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Bill to compensate Dozier reform school survivors gets step closer to becoming law

A Senate committee approved the bill Tuesday. More than 500 former Dozier students have reported abuse.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The push for restitution for survivors of abuse at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna is making progress.

A bill, known as SB 482, would compensate those who have reported abuse at Dozier.

It passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday after a group of four survivors spoke before the panel. Proponents hope it will eventually make its way to the State Legislature for a vote. 

State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D- St. Petersburg) filed the bill in October in an effort to help correct "a unique and shameful chapter in the history of the state," according to the bill's text.

"I was in tears. This is something we waited a long time just to get it in the system," Charlie Fudge, a former Dozier student, said.

Dozier was open for more than 100 years in the Florida Panhandle and officially closed in 2011.

Fudge spoke with 10 Tampa Bay in 2019 and said he endured a brutal beating within days of arriving as a 12-year-old. He remained at the school for nine months.

He said neither he nor any of the survivors told family members growing up because school leaders threatened them.

Fudge, now 74, said the compensation would show the state is serious about its apology. He said it would be his last dying wish. 

"We would feel that our state has finally done something that they should have done years ago but the memories will linger with us forever," Fudge said.

John Bell, another survivor, said seeing the bill become law would help him heal and move on.

“I hope this can come to an end with the state of Florida,” John Bell, survivor said of the proposed bill. “I don’t want to carry a grudge with the state.”

From 2012 to 2016, the remains of 55 people were found on the former reform school's property. Then in 2019, research crews were alerted to the possibility of an additional 27 anomalies.

In the years since, the state has formally apologized to the survivors and families for the abuses and deaths that happened at Dozier. More than 500 former Dozier students have come forward over the years to report physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of those who worked there.

The investigation at Dozier closed in 2020, and researchers said it will remain that way unless its team receives credible information to start digging again, like the specific name of a missing person or more proof of potential remains in a particular area.

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