Pubdate: Wed, 25 Dec 2013
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2013 The Hartford Courant


Protective Zones Around Schools Raise Questions

Do crime-free zones around schools and other places where children 
gather actually protect children?

The question will be aired in the next session of the General 
Assembly because of two proposals, one that seeks to reduce the size 
of drug-free zones around schools and another that would create zones 
around schools where sex offenders couldn't live.

The Connecticut Sentencing Commission has unanimously approved a 
recommendation to scale back the state's drug-free zone from 1,500 
feet to 200 feet of school property. Meanwhile, two legislators are 
proposing a bill that would prohibit registered sex offenders from 
living within 1,000 feet of a school or day-care center.

All communities want to protect children from harm, but there are 
serious questions whether protective zones achieve that goal. The 
Courant supports the contraction of drug zones and opposes the 
creation of sex offender zones.


Connecticut and many other states created drug-free zones in the 
1980s as a get-tough response to the surge in crack cocaine use. The 
goal was to protect children by increasing the penalties for anyone 
caught selling or possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. The 
law has since expanded to 1,500 feet and now includes day care 
centers and public housing projects.

Advocates say it is a deterrent. Some researchers don't think so. For 
example, In 2001 former Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General 
William Brownsberger reviewed 443 drug cases in three cities - 
Springfield, New Bedford and Fall River - and found that 80 percent 
of the cases occurred in drug-free school zones, and only 1 percent 
of cases involved minors.

The findings might be more extreme in Connecticut. The state's larger 
cities have scores of schools, day care centers and public housing 
projects crowded onto relatively small (except for Stamford) 
geographical areas. The result is that the zones overlap; in New 
Haven and Hartford they cover virtually the entire cities. As Mr. 
Brownsberger said, if every place is a stay-away zone, no place is a 
stay-away zone.

The result is what some call the "urban effect," higher penalties in 
urban areas for the same crime - which, as members of the 
legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus pointed out last year, 
disproportionally impacts blacks and Latinos.

Sex Offenders

If the sex offender proposal becomes law, overlapping 1,000-foot 
zones will restrict offenders from living almost anywhere in 
Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport. Where do they go?

Although residency restrictions may make sense in individual cases - 
and are sometimes imposed as conditions of probation - blanket 
residency restrictions are highly dubious.

They are fueled in part by the notion of "stranger danger," the idea 
that most child molesters are strangers, sinister perverts in trench 
coats lurking around the school playground. But the research says the 
vast majority of child sexual abuse victims identify their abusers as 
family members or acquaintances. A Justice Department study in 2000 
of police reports from 12 states found that only 7 percent of sexual 
assaults on children were perpetrated by strangers. (The data are 
similar for adult female victims.)

Also, many people assume that everyone on the registry is either a 
rapist or pedophile. But it also includes an array of porn 
possessors, voyeurs and people who as older teenagers had consensual 
sex with an underage girlfriend or boyfriend.

Some on the list are dangerous and must be watched, but many are not. 
The state has pretty good assessment tools to determine which 
offenders might be dangerous to women and children, and treatment 
programs that work. State counselors use residency restrictions on a 
case-by-case basis, and there is no reason to change that system.

Finally, state and federal research finds that sex offenders as a 
group have one of the lowest rates of recidivism of any category of 
criminal. That means most of the crimes are committed by people who 
are not on the registry. That is where the concern should lie.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom