Dozier survivors are one step closer to restitution

Bill would allow claims by Florida’s Dozier School For Boys abuse victims

TALLAHASSEE – Survivors of the Dozier School for boys are one step closer to being compensated after a Senate committee has approved a bill Tuesday that would set in motion plans to identify those who were victims of the reform school.

The legislation still must overcome many hurdles before becoming law.

Survivors of the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys have been coming to the State Capitol for at least a decade seeking restitution for the physical, mental and sexual abuse they suffered during their time at the state-run reform school.

“It’s something that we’ve waited our whole lives for,” Dozier survivor Charles Fudge said.

More than 500 victims have come forward, all united by a shared horrific experience.

“Mostly the sexual abuse that was inflicted on us as children. And when I say children, I’m speaking of children as young as five and six and seven years old,” Dozier survivor and retired Army Ranger Capt. Bryant Middleton said.

This year they’re advocating for a bill that would establish a process for victims to register with the state, so they might be compensated in the future.

“Time is not on the side of the victims to continue to wait for justice,” said Senate sponsor Darryl Rouson.

There are signs attitudes in the Legislature may be changing.

A key state senator who voted against this bill last year, voted for it in its first committee stop Tuesday.

That Senator is George Gainer, who grew up near the school.

“By the grace of god there, I might have been there too. And I feel like this is one move that puts us a little closer to closure,” Gainer said.

The House never heard the bill last year, but sponsor Tracie Davis said she’s hopeful a deal can be struck this session.

“The time is running out because these men are now 70, 80 years old and so they’re not gonna be around much longer. So getting this done is of the essence for me,” Representative Davis said.

Even if the legislation crosses the finish line payment would be at least a year away.

That’s a precious time many of the now-elderly survivors can’t afford.

The bill doesn’t address how much money Dozier victims would be entitled to.

That determination would be up to a future Legislature.