If the Florida Legislature decides to keep open the doors of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, it better have a more reasonable defense than wanting to maintain jobs there. It must find a way to fix Dozier, where the state has condoned child abuse for much of the past 100 years, or it must shut the school down.
The House Criminal and Civil Appropriations Committee will hear from the Department of Juvenile Justice today. The department contends the state's oldest reform school should be saved, even though it has failed its evaluations the past two years. Records also show that in the past five years, boys at Dozier have been beaten, denied medical care and prevented from reporting abuse.
That's not an aberration. St. Petersburg Times reporters Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore have spent more than a year chronicling the offensive legacy of Dozier and its predecessors, the Florida School for Boys and the Florida Industrial School. Generations of troubled boys have suffered beatings there, and many of them leave more broken than when they arrived. That failure ultimately costs society, as many boys turn to crime. Lawmakers have no excuse for not understanding what is at stake for individual boys and the greater community.
Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, is lobbying to keep the facility open so her constituents can keep their jobs. But her colleagues should remember the state's job is to protect and rehabilitate wayward boys — not to maintain a workplace where the culture has tolerated decades of inhumanity. It's time for the Legislature to act in the boys' interest and no one else's. Fix Dozier or shut it down. Now.