Research & Remembrance:
100 Years after the Fatal Fire at Dozier
NOVEMBER 18, 2014
9:00AM – 8:00PM
USF MARSHALL STUDENT CENTER ROOM 3707
From 1900-1952 nearly 100 children died while incarcerated at the former Florida Industrial School for Boys (FIS) (aka Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) in Marianna, Florida. November 18th marks the 100 year anniversary of a fatal dormitory fire in which 10 victims lost their lives. The circumstances surrounding the fire were highly controversial at the time, which lead to a national media campaign calling for the State to “Fix the Responsibility" (Miami Herald, 1914). In 2014, a USF team of researchers excavated burials located on the former school grounds to identify those buried at the school and repatriate the remains to their surviving families.
The ways in which children experience the criminal justice system is often tragic. The USF Dozier Project provides an opportunity for critical examination of the ways in which children and their families experienced the criminal justice system prior to the professionalization of law enforcement criminal investigations, corrections, and juvenile justice and allows for critical examination of impact and implications going forward. From its inception, the former Florida Industrial School for Boys was supposed to be a refuge for troubled children convicted of crimes away from the harsh Convict Lease and Peonage Systems of adult convicts. By initial design, children were to receive training and education that would propel them to become productive citizens. The institution was supposed to be a “school” not a “prison”, and the boys who were committed were “students” rather than “inmates”. This dichotomy proved conceptually sound but, in practice, difficult to maintain. Throughout the school’s early history a multitude of narratives seem to contradict the “school” and “student” focus of the institution. These contradictions resulted in many reform measures to the school itself, from its practices of child labor and corporal punishment to changes to its very name. Additionally, the school reflected laws and social norms of the time particularly with respect to race. For example, until 1968 the school was segregated into two completely separate campuses or “departments” for “white” and “colored” students. Segregation permeated every aspect of life in Florida and throughout the US South until the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. No understanding of the Florida State Reform School over the course of its history can be understood without consideration of the impact and implications of segregation, particularly those relating to criminal justice. The story of children in Florida’s correctional system is a reflection of changing attitudes, laws, and practices towards children within these systems.