Editorial: Tampa lawmakers seek help for families of Dozier abuse victims
Published: November 17, 2015
Two Tampa lawmakers have filed bills in advance of the January legislative session related to the horrific abuses that occurred at the state-run Dozier School for Boys in
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner and state Rep. Ed Narain want to ensure the state preserves historical resources recovered from the grounds and that the families of Dozier
victims receive monetary assistance in getting their loved ones’ remains moved to a proper burial site.
It’s the least the state can do as a fuller understanding of what occurred at the school continues to be uncovered by forensic work at the site.
By now most Floridians are aware of the Dozier story, which the state opened in 1900 as a place for wayward boys. Over the decades it became a house of horrors. Guards
physical and sexually abused the young boys, some of whom were sent there for minor crimes like truancy or running away from home. The state closed the school in 2011.
A number of former students have come forward with details about the abuses in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the boys sent to Dozier never returned, and their fates
were never fully explained.
Despite the horror stories, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a state attorney declined to move forward with criminal charges. A lawsuit stalled over questions
about the statute of limitations. And Gov. Rick Scott declined last year to appoint an independent law enforcement agency to reopen a criminal investigation.
Thanks to the persistence of University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, the remains of dozens of the boys have been discovered in shallow graves
on the site. Their families, many of them poor, are deserving of the state’s help to have them reinterred.
Joyner’s and Narain’s bills would provide reimbursements to the families for a proper burial. Joyner’s bill in the Senate would provide $7,500 compared to the $5,000 in
Narain’s House bill. The bills call for the Department of State to preserve records and artifacts recovered from the site and to continue piecing together the stories of what
happened to the boys who never returned. Both bills would direct $1.5 million toward the reinterments and continued research.
That’s a small amount compared to the scale of the abuses and the state’s inadequate response still to this day.
The state has never formally apologized to the survivors or the families of the boys who died, despite a mountain of credible testimony and evidence that the abuses
occurred for decades. Lawmakers should again consider whether restitution of some kind is appropriate beyond the money being set aside in the bills filed by Narain and
Scott should reconsider whether to appoint an agency to investigate the claims before the survivors die and there is no longer anyone living to get the justice that is