Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jan 2014
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2014 The Day Publishing Co.


Stiffer Penalties for Those With Drugs Within 1,500 Feet of a School, 
Day Care Center or Public Housing Unfairly Targets Those in Urban 
Areas, Where Spaces Are Far Tighter Than in the Suburbs.

Back in the 1980s, many state legislatures passed laws establishing 
"drug free" zones around schools on the theory they would protect 
children from being preyed upon by people selling marijuana, heroin 
and cocaine. It seemed like a good idea at the time but then facts 
intervened and the drug free law turned out to be nothing more than a 
"feel good" action that provided the illusion of fighting the war on 
drugs without actually accomplishing much beyond filling prisons.

Connecticut's law first provided additional prison time for those 
caught selling or possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. 
Then it was expanded to 1,500 feet of not only schools, but also 
public housing projects and day care centers. The law tacks a 
mandatory, additional year on the sentences of those in possession of 
drugs and paraphernalia near a school, two years for having drugs 
near a day care center or public housing and three years for selling 
drugs near schools, day care centers or public housing.

But in congested cities like Hartford and New Haven, there is hardly 
a foot of land that doesn't lie within 1,500 feet of a school, public 
housing project or day care center. A map of New Haven produced by A 
Better Way Foundation showed a portion of Yale's golf course as the 
only part of the city not in a drug free zone. You can provide your 
own speculation as to whether a drug dealer might find a more 
promising market on a golf course or among preschoolers at a day care center.

The state Supreme Court has already overturned the conviction of a 
person found with large amounts of marijuana and cash within a drug 
free zone that also happened to be 1,500 feet from his own home in 
Hartford. The court upheld a verdict that he intended to sell the 
drugs somewhere but there was no proof he intended to sell at a 
school or other "drug free" locale, mainly because his entire city 
was virtually a drug free locale.

Then there's the fact that those living within drug free zones in 
these cities tend to be minorities, which means those arrested with 
the drugs tend also to be disproportionately black or Hispanic.

All of these problems with drug free zones are defended by advocates 
who argue they're a small price to pay for keeping pushers away from 
innocent children. They offer no evidence of this, mainly because 
what evidence exists makes the drug free zone idea seem questionable 
at best and unjust at worst.

William Brownsberger, a former attorney general of Massachusetts, has 
conducted extensive research into 443 drug arrests in Springfield, 
Fall River and New Bedford and discovered 80 percent of the arrests 
occurred in so-called drug free zones but only 1 percent involved 
school children in any way. A similar study by New Jersey's 
sentencing review commission found 2 percent of the cases involved 
students and 96 percent of those imprisoned for zone free violations 
were black or Hispanic.

The Connecticut Sentencing Commission has unanimously recommended 
legislation that will scale back drug free zones from1,500 to 200 
feet. It also wants prosecutors to have to prove the person arrested 
intended to involve those with drug free status in his or her crime.

The point is not to go easier on drug sellers, rather it is a matter 
of equal treatment under the law. Drug dealers in largely white 
suburbia, with its fewer drug-free zones, are exposed to the less 
jail time for no another reason than where they live.

So far, the opposition has been heavy on emotion and misinformation. 
Rep. Christie Carpino of Cromwell has railed against making it easier 
for drug pushers "to set up shop near playgrounds and ball fields in 
the area neighborhoods."

Also unburdened by facts or statistical findings is former Gov. John 
Rowland, who has used his daily radio talk show to attack what he 
calls a plan "to make it easier for the drug dealers to sell to 
children." He dismisses the fact that a disproportionate number of 
minorities are arrested in the cities with citywide drug free zones 
by suggesting there may be "too many people of color selling drugs 
within 1,500 feet of schools."

It appears that Mr. Rowland, who enjoyed a light prison sentence for 
crimes he committed while governor, has become a convert to the 
concept of locking them up and throwing away the key since he 
completed his year in prison.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom