Florida Legislation Passes to Compensate Victims of Abuse at Decades-Old Reform School

Credits: Brookings Institution

The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Monday to allocate $20 million for victims of decades of abuse at two now-closed reform schools in Florida, putting the restitution in the hands of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The bill provides a process for former inmates of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee to make claims for physical, mental, or sexual abuse endured between 1940 and 1975, with each victim estimated to receive around $50,000.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, expressed that while the compensation is a small token for a vast ocean of hurt, it is a step forward after too long a delay.

Florida Legislation (Credits: Britannica)

As he spoke, about 20 victims stood in the Senate public gallery, and one visibly moved to tears. Rouson thanked them for their perseverance and for sharing their stories and those of others who couldn’t be present.

The White House Boys, a group named after the white cinderblock building at Dozier where boys were abused, have been advocating for recognition of the abuse for years.

Nearly 100 boys died at Dozier between 1900 and 1973, and the University of South Florida spent four years exhuming remains from 55 unmarked graves on the school’s property.

Although the Legislature formally apologized for the abuse seven years ago, Rouson continued to seek restitution through legislation, which had failed in past years.

State Sen. Tracie Davis, a Democrat who sponsored similar legislation in the House, emphasized the importance of the compensation, noting that while money cannot erase the past, it can provide resources and help to improve the remaining days of those affected, many of whom are now in their 70s or 80s.

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