Florida School for Boys

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Florida School for Boys
Florida Industrial School for Boys Marianna.jpg
Postcard illustration, date unknown
Marianna, Florida
United States
Coordinates 30°45′36″N 85°15′18″W / 30.760°N 85.255°W / 30.760; -85.255Coordinates: 30°45′36″N 85°15′18″W / 30.760°N 85.255°W / 30.760; -85.255
School type Reform school
Established January 1, 1900 (1900-01-01)
Opened 1900
Status Closed
Closed June 30, 2011 (2011-06-30)
Gender Male
Age 8 to 21
Enrollment 100–564
Campus size 159 acres (64 ha)
Campus type Rural

The Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (AGDS), was a reform school operated by the state of Florida in the panhandle town of Marianna from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011.[1][2] For a time, it was the largest juvenile reform institution in the United States.[3] A second campus was opened in the town of Okeechobee in 1955. Throughout its 111-year history, the school gained a reputation for abuse, beatings, rapes, torture, and even murder of students by staff. Despite periodic investigations, changes of leadership, and promises to improve, the allegations of cruelty and abuse continued. Many of the allegations were confirmed by separate investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2010 and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in 2011.[4] State authorities closed the school permanently in June 2011. At the time of its closure it was a part of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Campus and structure[edit]

From its opening until the 1980s, the Marianna site was an open campus of about 1400 acres without any perimeter fencing. The site was originally divided into two sub-campuses, South Side or "Number 1", for white students, and North Side, or "Number 2", for "colored" students, who were segregated from white students until 1966. A cemetery was located in the North Side, which contains the graves of more than 50 deceased students. In 1990–91, the North Side campus was permanently closed.[1]

Dining hall construction with "White House" in background, 1936

In 1929, an 11-room concrete block detention building containing two cells (one for white, and one for black students) was constructed to house incorrigible or violent students. It was eventually nicknamed "The White House". After corporal punishment at the school was abolished in 1968, the building was used for storage. In 2008, in response to the allegations of beatings and torture that took place there, state officials sealed the building in a public ceremony, leaving a memorial plaque, and it has remained empty since that time.[1]

At the time of the Justice Department investigation in 2010–11, shortly before the closure, Dozier was a fenced, 159-acre "high-risk" residential facility for 104 boys aged 13 to 21 who had been committed there by a court; their average length of stay at Dozier was nine to twelve months. They lived in several cottages, with each boy having an unlocked room. Next door was the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center, a "maximum-risk" facility for chronic offenders guilty of felonies or violent crimes, which housed residents in single, locked cells like a prison.[4]


According to the 2010 abuse investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the school was first organized under an 1897 act of the legislature and began operations on the Marianna campus on January 1, 1900, as the Florida State Reform School, under the control of five commissioners appointed by the governor William Dunnington Bloxham, who were to operate the school and make biennial reports to the legislature.[1]

At some time thereafter, the commissioners were replaced by the governor and cabinet of Florida, acting as the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions. In 1914, the name was changed to the Florida Industrial School for Boys and in 1957 to the Florida School for Boys. In 1955, the Okeechobee campus opened. In 1967, the name of the Marianna campus was changed to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, in honor of a former superintendent of the school.[1]

In 1903, an inspection reported that children at the school were commonly kept in leg irons.[5] A fire in a dormitory at the school in 1914 killed six inmates and two staff members.[6]

A 13-year-old boy sent to the school in 1934 for "trespassing" died 38 days after arriving there.[7]


In 1968, Florida Governor Claude Kirk said, after a visit to the school where he found overcrowding and poor conditions, that "somebody should have blown the whistle a long time ago."[8] At this time, the school housed 564 boys, some for offenses as minor as school truancy, running away from home, or "incorrigibility".[9] They ranged in age from ten to sixteen years old.[10] Officially, corporal punishment at the school was banned in August 1968.[11]

In 1969, as part of a governmental reorganization, the school came under the management of the Division of Youth Services of the newly created Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). In 1996, HRS was reorganized as the Florida Department of Children and Families.

1980s and 1990s[edit]

In 1982, an inspection revealed that boys at the school were "hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time", and the ACLU filed a lawsuit over this and similar mistreatment. By this time, the school was housing 105 boys aged thirteen to twenty-one.[12][13] Lawsuits concerning the school led to federal control of Florida's juvenile justice system from 1987 onward.[14][15]

In 1985, it emerged that young ex-inmates of the school, sentenced to jail terms for crimes committed while there, had subsequently been the victims of torture at the Jackson County jail.[16] The method of torture was for the prison guards to handcuff the teenagers and then hang them from the bars of their cells, sometimes for over an hour.[17] The guards stated that their superiors approved the practice and that it was routine.[18]

In 1994, the school was placed under the management of the newly created Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, which operated the school until its closure in 2011.[1] By this time, the school had facilities to house 135 inmates, and many of the boys sent there had been convicted of rape or of committing "lewd acts on other children".[19] On September 16, 1998 a resident of the school lost his right arm in a washing machine. The state was found guilty. A lawsuit was filed against the institution and the plaintiff won for an undisclosed amount in 2003.

