At reform school where boys were beaten, some fear closure

Despite past abuse, black leaders will lobby for Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys to remain open; legislators and
state officials say there are no plans to shut it down

December 01, 2009 06:41:00 PM
ANDREW GANT / News Herald Writer

MARIANNA — Black leaders here say the state soon could shutter a controversial reform school where more than
200 men claim they endured brutal abuse as boys.

Despite that, local NAACP members say they will lobby to keep the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys open.

“What we see is this: Dozier has the potential of taking the lead on reforming how we run our juvenile rehabilitation
centers,” said Dale Landry, president of the NAACP’s Tallahassee branch and the chairman of its criminal and
juvenile justice committee.

Landry and other black leaders met Monday with NAACP members in Jackson  County (the school’s home) to
prepare to lobby legislators. Landry called it “being proactive in anticipation of cuts,” which he said could eliminate
some 500 local jobs.

State Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, said she’d heard nothing of any closure. A Department of Juvenile Justice
spokesman said there are “no plans for us closing it down” and said Dozier remains effective despite its history.

“How you keep accountability is to make sure people pay attention,” said DJJ spokesman Frank Penela. “They
started looking at Dozier because of something that allegedly happened 50-plus years ago. … It’s got a wonderful
history to it, but it’s also got this history that has come to light.”

The state has acknowledged some abuse occurred at the school, known in the past as the Florida School for Boys,
for decades through the 1960s. A small, cinder-block building, allegedly where the most brutal beatings occurred,
has been sealed. But the state Department of Law Enforcement has said an investigation revealed no evidence of
wardens beating boys to death.

A class-action lawsuit against the state alleged some boys died, possibly from abuse, and others were scarred for
life. More than 200 ex-wards, now grown men, joined it. Many of them said they want to see the school closed.

A reparations bill sponsored by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has sputtered and will not be heard on the
Senate floor because it “doesn’t meet the criteria for a claims bill,” a Joyner staffer said Tuesday.

Attorneys for a retired warden named in the class-action suit have argued the statute of limitations for any crime
expired long ago. That man, Troy Tidwell, has denied any abuse, saying boys were spanked, not beaten.

There have been recent allegations, too, including more than 200 reports of abuse since 2004. Of those, a handful
were proven true.

Some boys’ bones were broken, another had sex with a school teacher and others engaged in sexual activity with
each other in recent years, according to reports released by the state Department of Children and Families.

The DJJ said it punishes staff who abuse children. Penela cited many of Dozier’s efforts to help its troubled boys —
classes for GEDs and high school diplomas and programs teaching first aid for future jobs as lifeguards and first

“We don’t have this ‘Lock ’em up and throw away the key’ mentality that may have been so commonplace in the
past,” Penela said. “We try to really rehabilitate these kids and make them proud citizens. I think Dozier does that.”

Landry said the NAACP seeks a more “academic setting” in the state’s juvenile facilities and that Dozier embraces
that. He said a second meeting on the issue would be held Dec. 14.

“We’ve got to change the whole culture that embraces (abuse),” Landry said. “We don’t need the model to be built
down in Orlando, or Miami or Tampa. We have a facility here. Let’s make it something greater than what it already