IN the end, the state budget crisis did what advocacy alone couldn’t do for years. Close Dozier.
More precisely, advocates resorted to budget manipulations when all other reason, facts, best practices, and
arguments about protecting children from maltreatment and abuse fell short.
For years, and especially the last three, The Children’s Campaign called for the closure of the North Florida Youth
Development Center, a present day yet pathetic euphemism for the facility known better as the Dozier School for
Boys. Sometimes others stood with us but there weren’t many who did consistently.
In our many calls to action and statements to the media, we trotted out its failed history, on-going management
problems as reflected in performance reviews, geographic complications, and high cost. We stayed in touch with
good men like Robert Straley, one of the "White House Boys", who came public with the horrific abuse suffered fifty
years ago. We were encouraged when legal advocacy groups like Florida Legal Institutional Services dropped new
lawsuits on the state over treatment and care abuses.
In the end, the decision to close Dozier, announced yesterday by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, was the
result of advocacy efforts to cut residential beds and pass proviso language forcing DJJ’s hand: DJJ shall make
residential bed reductions in non-secure and secure beds that are operated by the department before reducing
privately operated beds.
The Children’s Campaign supported this proviso, proposed by others, with reservations. Desoto, another facility run
by the state, is a very good program, and we care deeply about its employees and supporters. But, after years of
watching DJJ succumb to political forces protecting Dozier, there was no degree of confidence in leaving the outcome
in doubt. The proviso was the dagger to Dozier and Dozier had to go.
There is more to the story about the DJJ budget this year and a lot of it is troublesome. DJJ lost 67 million dollars
overall, another 11 percent cut, to go along with reductions from previous years.
Do not believe the hype streaming out from some leadership circles about how the back-end is being moved to the
front end. Of the 41 million lost specifically to residential beds, only a bit over 5 million was moved to care for lower
offending youth returning to the community.
DJJ is hovering on the brink of relevancy due its reduced resources. Yes, Secretary Wansley Walters is making good
decisions about the use of the limited money at her disposal. And, yes, front end programs were spared cuts this
year. That was a blessing and legislators can take a congratulatory bow. But with additional cuts, DJJ will become
analogous to a condemned man on the eve of his execution concerning himself with the saturated fat content of his
Vast unmet needs of children for prevention and early intervention services exist. Parents of troubled children with
substance abuse, alcohol and mental health problems struggle without success to find help. Worse, due to the action
of the legislative budget heads and Governor Scott who signed the conforming bill into law, children can now be
detained in county jails. It’s a horrible cost cutting measure and subject of our FRONT BURNER ALERT last week.
So, we’re glad Dozier is gone. Ecstatic even. But there is no reason for high fivin’ like fans of the Miami Heat after
winning the Eastern Conference Finals. Not until juvenile justice is treated in this state with the same urgency as the
Department of Corrections and the millions is restored for the kids. Then, and only then, can we pat each other on
Many deserve mention in the long struggle to close Dozier.
It’s important to recognize the role media played. The Children’s Campaign honors Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami
Herald, who put the Dozier School for Boys back on the front pages, and Ben Montgomery and Waveney Moore with
the St. Petersburg Times. Their powerful series, “For Their Own Good” not only informed the public but also inspired
advocates to keep working. These talented journalists became aware of the problem then dug at and reported the
facts, and committed themselves to stay with the story to the end.
We also applaud Jack Levine, who three decades ago, when a brash and young advocate, opened the door to the
horrors of Dozier. Many of us knew the abuse was occurring, because of our interactions with children upon their
return to our communities, but hadn’t been able to validate with facts.
And to all the others, and it’s a long list, who fought the good fight. We honor you today.
Brought to you by:
The Children’s Campaign
Write to Roy Miller at email@example.com.