21st century[edit]

In April 2007, the acting superintendent of the school and one other employee were fired following allegations of abuse of inmates.[20]

In late 2009, the school failed its annual inspection. Amongst other problems, the inspection found that the school failed to deal properly with the large numbers of complaints from the boys held there, including allegations of continued mistreatment by the guards. State Representative Darryl Rouson said that the system was struggling to move on from a longstanding "culture of violence and abuse".[12]

In a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, 11.3% of boys surveyed at the school reported that they had been subject to sexual abuse by staff using force in the last twelve months, and 10.3% reported that they had been subject to it without the use of force. 2.2% reported sexual victimization by another inmate. These percentages meant the home was deemed to have neither "high" nor "low" rates of sexual victimization compared with the other institutions assessed in the survey, which covered 195 facilities in the U.S.[21]

In July 2010, the state announced its plan to merge Dozier with JJOC, creating a single new facility, the North Florida Youth Development Center, with an open campus and a closed campus. However, the following year, claiming "budgetary limitations," the state decided to close both facilities on June 30, 2011; remaining students were sent to other juvenile justice facilities around the state.[4]

White House Boys[edit]

Following revelations from former inmates who had been incarcerated at the school in the 1950s and 1960s, who described themselves as "The White House Boys," the school was the subject of an extensive special report, For Their Own Good, published by the St. Petersburg Times in 2009.[22] Allegations focusing on the 1960s included claims that one room was used for whipping white boys and another for black boys. The whippings were carried out with a 3-foot-long belt made of leather and metal and were thorough enough that the recipients' underwear became embedded in their skin. One inmate said that the punishments were severe but justified; another claimed that he had seen a boy trapped in a running laundry dryer at the school and suspected the boy was killed.[23]

One former inmate claimed that he was punished in the white house eleven times, receiving a total of over 250 lashes. Others alleged that they were whipped until they lost consciousness and that the punishments were made harsher for boys that cried.[8] Some former inmates also claimed that there was a "rape room" at the school where they were sexually abused.[24] The complainants said that some of the victims were as young as nine years old.[25]

In February 2010, a class-action suit brought against the state by the White House Boys was dismissed by a judge in Leon County, Florida, because the statute of limitations for such a suit had run out.[26] A bill introduced in the 2012 session of the Florida Legislature to provide compensation to victims of abuse at the school failed to pass.[27][28]


Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2010[edit]

On December 9, 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the allegations of abuse, torture, and murder brought forward by the White House Boys and their law firm.[29] Crist requested that the department determine:

1) the entity that owned or operated the property at the time the graves were placed, 2) identification, where possible, of the remains of those individuals buried on the site and 3) determine if any crimes were committed, and if so, the perpetrators of those crimes.[30]

Over one hundred interviews of former students, family members of former students, and former staff members of the school were conducted during the 15-month investigation, which produced no concrete evidence linking any of the student deaths (it was determined that the thirty-one graves at the facility had been dug between 1914 and 1952) to the actions of school staff, or that there had been attempts to conceal deaths.[8][6][31] None of the graves were opened during the investigation.[32]

A forensic examination of the white house building was conducted. No trace evidence of blood on the walls was found. Some former Dozier students told investigators that they felt they "needed the discipline."[29] Troy Tidwell, who was a staff member at the school at the time, said that punishments in the white house building were not excessive and were carried out with the leather strap because there were concerns that spankings with wooden paddles might injure the boys.[24]

In January 2010, the Department of Law Enforcement released its findings:[1]

This investigation included over one hundred interviews of former students, family of former students, and former staff members of the school. The interviews confirmed that in addition to the implementation of the Individual Rating System, school administrators used corporal punishment as a tool to encourage obedience. The interviews revealed little disagreement about the way in which corporal punishment was administered. The former students were consistent in that punishment was administered by school administrators and adult staff witnesses in the building referred to as the White House. The former students were consistent in stating that a wooden paddle or leather strap was the implement used for administering punishment. The area of disagreement amongst former students was the number of spankings administered and their severity. Although some former students stated that they were "beaten" to the point that the skin of their buttocks blistered and bled profusely, there was little to no evidence of visible residual scarring. A secondary disagreement was the former students’ perceptions of the punishment process. Some former students stated that their spankings caused them no psychological harm and that they learned from their mistakes while others stated that, mentally, they suffered greatly as a result and still do so to this day.

Some reports by former students stated that in addition to corporal punishment, they were also subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of former staff members or other students. With the passage of over fifty years, no tangible physical evidence was found to either support or refute the allegations of physical or sexual abuse.

