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Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys fails annual evaluation

Boys at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna submitted an average of 100 grievances a month, many complaining of mistreatment by guards. Youth surveys showed “an alarming number” of boys thought that supervision was lacking. Gov. Charlie Crist called the school’s failure “inexcusable” and pledged to do what is needed to address the problems.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Boys at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna submitted an average of 100 grievances a month, many complaining of mistreatment by guards. Youth surveys showed “an alarming number” of boys thought that supervision was lacking. Gov. Charlie Crist called the school’s failure “inexcusable” and pledged to do what is needed to address the problems.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys failed its annual evaluation, according to a draft report released by the Department of Juvenile Justice. The extensive Quality Assurance report shows the state-run reform school, with its 100-year history of abusing and neglecting boys, still can't keep them supervised or safe.

Gov. Charlie Crist called the failure "inexcusable."

"Clearly something needs to be done," Crist said. "There's a duty owed here to those who are at the school who should have an opportunity for a brighter future."

On Tuesday, DJJ announced it has appointed a new superintendent and established a support team of juvenile justice leaders across the state to help him. Michael Cantrell, 42, will leave his position as regional director for Detention Services for North Florida to try to repair the reform school.

The report identifies many areas Cantrell needs to improve. Among other things:

• Seven of nine boys surveyed said guards have threatened them or they have heard guards threaten other boys. Half the boys did not feel that staff were respectful.

• Five of the nine said they did not feel safe.

• Youth surveys showed "an alarming number of youth that felt supervision was lacking." Investigators saw guards send boys from place to place on the campus without watching to make sure they arrived. Guards often transported boys alone in a van, though two staffers are required. They lost their keys regularly, didn't frisk boys properly and failed to keep track of dangerous chemicals. Also, in October, administrators watched closed circuit video and found guards sleeping, then falsifying documents to cover it up.

• Boys submitted an average of 100 grievances a month, many complaining of mistreatment by guards. The investigators found that many of the grievances weren't handled properly, and there was no system for identifying trends in the complaints.

• The program had a nursing shortage for months in 2009. Nurses missed giving boys their medicine or gave them the wrong amount. Seven of nine medical charts that investigators reviewed did not have an intake note, progress notes, or any documentation noting the boy was assessed.

• Many staffers are not fully trained. Only one of the five training records reviewed showed the employee had completed all required training.

The report, which is the Department of Juvenile Justice's main tool to assess its 115 residential programs, comes on the heels of a six-month St. Petersburg Times investigation that revealed many of the same issues.

Investigators spent three days at the school in October, reviewing records and interviewing boys and staff. Their visit came two weeks after administrators invited the Times to the campus to say that conditions were improving.

Mary Zahasky, superintendent since 2007, stepped down Dec. 17 after a performance evaluation that cited the Quality Assurance report's findings.

The report has stirred concern among state officials and outrage among child advocates. State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he's trying to organize a town-hall meeting in Marianna to address concerns. "One abused child is one abuse too many," said Rouson, who serves on the legislative committee that funds the program. "I am outraged if these things are continuing and we're failing to address them."

Rouson said DJJ Secretary Frank Peterman, appointed in February 2008, has been trying to root out a "whole culture of violence and abuse" in place before he took over. "He has had a tough time moving out personnel and instituting a new culture of rehabilitation and safety," Rouson said.

Child advocate Jack Levine visited Dozier 30 years ago and found enough evidence of inhumane treatment to prompt a federal class-action lawsuit and sweeping reforms. Levine called the latest findings troubling.

"There have been cosmetic changes," he said. "While the leather strap seems to have been taken away, the threat of violence and the lack of competent supervision and safety management appear to not have been reformed to any appreciable degree."

The management at Dozier is failing miserably, he said. "There's either an ignorance of what should be done or an incompetence of how to do it correctly . . . In either case, the youth suffer needlessly."

One boy who was released from Dozier in June after a 10-month stay said the place made him a better criminal, and not much else.

"I learned more about stealing cars and breaking into places than I knew going in," Michael Scott, 17, of Pensacola told the Times. "All you have to talk about in there is crime."

Scott said he was sentenced to Dozier after escaping from a Graceville facility, where he was serving time for stealing cars.

He was never abused at Dozier, but he watched a group of guards "restrain" his friend by dragging him across the grass and bending his legs back behind his head.

"He was screaming and crying," Scott said. "His face was slid against the grass, and the whole side of his face was purple, almost like a carpet burn."

Dozier scored poorly on the same report last year and was placed on "conditional status," subjecting it to more scrutiny. Monitors later determined it had improved. This failure means the program will be re-evaluated in six months.

The school, rocked by one scandal after another for much of a century, has seen reform efforts come and go. Is it possible to fix such a place?

Crist said he hopes so. "And if that isn't the case, then you can do what's necessary," he said, "including shutting it down."

Peterman said he'll fix Dozier.

"Things at Dozier didn't happen overnight, so it's going to take some time to continue to bring systemic change," he said. "We believe we're on the right path.''

Times correspondent David Gardner contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

FAST FACTS

Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys

Type: High-risk residential facility for boys ages 13 to 21

Location: Marianna, population 6,230, 60 miles west of Tallahassee

Year opened: 1900

Number of boys: 105, down from 135 a few months ago

Noteworthy: In 1903, investigators found children shackled like prisoners. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, boys were beaten bloody with a leather strap. In the 1980s, investigators found that boys were being hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time.

Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys fails annual evaluation 12/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2014 11:56am]
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