Drug Free Zones

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM -- April 4, 2014

Cops like to say they don't make the laws; they merely enforce them, but that wasn't exactly the case today in Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Plus, decrim has a last hurrah in Maryland, an Alabama welfare drug testing bill passes, Vermont moves against the new pain reliever Zohydro, and more. Let's get to it:

Politicians worry about the dangers of Zohydro, but they have little to say about its benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislators Try to Revive Decriminalization Bill Today. An effort was underway in Annapolis Friday to revive a decriminalization bill just days after it was scuttled in committee. The effort to revive House Bill 879 is being led by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who will try to amend the bill on the House floor. It was turned from a decriminalization bill to a study bill earlier this week in the House Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario (D-Prince Georges).

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Derailed. Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has pulled his measure to soften marijuana penalties from consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee after testimony by the head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Association executive director Michael Ranatza said sheriffs fear the bill, House Bill 14, could lead to decriminalization of marijuana. Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Oregon State Police Withdraw from Anti-Marijuana Summit. The Oregon State Police have withdrawn from an anti-marijuana conference scheduled for later this month after the police superintendent learned the event is closed to the public. OSP was listed as a cosponsor of the summit, which includes sheriffs from Malheur and Yamhill counties, a Medford police official and law enforcement officials from Colorado, Washington and Arizona, as well as anti-drug reform groups such as Drug Watch International, Save Our Society from Drugs, and the Drug Free America Foundation.

Medical Marijuana

Ammiano Reintroduces California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) has reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut Picks Locations for Six Dispensaries. Locations for Connecticut's six medical marijuana dispensaries have been selected, the state Consumer Protection Commissioner said Thursday. The facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville were authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Says Texas Can't Make Drug Tests a Condition for Receiving Unemployment Benefits. The US Labor Department has ruled that Texas cannot enforce a law passed by the Legislature in 2013 which makes passing a drug test a requirement for some workers to get and keep unemployment compensation benefits. The law was watered down by the legislature to cover only people who are in professions where drug testing is a requirement, like truck driving and nursing. The feds say the law as it is written is too vague and it is unclear exactly what workers will qualify.

Alabama Legislature Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The legislature has approved a bill that would require welfare applicants who have a drug conviction in the last five years to undergo drug testing before receiving benefits. People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test. Senate Bill 63 now goes to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Innovative New Device to Reverse Opiate Overdose. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Evzio, a handheld device containing naloxone, designed for lay people to use outside of hospital settings. When activated, the device will give verbal instructions about how to use Evzio to deliver the medication.

Prescription Opiates

Vermont Issues Emergency Rules to Restrict Access to Zohydro. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and state officials announced Thursday that Vermont is moving to restrict access to the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro, the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for patients in the US. New emergency rules require that prescribers of Zohydro conduct a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This is only the latest move against Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA last fall -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) banned it outright earlier this week and a handful of congressmen have called for the FDA to reverse its decision. But Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, said the drug is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications. The company also says it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on the volume of sales, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients are educated to understand the risks and benefits of extended-release opioids Politicians have been quick to raise the alarm about possible increases in addiction and overdose deaths with Zohydro, but they haven't been nearly as quick to talk about its usefulness in addressing the needs of legitimate pain patients.

Sentencing

Who Wants to Kill Sentencing Reform? No Surprises Here. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America's drug war three decades ago. The bill is the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Click the title link for the full story.

New Report Shows Failure of Connecticut's Sentencing Enhancement Drug Free Zones. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that Connecticut's 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones are so pervasive that they blanket almost all urban areas, creating an "urban penalty" that increases the sentence imposed for a given offense simply because it was committed in a city rather than in a town. The report recommends the sentencing enhancement zones be shrunk to 100 feet. This would allow the law to actually create the specially protected places as intended. Connecticut Senate Bill 259, which just passed out of the Judiciary Committee, takes a similar approach and would decrease that size to 200 feet. The report is Reaching too far: How Connecticut's large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark." You can read it by clicking on the title link.

