Florida passes bill to compensate victims of decades-old reform school abuse

Mar 4, 2024, 9:13 AM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Restitution for decades of abuse at two now-shuttered reform schools where boys were beaten, raped and killed is now in the hands of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis after the Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday to set aside $20 million for victims.

The bill creates a process for former inmates at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee to make claims over physical, mental or sexual abuse between 1940 and 1975. It’s estimated that victims will receive about $50,000 each.

“It’s been too long,” said state Sen. Darryl Rouson, the Democrat who sponsored the bill. “This is but a small token for a vast ocean of hurt, but it’s what we can do now.”

As he spoke, a group of about 20 victims stood in the Senate public gallery, one wiping tears from his eyes.

“Thank you for never giving up. Thank you for continuing to fight. Thank you telling the story and the stories of those who are not here and can’t speak. We salute your presence today,” Rouson continued.

A group known as The White House Boys, named for the white cinderblock building at Dozier where boys were taken and hit with a long leather strap, have spent years trying to get recognition for the abuse. Nearly 100 boys died between 1900 and 1973 at Dozier and the University of South Florida spent four years exhuming remains from 55 unmarked graves in overgrown woods on the school’s property.

The Legislature formally apologized for the abuse seven years ago, but Rouson kept seeking restitution, filing bills that failed in past years to compensate the men.

“Money doesn’t heal or pay for a lot or erase the mistakes of the past, but it sure does help,” said state Sen. Tracie Davis, a Democrat who sponsored similar legislation when she was in the House. “It sure does help to be able to get the resources and the help you need at 70 or 80 years old to end your days better than they started.”

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Florida passes bill to compensate victims of decades-old reform school abuse