On March 11, 2010, State Attorney Glenn Hess announced that no criminal charges would be filed in the case. After interviewing investigators and attorneys representing both the White House Boys and an administrator, and after reviewing the Department of Law Enforcement's report, Hess concluded that he would be unable to prove or disprove criminal wrongdoing in the case in a court of law.[33]

Department of Justice, 2011[edit]

In its December 2011 report of its investigation at the Dozier School, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice made the following findings about staff at the school, who were cited for use of excessive force, inappropriate isolation, and extension of confinement:[4]

The youth confined at Dozier and at JJOC were subjected to conditions that placed them at serious risk of avoidable harm in violation of their rights protected by the Constitution of the United States. During our investigation, we received credible reports of misconduct by staff members to youth within their custody. The allegations revealed systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls. . . .

These systemic deficiencies exist because State policies and generally accepted juvenile justice procedures were not being followed. We found that . . . staff did not receive minimally adequate training. We also found that proper supervision and accountablity measures were limited and did not suffice to prevent undue restraints and punishments. Staff failed to report allegations of abuse to the State, supervisors, and administrators. Staff members often failed to accurately describe use of force incidents and properly record use of mechanical restraints.

University of South Florida, 2012–2014[edit]

Erin Kimmerle is a forensic anthropologist and University of South Florida Associate Professor who is leading a USF team of anthropologists, biologists, and archaeologists exploring the Marianna campus. The stories of the White House Boys piqued her interest. She was especially curious why there are no records of where those who died there are buried. Kimmerle commented, "When you look at the state hospital, the state prisons, the other state institutions at the time, there are very meticulous plot maps you can reference. Or if you are a family member today, you can say, 'Where is my great-aunt buried?' and they can show you exactly where. So, why that didn't happen here, I don't know. But that does stand out."[34]

The team used ground-penetrating radar and excavations to identify where bodies are buried. However, in order to determine if the cause of death was from injury, illness, or murder,[35] the bodies must be exhumed, which can be done only if a family member requests it.[34] By December 2012, the researchers indicated that there are 55 graves on the grounds and that a second cemetery is likely to exist.[7]

Glen Varnadoe's uncle Thomas was sent to the Florida School for Boys in the 1930s and died there a month later. Varnadoe wants to exhume his uncle for burial at the family's cemetery near Lakeland. During a visit to Dozier School in the 1990s, a staff member showed him where his uncle might be buried. That location was not the same as the area where the most recent graves were found, and the state limited the USF team to searching the existing cemetery grounds.[34] When the state announced plans to sell much of the Dozier property, Varnadoe filed suit and a judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the sale until Thomas Varnadoe's body was exhumed. State officials subsequently granted the university team permission to search all areas of the former facility for possible burial sites[34] and requested federal funds to pay for a forensic examination of all graves on the grounds.[36]

On August 6, 2013, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet issued a permit allowing University of South Florida anthropologists and archaeologists to excavate and examine the remains of any and all boys buried at the Dozier site.[37] Exhumations began on August 31; according to an Associated Press report:[38]

Robert Straley, a spokesman for the White House Boys, said the school segregated white and black inmates and that the remains are located where black inmates were held. He suspects there is another white cemetery that hasn't been discovered. "I think that there are at least 100 more bodies up there", he said. "At some point they are going to find more bodies, I'm dead certain of that. There has to be a white graveyard on the white side."

Bones, teeth and artifacts from grave sites were sent to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for DNA testing. In January 2014, the University of South Florida announced that excavations have yielded remains of 55 bodies, almost twice the number official records say are there.[39][40]