Chronicle AM -- December 20, 2013

A pair of state appeals courts slap down cops who take people's medicine and won't give it back, there are problems with Kansas' drug testing law, Peru is buying shining new toys to prosecute its drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Hash is medicine, and the cops have to give it back, the Oregon appeals court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DPA California Initiative Revised. The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana initiative, filed earlier this month by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), has been revised. The new version increases the personal grow limit from four plants to six, makes the 1,000-foot buffer rule around schools optional instead of mandatory, and makes the California Industrial Hemp effectively immediately. Left intact were no changes in criminal penalties, no changes in the state's medical marijuana law, and a 25% tax on adult retail sales. DPA head Ethan Nadelmann said in a conference call yesterday that the group would decide early next year whether to move forward for 2014.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Hash. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Oregon v. James Jonathan Ellis that a medical marijuana patient whose hash was seized during an arrest can get it back. A district court judge had refused to order it returned, finding that hash wasn't covered under the state's medical marijuana law, but the appeals court disagreed, citing the federal Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana, which Oregon's law adopted, and which includes "every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its resin."

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Marijuana. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in Colorado v. Robert Clyde Crouse that a district court judgment ordering Colorado Springs Police to return marijuana seized from leukemia patient Crouse was correct. Colorado Springs authorities had argued that federal drug laws preempted their returning Crouse's medicine, but neither the district court nor the appeals court was buying it.

Wyoming Legislator to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) said this week that she intends to introduce a bill in the legislative session that starts early next year to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Wallis said the death a year ago of her husband, Rod McQueary, brought the issue of legalizing medical marijuana into sharp focus for her. She said he benefited greatly from medical marijuana from Colorado in his last days.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislator Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill, House Bill 5213,that would prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless and until a person is convicted of a criminal offense. "Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," Rep. Irwin said. "[But] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers. We need to change how asset forfeiture works. By requiring a person be convicted of a crime before their seized property is subject to forfeiture, we will stop the worst abuses and curtail the insidious incentives that lead some law enforcement to short circuit due process and the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."

Drug Testing

Kansas Drug Testing Law Punishes Welfare Recipients, But Lets Lawmakers Skate. The Kansas legislature this year passed a bill, Senate Bill 149, that allows for drug testing of welfare recipients. Amid charges of hypocrisy, solons added language to include drug testing of themselves. But Wednesday, the director of Legislative Administrative Services, who is charged with implementing legislator testing, told legislative leaders that the law does not include any ramifications for a positive drug test and does not explicitly make the results public, so he will be treating them as confidential medical records.

Sentencing

Connecticut Sentencing Commission Recommends Cutting Drug-Free Zones. The Connecticut Sentencing Commission recommended Thursday that lawmakers sharply curtail drug-free zones around schools. The commission said they created racial disparities, unfairly affecting blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to dwell in urban areas, where schools and day cares are more densely packed. The commission recommended scaling the zones back from 1,500 feet to 200 feet. It also recommended limiting drug-free zone charges to those actually intending to infringe on the zones, as opposed to those just passing through.

International

Peru in Half-Billion Dollar Deal to Buy Russian Helicopters for Anti-Drug, Anti-Terrorism Effort. The Peruvian and Russian governments announced a deal Wednesday in which Russia will provide 24 Mi-171 helicopters to the Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvians plan to use them for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism work in the central mountain areas where coca leaf and cocaine production are widespread.

Belgian Cannabis Social Club Raided. Belgian police acting on orders of the Justice Ministry raided the country's second cannabis club Wednesday (sorry, link in Dutch only). Raiders hit the Mambo Social Club in Hasselt, which follows the country's one-plant-per-person guidelines, seizing plants, records, and computer equipment. No word yet on any criminal charges.

Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

Visit http://www.malegislature.gov/Events/EventDetail?eventId=228&eventDataSource=Hearings or http://famm.org/StateSentencing/Massachusetts/MassachusettsUpdates/September20JudiciaryCommitteeHearing.aspx for further information on this hearing.

Visit http://www.capwiz.com/drcnet/issues/bills/?type=ST#Current_Sessions:_Sentencing_&_Incarceration for information on some of the sentencing bills being considered in Massachusetts and other states.

