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‘It would mean a hell of a lot:’ Dozier compensation bill nearing finish line in Florida legislature

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Compensation for the victims of the Dozier School for Boys may finally be on the way.

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The state-run reform school was infamous for accusations of sexual and physical abuse during its more than 100 years in operation.

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The State of Florida formally apologized for the abuse carried out at the Dozier School for Boys in 2017.

Ever since, the roughly 400 victims that have come forward publicly have been fighting for some sort of compensation.

If you ask Charles Deas Jr. what it was like being sent to the Dozier School for Boys in Mariana back in the 60′s, he can sum it up in two words.

“Just horrible,” said Deas.

RELATED: ‘A lot of people didn’t make it out:’ Dozier School for Boys memorial set to be unveiled next Friday

Deas was sent to the reform school at the age of just 13-years-old for breaking a window.

He made it out alive, but others did not.

55 bodies have been found in unmarked graves on the school grounds over the years.

According to survivors, 183 boys are still unaccounted for.

Like so many of the 400 survivors who have come forward, Deas told Action News Jax he was subjected to physical abuse while at Dozier.

RELATED: ‘It was torture:’ Memorial unveiled on grounds of former Dozier School for Boys

“They come in and hold you down while they beat you with those straps. And there’s blood all over the place. That’s enough right there to scare me straight. They never had to do that again,” said Deas.

Deas and other survivors have been fighting for compensation from the state for more than a decade, but it’s been an uphill battle.

Efforts in recent years have failed to get traction.

But this year a bill that would make Dozier victims eligible for a yet-to-be-determined level of compensation has sailed through both chambers.

“Let’s take it to the floor. For these who are still alive and for those yet to be named,” said bill sponsor Senator Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) during the bill’s second committee hearing in the Senate Tuesday.

The bill passed through the committee with unanimous support, and also cleared its final committee stop in the House Tuesday afternoon.

RELATED: Florida Senate bill proposes compensation for survivors of Dozier School for Boys

For Deas, who is now 72, it’s been a long wait.

For other survivors, some of whom have passed away in recent years, the wait has been too long.

But Deas argued the bill is about a lot more than the money.

He believes the bill sends a message to all of those who suffered at the hands of the state that their pain is recognized.

“It would mean a lot. It would mean a hell of a lot,” said Deas.

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The bill is now teed up for a vote on the House floor and has one more committee stop in the Senate.

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