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Minority Office — Press Release


January 26, 2016

CONTACT: Michelle DeMarco, 850.487.5833

Former FL Governor Bob Martinez Joins Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, Rep. Ed Narain in Urging Legislative Passage/Governor’s Approval of Dozier Bill

Tallahassee —

Former Florida Governor Bob Martinez joined Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and Representative Ed Narain (D-Tampa) on Tuesday to urge the Legislature’s full embrace of legislation authorizing interment compensation for the families of deceased victims of the Arthur B. Dozier School for Boys and preservation of the site.

“Many boys in Florida were sent to Dozier, and sadly, some never came home,” said Governor Martinez, currently a senior policy advisor at Holland & Knight.  “I am proud to support legislation that will finally give these forgotten boys a proper burial and will preserve historical evidence for future research.”

“This legislation rights the wrongs of a system that not only tolerated these abuses, but looked the other way, year after year,” said Leader Joyner. “We cannot change the sins of the past, but we can establish a reminder so that they are never repeated.”

“While I’m disappointed that we could not identify everyone buried on those grounds, my hope is that of those we could, it brings some comfort to their families,” said Rep. Narain. “The boys placed in state hands deserved better than unmarked graves. The restoration of human dignity begins with these bills.” 

First opened in Florida in 1900, the Dozier school operated until its closure in 2011. Segregated until 1968, the school constructed in Marianna to “reform” a young offender so that he could be “restored to the community with purpose and character fitting for a good citizen” kept scarce records of the fate of boys it housed but rumors abounded of brutal treatment within its walls. Many of the boys, some of whom were sentenced to Dozier for minor infractions such as truancy or “incorrigibility,” were subject to physical and sexual abuse, and a number of them died on the premises.

A final report issued this month documented the findings of a USF forensic team which led an investigation into the deaths and unidentified remains interred on the school grounds. Momentum for the probe was spurred in part by Governor Martinez’ efforts to mobilize support from Tallahassee officials.

The research team found and excavated 55 graves, positively identifying seven remains, and presumptively identifying 14 through DNA evaluation. Work to identify additional remains is expected to continue. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has called for an official apology from the state to the victims and is reportedly forwarding the USF report to the federal Justice Department.

SB 708 and HB 533 would authorize up to $7,500 to the family of a victim for reimbursement of burial and grave marker expenses. It also directs the Secretary of the Department of State to establish a task force to recommend the creation of a memorial and permanent site for the reinterment of unidentified or unclaimed remains.

Both SB 708 and HB 533 passed their first committee hearings on Tuesday. They each have two more committee stops before proceeding to the full chambers for a final vote.