BRADENTON – Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a "no-action" Monday for a permit request to exhume human remains in an investigation of unmarked graves at a former reform school in Marianna, Florida.
Detzner told University of South Florida researchers, who used ground-penetrating radar to identify 50 possible graves on Dozier School for Boys' grounds, that the Florida Department of State could not issue the permits required to conduct the exhumations because it lacked statutory authority to do so (click here to read Detzner's denial letter).
The Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was a reform school operated by the state of Florida from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011. It was once the largest juvenile reform institution in the United States and has long been a source of disgrace for the state.
photo of dining hall construction with what was known
as the "White House" in the background. Public Domain
Throughout the school's horrid history, Dozier gained a reputation not only for squalid conditions, but for rampant physical and psychological abuse, rape, torture, and even murder of students by institution staff.
Investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2010 and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in 2011 confirmed many of the allegations. The school was finally closed permanently in June 2011.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has been advocating for an investigation into claims that buried bodies of murdered inmates remain on the premises since his office received requests from family members for help last year.
Families had hoped that DNA evidence could identify loved ones who they were told died while incarcerated at Dozier, perhaps providing some answers to causes of death, while allowing them to relocate the remains to a burial site of their choosing.
Nelson condemned the state's decision on Monday.
“At this point, it’s starting to look like a classic run-around,” said Nelson. “This is state-owned land, it’s the state’s responsibility and the state of Florida needs to do the right thing and not pass the buck.”
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