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Additional graves found at former reform school

TAMPA, Fla. -- A team of University of South Florida anthropologists and archaeologists have found at least 19 more graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla.

Once the largest reform school in the nation, the century-old institution has been the subject of numerous investigations into abuse allegations and suspicious deaths of children held there.

The USF research team is led by Erin Kimmerle, assistant professor of anthropology; Richard Estabrook, former director of the Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archeology Network; Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology; and Antoinette Jackson, associate professor of anthropology. The team released their interim findings Monday as it delivered to state officials a lengthy report detailing the number and location of graves at the school’s Boot Hill Cemetery and surrounding wooded area.

During several months of fieldwork, scientific analysis and ethnographic research, the team’s research estimated a minimum of 50 grave shafts in the area of the cemetery and surrounding wooded area. Previous investigations and records had reported that 31 boys were buried on school grounds.

Very little documentation about the history of the cemetery or who is buried there exists, nor was the exact locations of individual burials documented. Previous records indicate 81 deaths were reported at the school; however, USF researchers compiled records of 98 deaths, which occurred between 1914 and 1973 in historical documents of boys aged 6 to 18 and two adult staff members.

"We found nearly twice as many burials as were thought to exist," Kimmerle said. "But many of them had been lost in the woods under brush and trees."

Kimmerle’s team also identified discrepancies in records of the cause and manner of deaths reported for several boys. 20 boys died within the first three months of being remanded to the school, and the researchers found inconsistency among those who were issued death certificates.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, also known as the Florida State Reform School or the Florida Industrial School for Boys, has been the subject of investigations and lawsuits over the treatment of boys throughout its long history. The USF researchers work focused on deaths at the school from 1900 to 1960.

"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," Kimmerle said. "The majority of boys committed to the school and that died there were African American."

USF researchers have spent months mapping the school’s cemetery and using ground-penetrating radar and other methods to look at stratigraphy and soil chemistry to identify the numbers and location of graves in the school’s cemetery.

USF’s team was granted permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to access the historic land, and received a permit for archaeological research to locate and document graves associated with the Boot Hill Cemetery from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

USF researchers concluded in their report that additional research and preservation of the site are needed to recognize the historical significance of human and civil rights issues in Florida in the area of juvenile justice. The rights of families to have accountability and transparency are important aspects of restorative justice.


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