Fact-finding visit to Marianna school considered by committee members.
The chairwoman of a Florida house appropriations committee that oversees juvenile justice spending expressed concern today about ongoing abuse at state reform schools, including the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Oviedo, chairwoman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, said she was particularly disturbed by two specific modern day reports of abuse among others. One involved a 20-year-old unresponsive diabetic ignored by staff at Dozier in 2006. The other involved a youth assaulted by other youths while left unsupervised at a facility in Okeechobee a few weeks ago.
The committee's ranking Democrat called for a fact-finding mission by colleagues to Dozier to talk with students and staff about life at the school and reports of abuse. Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also called for the state to compensate men - know as the White House Boys - if the state proves their claims of being brutally abused at the school decades ago.
The Duval delegation's lone representative on the committee, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, said he felt a visit to Dozier may be a good idea at some point. McBurney, the committee's vice-chairman, said he is most concerned about how abuse is reported and whether youths can do so without facing retribution from staff or other youths.
An official with the Department of Juvenile Justice, which either runs or oversees privately run youthful offender facilities in the state, welcomed the suggested visit to Dozier. DJJ Deputy Secretary Rod Love also expressed confidence in employees who work with the youths and said abuse is not tolerated.
Allegations of abuse at the school west of Tallahassee have been periodically reported since it opened in 1900. The school, run today by the Department of Juvenile Justice, serves various populations, including about 135 high-risk juveniles ages 13 to 21. Slightly less than a third of those juveniles are now from Northeast Florida.
Reports of abuse investigated in the past five years by the state Department of Children and Families found that out of 155 cases, there were four verified of physical abuse verified, one of sexual abuse and one of medical mistreatment. Seven cases of improper supervision were verified. There were 33 reports that included some evidence of abuse, though not enough to prove in a courtroom.
Adams said she was particularly concerned about a 20-year-old diabetic who was suffering from low blood sugar and left helpless by staff for 20 minutes in 2006. One staff member quit, while another was reprimanded.
Adams also brought up a second case, still under investigation, in which a juvenile was hospitalized after being beaten by other unsupervised students at a facility in Okeechobee. That facility is privately operated, but the operation is overseen by DJJ.
DJJ Deputy Secretary Rod Love testified he had no knowledge of the diabetic case. He said the employee accused in the other case had either been fired or was about to be fired.
Adams warned Love her committee will be following the abuse allegations "very, very closely."
"Our children don't, one, need to come to us and be injured or, worse off, die in our care," said Adams, whose committed oversees $5 billion in justice spending, including $618 million for DJJ.
The Times-Union has published a continuing series of stories about Dozier's past, including numerous with "White House Boys," as well as more recent developments at the school. Rouson referred to stories in the Times-Union and two other newspapers before handing Adams a letter calling for the committee to tour Dozier.
“We would like to find out from them first-hand whether there are continued abuses ... and what we can do to help conditions,” Rouson said after the committee meeting.
Rouson said he has been troubled by stories of the White House Boys, who say they were beaten decades ago with a heavy strap in a building known was the White House. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the allegations.
Adams said after the meeting that she wants any investigation into prior abuse at Dozier completed before considering whether or not to visit the school.
Love promised that his agency has a zero tolerance policy for abuse and that reports made by youths and others have been declining. He said the tour proposed by Rouson could easily be arranged.
"We welcome any scrutiny of our policies," Love said.
Rouson said if the state probe proves the abuse occurred, the victims should be provided financial and psychological counseling. A claim bill recently introduced by a state senator has been put in abeyance in lief of a class action lawsuit pending four state agencies and a former school administrator.
email@example.com, (904) 359-4385
Submitted by sjrg on Wed. 10/7/2009 at 7:20 am
What exactly does "financial and psychological counseling" mean in this case? A few decades AFTER the fact, what is it doing to help these (now old) men? Of course the state has mega bucks to "buy back" any trauma. What a joke.
Roger Dean Kiser-Founder of The White House Boys
Submitted by AuthorRDK on Wed. 10/7/2009 at 10:11 am
I doubt psychological counseling would do most of us any good at this late date. Remembering the two brutal beatings I took, I doubt counseling (at that time) would have even made a difference. Having my twelve year old face shoved between Matron Mother Winters’ legs one or twice a week, smoking dried grape vines and skipping school was my crime against society.
I was a mild natured little boy who loved to learn and all I wanted to do was explorer all the wonderful things around me. By the time they got done with me I was so full of hatred that I was useless to the world and totally useless to myself.
As far as compensation; I want compensation for my children and grandchildren, not because of what they did to me but what they caused me to do to my family. I was lucky to have ever worked a job for more than several months before getting fired. I hated everyone and I could get along with no one. I walked out of prison on February 6th, 1969. That was the first time I was ever free of the system. That was 43 years ago. Once I got the system’s hands from around my throat I never got into trouble or violated the law again. I can only thank God that I was not physically or sexual abusive but I was verbally abusive. On a daily basis, you could hear my stupid azz six blocks down the street. It was almost impossible for me to control that verbal anger.
Many of the boys (now men) were not that lucky.
AuthorRDK- Roger Dean Kiser
Submitted by AuthorRDK on Wed. 10/7/2009 at 10:36 am
I have met many of these men in the last year. From my many speaking engagements to schools, youth clubs and organizations; I know well the look a child has in their eyes when they have been physically, sexually, emotionally and verbally abused. Most of the men still have that same look on their adult faces today. Compensation too many of these men is more than just about money. It is a way for the state to say “I’m sorry” for what I allowed to happen to you; but more than that it is a way for the men to tell their families that they are sorry for what they did to them.
It’s one thing to forgive your father for losing his temper and slapping you across the face for spilling your milk at the dinner table. But when he takes you in the back bedroom and beats you bloody; your back, legs and neck have to be sutured up at the local emergency room and your underwear have to be surgically removed from your backside; that makes forgiveness a little more difficult. After four to ten beatings like that, legal or illegal at the time, one begins to hate all of humanity.
Though these men, myself included, have somewhat come to our senses and have learned how to live and contribute to society; there is a monster still living inside each and every one of us. Let someone (in front of one of these men) slap their child from the table to the floor in a local restaurant and see what happens to that man. That monster, created by the State of Florida, will always live inside each of these men; always looking and waiting for a justifiable chance to seek revenge.
Maybe psychosocial counseling might be in order after all. Just a thought.