Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2005
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2005 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author:  Ann Higgins
Bookmark: (Incarceration)

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:- Vincent Lee (letters, April 15) asks where the 
"concerned citizens of Great Barrington" were during past years when 
"dozens of people with Pittsfield cases have gone to jail for the mandatory 
two years." I would ask him why he thinks it is the job of Great Barrington 
residents to act as the social conscience of Pittsfield and its suburbs.

After all, Pittsfield and its surrounding towns have a sizable middle-class 
population, any of whose members have been at liberty over those years to 
raise objections to the application of the school-zone law to the city's 

The fact that they couldn't be bothered to do that should not bar Great 
Barrington residents from raising concerns about the application of the law 
in their own community.

However, the recent attempts to inject class warfare into this issue and 
the restriction of the petition to a minority of the Great Barrington 
defendants divert attention from the fundamental injustice of the 
school-zone law in Massachusetts. As some earlier letter-writers have 
pointed out, when this law was passed it was touted as a way to prevent 
drug dealers from preying on schoolchildren on their way to and from school.

However, because a radius of 1,000 feet is a much larger area than most 
people realize, and because the law applies whether or not school is in 
session, the law has actually become a means by which prosecutors can 
guarantee jail sentences for offenses that would not otherwise carry any 
jail time at all.

Furthermore, and this is the greatest injustice of all, although several 
recent letter writers have argued that if those charged didn't want to "do 
the time" they shouldn't have committed the alleged offenses in a school 
zone, there is actually no way that anyone in Massachusetts can tell 
whether a particular area is in a school zone or not. In Connecticut, as 
anyone who drives over the state line will know, towns and cities clearly 
mark their school zones with signs. The fact that no such signs are to be 
found anywhere in Massachusetts risks the suggestion that the use of the 
law in this state is intended less to protect schoolchildren from drug 
dealers than to ensure incarceration even for those convicted of relatively 
minor drug offenses.

This is the real point at issue here and if it takes "the sushi eaters of 
Barrington" (as Mr. Lee calls them) to bring it to our attention, perhaps 
Mr. Lee should feel grateful to them instead of belittling them. After all, 
if a change in the school-zone law should ever come about as a result of 
the Great Barrington petition, defendants in Pittsfield will reap the 
benefits no less than defendants in Great Barrington and the rest of the state.

Ann Higgins

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