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A Times Editorial

Either fix it or close it

Florida records show a pattern of abuse by guards, inadequate medical staffing and sexual misconduct by boys at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Florida records show a pattern of abuse by guards, inadequate medical staffing and sexual misconduct by boys at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

Florida state officials cannot keep pretending the horrors at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys are ancient history. The state's own records show a continuing pattern of abuse by guards, inadequate medical staffing and sexual misconduct by boys. Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature should demand immediate changes or close down this medieval relic that is an embarrassment to all Floridians.

Whatever reforms the Crist administration has managed to implement since 2007 are not nearly enough to guarantee the safety and security of boys who are in state custody at the Marianna facility. The Times' Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore reported Sunday that in the past two years a suicidal boy drank cleaning fluid, another climbed to the roof before guards tackled him and two other boys went missing for nine hours. Fights and sexual misconduct among the boys are not uncommon. Regardless of the transgressions these boys committed on the outside, would you want your son to be subjected to such abuse at a state-operated facility?

In the past five years, the Times reported, the state Department of Children and Families has opened an astounding 155 investigations at Dozier. DCF verified seven cases of improper supervision, four of physical abuse, one of sexual abuse and one of medical mistreatment. Another 33 cases had "some indicator" of abuse, mistreatment or neglect. That is a pitiful record, regardless of the personal baggage many of these boys bring to Dozier.

There also is compelling evidence that the state is not providing enough resources to get the job done. Records show there is a perpetual shortage of nurses, and those who are there work long shifts at low pay. No wonder boys are often overmedicated or undermedicated. At a minimum, the state has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that boys at Dozier receive proper medical treatment.

Health care is not the only staffing issue. Guards have reported to work smelling of alcohol and under the influence of illegal drugs. One guard who was hired even while facing domestic battery charges was later fired after at least two violent altercations with boys at Dozier. Other employees also have criminal charges pending, and sleeping on the job is common. This sort of behavior would not be tolerated in a private workplace, and it should not be tolerated by the state.

There is a glimmer of hope. Department of Juvenile Justice officials point to employees who have been fired or who have resigned after being involved in assaults or other offenses. Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman Jr., a former St. Petersburg legislator, acknowledges there are problems. And the department is pledging to be more open and to schedule a visit to Dozier for reporters who have been denied access.

Acknowledging the problems at Dozier is the first step. For too long, legislators such as Sen. Al Lawson, whose district includes Marianna, have been in denial about a horrid place that has been allowed to play by its own rules under a cloud of secrecy. Now that veil is being lifted, and the sad truth is coming out for all of Florida to see. Dozier is an embarrassment, and it should be cleaned up or shut down immediately.

Either fix it or close it 10/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2009 7:39pm]

    

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