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State Approves Exhumation of Unmarked Graves at Shuttered Reform School


BRADENTON – Florida’s governor and Cabinet voted Tuesday to issue permits to researchers at the University of South Florida to begin exhuming human remains from unmarked graves at the now-defunct Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna, Florida.

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.

“This decision puts us a step closer to finishing the investigation,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “Nothing can bring these boys back, but I’m hopeful that their families will now get the closure they deserve.”  

Nelson and a number of other officials have been outspoken advocates of allowing USF to complete its work, which was stalled when the Department of State issued a no-action on the request last month, citing a lack of jurisdiction. Today’s decision by the Cabinet comes after months of back and forth between USF researchers and other state officials. 

In May, a Jackson County circuit court judge rejected a request by state Attorney General Pam Bondi to grant a local medical examiner permission to exhume the bodies buried on school grounds.  Just last month, the Florida Department of State denied issuing the permits needed to begin the exhumations.  

The USF research team, led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, is now expected to begin the exhumations later this month. The researchers will try to match DNA samples taken from the living relatives of boys buried long ago on the grounds of a now-shuttered reform school.

Last year, a USF forensic team began examining the site and found more unmarked graves than police had said were there. Senator Nelson got involved after a Polk County man asked the lawmaker's office for help last year in locating his uncle's remains known to be buried in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the reform school. 


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