The Phoenix Flyer

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’: Sen. Rouson pushes for reform school abuse victims to receive restitution

By: - January 12, 2022 12:25 pm

Charles Fudge, survivor of abuse at former Florida reform schools, speaks out at a news conference in Tallahassee on October 18, 2021. Credit: Issac Morgan

Over the years, state lawmakers have pushed for restitution to victims of brutal crimes that took place at reform schools in Florida between 1940 and 1975, but those efforts didn’t come to fruition.

But during the 2022 legislative session, state Sen. Darryl Rouson will continue advocating for the survivors of physical and sexual abuse at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and the Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee, by introducing legislation to certify former students for future compensation.

Bills related to victims receiving compensation have been filed several times in the past, Rouson said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix on Wednesday. A formal apology was issued to the victims previously, but that isn’t enough,  he said.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Rouson, a Democrat representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “Progress sometimes comes incrementally but we must keep trying.”

SB 482, entitled “Victims of Reform School Abuse,” was filed on the first day of the legislative session by Rouson but it doesn’t specify the amount in restitution that the former students would receive.

According to the bill’s text, “during the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature unanimously issued a formal apology to the victims.” The Legislature acknowledged that the “treatment was unjust and cruel,” the bill states, and expressed regret for the abuse that took place at schools.

“Now we need to go one step further and create an atmosphere of healing” by providing compensation for the victims, Rouson said.

The bill would require victims to submit applications to the Department of State for certification and the department would “review and process a completed application within a certain time frame,” according to the bill’s text.

According to legislation, the Dozier Schools was opened by the state in 1900 “to house children who had committed minor criminal offenses, such as incorrigibility, truancy, and smoking, as well as more serious offenses, such as theft and murder.” The Okeechobee reform school opened in 1955.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, Rouson introduced another bill connected to the victims of the school abuse, which was unanimously approved by lawmakers from the Committee on Criminal Justice.

SB 978 “is the public records exemption linked to SB 482. This bill creates a public records exemption to exempt any personal identifying information on an application submitted to the Department of State (DOS) by, or on behalf of, a person seeking certification as a victim of Florida reform school abuse, as defined in the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Abuse Victim Certification Act.”

Rouson said Tuesday: “What we know that if the main bill linked to this passes, those who apply may not want to release the personal identifying information contained in their application and it could subject victims to further trauma.”

SB 978 will require a two-thirds vote of each chamber in order to pass, because the bill would create a public records exemption.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.