No Budget for Sadism: Arthur G. Dozier Boys' School to Close

There probably are no real ghosts in this world, but some places are haunted anyway. One of them is the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which has existed for a century just outside of a greasy mosquito cloud of a town called Marianna, in a desolate part of the Panhandle that smart truckers like to speed through. The school's creation was ordered by the Florida government in the late 1800s, and its doors opened on January 1, 1900. Back then, it was called the Florida Industrial School for Boys; a proto-juvie hall where "young offenders against the laws of our state might be separated from older more vicious associates."

The school failed in this mission, because not all older, vicious individuals are prisoners. Some are prison guards.

If even a fraction of the circulating stories about what occurred at Dozier are true, then its enduring existence is a blight upon our state's collective conscience. Stories of inhumane conditions and abuse dogged the school from its creation, but its ugliest chapter began in the 1940s, after the opening of a small cinderblock building on the premises informally called "The White House." Hundreds of children were escorted there for protracted beatings of sufficient brutality to coat the building's walls with blood and poison its air with the smell of rotting human gore. One young inmate seems to have been subjected to such a beating for saying shit when he slipped on a diving board.

Even after the outlawing of martial punishment in state-run institutions, Dozier was a bad place. Floridian Gov. Claude Kirk visited the school and was horrified. He said any parent who knew her children were being kept in such a place "would be up there with rifles." In 1980s, "investigators found that boys were being hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time." In 2008, a group of ex-inmates calling themselves the White House Boys lobbied the state to conduct an investigation into the deaths of more than 30 boys whose lives ended at Dozier and who are memorialized by anonymous white crosses in an ad-hoc cemetery in the woods. (The investigation took place, and no evidence of murder was uncovered.) In 2009, the institution was failing inspections for, among other things, withholding medication from inmates.

Maybe the Dozier School's got its act together since then. If it hasn't, it doesn't matter: The school's doors will close forever at the end of June, and its 62 inmates will be redisbursed to less expensive accommodations. Closing the school will save the state $14 million.

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Brandon K. Thorp