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Published: Monday, 5/11/2009

Florida: Fun in the stun

WHAT is it with the casual disregard for child safety that shadows the state of Florida?

It seems like only yesterday - actually, it was in 2000 - that the Sunshine State lost a foster child in its care and failed to notice for more than 15 months. That child is still missing.

In 2002, a children's services caseworker lied about visiting a child in foster care, reporting that the 2-year-old boy was alive and well - on the same day he was killed by his baby sitter. That same year, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel demonstrated the inefficiency of the state's Department of Children and Families by using public records and knocking on doors to track down nine children the agency said it could not find and had listed as missing.

Now, state employees are putting a strange new spin on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day by zapping the little nippers with 50,000 volts of electricity - apparently with parental approval.

The latest scandal has nothing to do with the children's agency. Instead it is the state prison system that disclosed recently that Taserlike stunning devices were used to shock children ages 8 to 14 - including the daughter of a warden - during demonstrations of how guards subdue unruly inmates at three of its correctional facilities.

The state's Department of Corrections hasn't said how many children were stunned at the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle, as well as the state prisons at Indiantown and Vero Beach, but, according to the attorney of a 12-year-old girl zapped at Franklin, the number was at least six. Reportedly, the girl's mother, who works at the Franklin prison, gave permission for her daughter to be stunned.

One guard has been fired and 10 others suspended while the incidents are bring investigated. The first thing that ought to be checked is what these folks were using for brains.

Stun guns, intended for use on dangerous adults who cannot be subdued any other way short of lethal force, can be deadly. According to Amnesty International, since 2001 nearly 300 people in the United States have died after being stunned, including at least 19 in Ohio and one in 2005 in Toledo. Using children to demonstrate the effectiveness of the devices is more than shocking, it's unbelievably dumb.

Too often in recent years, Florida officials seem to act with all the maturity and responsibility of children, leaving real children unsafe in their charge.

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