Put a stop to horrors at school for boys
In Print: Monday, September 28, 2009


The horrific legacy that belongs to Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is still adding new chapters. Recently released
reports show that on multiple occasions, investigators verified that boys at the North Florida facility were assaulted
or medically neglected in the past five years at the hand of Department of Juvenile Justice employees.

DJJ officials say the responsible employees have been fired or resigned. But the rarely seen reports indicate that
the culture at the century-old school has not fully rejected barbaric ways in handling wayward boys. Those in power
deny that, saying the facility tucked among pine trees in rural Marianna has improved since Gov. Charlie Crist
came to office in 2007 and later appointed former St. Petersburg state Rep. Frank Peterman as DJJ secretary. But
the new reports — like so many others in the past — speak for themselves. Dozier remains a place of horror for
boys. It is time to fix it or shut it down.

It took a court order sought by the St. Petersburg Times to lift the veil on the recent transgressions at Dozier. Leon
County Circuit Judge Jackie L. Fulford rightly ruled last week that public interest in knowing about abuse at the
state facility outweighed the confidentiality normally afforded such investigations under the state's public records
law. The Department of Children and Families, which documented the abuse after receiving complaints about the
DJJ facility, concurred that the public's interest would be served.

Among the verified instances of abuse between 2006 and 2008: Two staffers did nothing for 20 minutes when a
diabetic boy whose blood sugar was low became unresponsive; a trio of attacks by guards on boys resulted in
significant injuries; and an episode in a bathroom, where there should always be supervision, in which three boys
engaged in oral sex.

It was a revealing peek at a place where the public can't visit. DJJ, citing state privacy laws, repeatedly denied a
Times reporter's request to visit the campus, contending doing so would violate the boys privacy as protected by
law. It's a policy that needs to change, especially considering the boys there already have been subject to open
court proceedings where their sins were aired.

Such isolation surely has contributed to Dozier's sordid past since employees who largely hail from the same rural
community apparently feel they can act with impunity. DJJ would be well served to open the facilities to guests, just
as the state's prisons are, as another form of accountability for their employees.

What must not happen is a repeat of history, where state officials accept the horrid tales of Dozier, promise reform
and then fade away. Just last year, Crist pledged to investigate thoroughly allegations of some alumni calling
themselves the White House Boys, who said they were abused on the campus 50 years ago. But so far the only
result has been a wholly unsatisfying audit of the school's cemetery records. Crist and Peterman need to do more.
Floridians should demand it.

[Last modified: Sep 27, 2009 04:30 AM]