By September 26, 2014, the remains of three boys, George Owen Smith (reported missing since 1940), Thomas Varnadoe (reportedly died of pneumonia in 1934) and Earl Wilson (died in 1944), had been identified.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Office of Executive Investigations. Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys Abuse Investigation. Case No. EI-04-0005. 29 January 2010, accessed 15 June 2012.
  2. ^ Montgomery, Ben. "After a century of pain, former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys closes", tampabay.com, 1 July 2011, accessed 15 June 2012
  3. ^ Crane, Charlotte (August 2011). "Northwest Business Briefs: Marianna". Florida Trend. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Investigation of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center, Marianna, Florida. 1 December 2011, accessed 15 June 2012.
  5. ^ Florida closing 111-year-old reform school, United Press International, May 27, 2011, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  6. ^ a b McCardell, Kate (May 17, 2009), "Dozier graves identified; FDLE investigation still ongoing", Jackson County Floridan, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  7. ^ a b "USF researchers find 19 more graves at Dozier School for Boys". TBO.com. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c Montgomery, Ben; Moore, Waveney Ann (April 19, 2009), "For their own good", St. Petersburg Times, p. E1 
  9. ^ "Turnover Riddles Welfware Staff", St. Petersburg Times, p. 3B, May 1, 1968 
  10. ^ Journal of Educational Measurement, National Council on Measurement in Education, 5–6: 138, 1968  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Williams fighting dismissal", Star-Banner, p. 2, March 28, 1969 
  12. ^ a b Montgomery, Ben; Waveney, Ann Moore (December 30, 2009), "Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys fails annual evaluation", St. Petersburg Times 
  13. ^ "3 State Schools Accused of Abuse in ACLU Lawsuit", The Palm Beach Post, p. C2, December 24, 1982 
  14. ^ "HRS seeks end to federal monitoring", Miami Herald, p. 5B, November 19, 1993 
  15. ^ "Bobby M and Beyond", Palm Beach Post, p. 2F, November 28, 1993 
  16. ^ "Guards won't serve jail time on torture charges", Miami Herald, p. 2B, September 25, 1986 
  17. ^ "Ex-inmates report hangings at Jackson jail", Orlando Sentinel, p. D3, December 20, 1985 
  18. ^ "2 guards admit they tortured inmate in Jackson jail, but blame higher-ups", Miami Herald, p. 2B, May 31, 1986 
  19. ^ Spitz, Jill Jorden (January 9, 1994), "It's not kiddie court any more – preteen sex offenders are committing crimes unheard of a decade ago", Orlando Sentinel, p. 1 
  20. ^ Price, Stephen D. (April 14, 2007), "Head of school for juveniles loses job", Tallahassee Democrat, p. 2 
  21. ^ Beck, Allen. J; Harrison, Paige M.; Guerino, Paul (January 2010), Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008–2009, U.S. Department of Justice 
  22. ^ Montgomery, Ben, and Waveny Ann Moore. "For Their Own Good", tampabay.com, 19 April 2009, accessed 15 June 2012.
  23. ^ Officials Probe Unmarked Graves at Florida Reform School, Fox News, December 9, 2008, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  24. ^ a b Reform school alumni claim abuses, United Press International, October 19, 2008, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  25. ^ Gant, Andrew (February 8, 2009), 87 men sue state over abuse, www.chipleypaper.com, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  26. ^ Montgomery, Ben. "White House Boys Suit Is Tossed", tampabay.com, 24 February 2010, accessed 15 June 2012.
  27. ^ The Florida Senate. SB 46: Relief of Victims/Florida Reform School for Boys/Department [sic] of Juvenile Justice, accessed 15 June 2012.
  28. ^ Text of Florida Senate Bill 46 (2012), relating to compensation for victims of abuse at the Florida School for Boys, accessed 15 June 2012.
  29. ^ a b Gant, Andrew (March 12, 2010), Hess: No criminal case at reform school, www.chipleypaper.com, retrieved July 17, 2011 
  30. ^ "Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys Abuse Investigation (Case No. EI-04-0005)" (PDF). Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Office of Executive Investigations. January 29, 2010. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  31. ^ "FDLE Identifies Unmarked Graves at Dozier School for Boys". Gray Television, Inc. May 15, 2009. 
  32. ^ Moore, Waveney Ann; Montgomery, Ben (May 22, 2009), "Accused man says he only spanked", St. Petersburg Times, retrieved July 18, 2011 
  33. ^ Schoettler, Jim (March 12, 2010). "White House Boys reach end of a weary road". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  34. ^ a b c d "'Florida's Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story". NPR. 
  35. ^ Montgomery, Ben. "USF team looks for lost graves at closed Dozier School for Boys", tampabay.com, 20 May 2012, accessed 15 June 2012.
  36. ^ "Florida officials push for answers at boys' school graveyard". reuters.com. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  37. ^ Arkin, Daniel (August 6, 2013). "'They're going to find out the truth': Florida to excavate remains of boys who died at reform school". NBC News. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  38. ^ "Grave Excavation Begins at Fla. Reform School Site", ABCNews.com, 31 August 2013, accessed 31 August 2013.
  39. ^ Cotterell, Bill (January 28, 2014). "Remains of 55 bodies found near former Florida reform school". Reuters. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  40. ^ Cook, Angie (January 28, 2014). "USF researchers find 55 bodies at Dozier site". Jackson County Floridan. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  41. ^ Ralph Ellis (26 September 2014). "Remains of 2 more boys identified at shuttered Florida reformatory". CNN. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 


  • Kiser, Roger Dean (2009), The White House Boys: An American Tragedy, Florida: Health Communications, ISBN 978-0757314216  Roger Dean Kiser is the founder of the White House Boys Organization and first disclosed the school's horrific past to Governor Rebuin Askew in 1971 and later to Governor Jed Bush.
  • Fisher, Robin Gaby (2010), The Boys of the Dark: A Story of Betrayal and Redemption in the Deep South, New York City: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312595395 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]