF over
the past five years. A number of reports either verified or found some indication that abuse or neglect occurred at
the school, which is in the Panhandle town of Marianna.
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman, who took over the department in 2008, said his
department will not tolerate abuse.
"Our first order of business is to make sure to the best of our ability that the kids are safe. If there have been alleged
infractions in the past, we want to make sure that we respond immediately," he said.
But Jack Levine, a child advocate who exposed abuse at the North Florida facility during the 1970s, said abuse is
endemic at institutions like Dozier and they have a hierarchy of violence "that almost always comes at either the
direction of staff or at the knowledge of staff as they turn the other way."
"The incidents which have been verified as recently as a year ago are examples of a negligent view by too many
both in state government and the community that these children are somehow disposable and dispensable."
The DCF summaries include one verified claim in which a guard grabbed a boy by the neck, slammed him against a
wall, head butted him and broke two bones in the boy's nose. In another, a diabetic boy whose blood sugar was low
was unresponsive for 20 minutes, while two employees did nothing. Instead, other boys sought help. A third tells of a
guard who attacked a boy, slammed him against a fence and punched him, breaking the boy's nose and causing
cuts on his hands.
Frank Penela, spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Justice, said employees involved in five verified incidents
either quit or were fired.
Levine said that while demotions or firings are appropriate, they should be followed by criminal investigations.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a ranking member of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, said he
plans to arrange a visit to the school.
"Any abuse of children and youth is inexcusable and atrocious," he said. "At the same time, Secretary Peterman is
leading the charge to reform and is firmly weeding out malcontents and others who would harm our most vulnerable.
"I just think that being 15 months on the job, he's got a lot to do, and I don't see these things continuing at all."
The reform school, known in the past as both the Florida Industrial School and Florida School for Boys, has been
nagged by controversy almost from the day it opened more than a century ago. Investigations have been followed by
outrage and fleeting reform. The school found itself in the spotlight again recently when men who had been at the
facility during the 1950s and 1960s started sharing accounts of brutal beatings in a building called the White House.
Officially, corporal punishment ended in 1968.
Penela said the Department of Juvenile Justice has a hands-free policy when it comes to handling boys in its care.
"We have a zero tolerance policy for kids getting hurt," he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.