In an effort to compensate victims of abuse at the Dozier School for Boys and the Okeechobee reform school, state Senator Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, has filed Senate Bill 24, formally known as, Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Victim Compensation Program.
The bill aims to create a one-time payment program through the Department of Legal Affairs for students who faced abuse at these institutions, as well as award high school diplomas to those compensated.
Initially opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School, the Dozier School for Boys was known for its brutal living conditions, and although there were a multitude of reports filed, little changed.
According to an article on npr, hundreds of men who attended the school were gruesomely abused physically, mentally and sexually for years.
“Some 81 boys are known to have died there, but where their remains are buried is a mystery that researchers are now trying to solve,” according to the NPR report.
Similarly, the Okeechobee reform school is also known for its abusive nature. Built in 1959, the school was formed because of overcrowding at the Dozier School.
If passed, the bill will accept applications from all living persons who suffered abuse at the institutions between 1940 and 1975. The applications must include proof of attendance, dates of enrollment and abuse.
Section one of the bill states that by accepting a one-time compensation payment from the Department of Legal Affairs, the victim is not allowed to accept any other forms of compensation related to the matter.
“By accepting compensation under this section, the applicant waives any right to further compensation related to the applicants confinement or any abuse suffered during such confinement,” according to the bill’s text.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability voted 6-0 on Wednesday in favor of the bill.
The president of the Association of Black Boys at Dozier School, Richard Hunlee, emotionally expressed his gratitude for the bill.
“My heart is heavy. I was 11 years old when I went to this school. They told us they would train us and in return I found myself in a cane field learning how to cut cane in the winter time where I cut the top of my toe off,” Hunlee said. “We had one or two choices, do the job or get beat. I went to the white house four times, where I was beaten by a 250 pound man. They beat me so hard, the pain was so excruciating.”
The bill is currently pending reference review.