Date: 
Tue, 09/20/2011 - 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: 
24 Beacon St., Room B-2
Boston, MA 02108
United States

Delaware Senate Passes Drug Sentencing Reform Bill

Major drug sentencing reform is on the verge of being enacted in Delaware. The state Senate April 5 approved the reform bill, House Bill 19. The bill has already passed the House, but must return to the House for a final vote after it was amended in the Senate. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Delaware State House, Dover (image via wikimedia.org)
Under the bill, simple possession of small amounts of illegal drugs would be treated as a misdemeanor. Such offenses are currently felonies. The bill also does away with the current possession with intent to distribute and distribution offenses and replaces them with aggravated possession and drug dealing. Judges would exercise more discretion in sentencing, with sentences being increased if certain aggravating factors, such as proximity to a school or the involvement of juveniles, are present.

The bill also reduces the size of "drug-free zones" near schools, day care centers, or churches from 1,000 feet to 300 feet. The House version of the bill removed proximity to a church as an aggravating factor if the church does not have a school or day care center, but the Senate amended that language to include churches, synagogues, or other places of worship regardless of the presence of a day care center.

On the other hand, the bill creates a new felony offense of possessing firearms while possessing drugs. It also increases penalties for dealing prescription drugs.

Advocates of shrinking the "drug-free zones" said the 1,000-foot zone led to residents of Wilmington, the state's largest city, being disproportionately charged with felonies. "You end up with persons charged with felonies who live in cities who commit the exact same offense as persons charged with a misdemeanor out in the county," Chief Deputy Attorney General Charles Butler told the Senate. "That's why we shrunk the space."

Delaware is now just a procedural vote and a governor's signature away from joining the ranks of states enacting serious sentencing reform in recent years.

Dover, DE
United States

Drug Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Delaware House

The Delaware House of Representatives Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive drug sentencing reform bill. The bill, House Bill 19, would, most notably, make simple drug possession offenses misdemeanors. Drug possession is currently a felony.

Drug sentencing reform is moving in Dover. (Image via Wikimedia)
It also does away with the current possession with intent to distribute and distribution offenses and replaces them with aggravated possession and drug dealing. Judges would exercise more discretion in sentencing, with sentences being increased if certain aggravating factors, such as proximity to a school or the involvement of juveniles, are present.

The bill also reduces the size of "drug-free zones" near schools, day care centers, or churches from 1,000 feet to 300 feet. It removes proximity to a church as an aggravating factor if the church does not have a school or day care center.

On the other hand, the bill creates a new felony offense of possessing firearms while possessing drugs. It also increases penalties for dealing prescription drugs.

The bill passed the House 39-1. It now goes to the state Senate.

Dover, DE
United States

Kentucky Cuts Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Kentucky has become the latest state to enact sentencing reforms in a bid to rein in skyrocketing corrections costs. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law HB 463, a comprehensive corrections bill that will save the state millions of dollars a year, in part by sentencing drug possession offenders to probation instead of prison.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Image courtesy Gage Bradshaw)
The bill was based on a multi-year collaboration between the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and state officials. State officials and legislators working with the project convened a Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act and issued a January report that was the basis for the legislation.

"This overhaul of Kentucky's penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches," said Gov. Beshear. "Over the last three years, we've made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky's penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime."

The new law calls for sentences of "presumptive probation" for small-time drug possession offenders, meaning they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available for drug offenders. It reduces penalties for small-time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. And it shrinks "drug-free" zones from 1,000 yards to 1,000 feet.

The law also reduces sentences for small-time drug dealing. Sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.

"Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that's a Class C felony," said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you'll be looking at one-to-five," he told the Chronicle.

The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.

It also requires reforms of the probation and parole system. It will create "graduated sanctions" for parole violators, allowing authorities to impose short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison for technical violations. And it removes drug offenses from consideration when judges impose sentencing enhancements based on previous felony convictions.

Roderer Correctional Complex
Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped, Kentucky's prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000. The state's corrections budget this year is $460 million, and Kentucky is set to save nearly that much over the next decade by implementing the new sentencing structure.

"Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex," Gov. Beshear said. "In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms."

"This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety," said Brown.

"House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law," said Speaker Greg Stumbo. "Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you're on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line."

"It is the most significant and meaningful piece of legislation that I have had the privilege to work on since being elected to the state legislature," said Sen. Tom Jenson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I am pleased that the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances is going to continue studying these issues. We have gotten off to a great start and we need to continue working to make things better where we can."

"I'm pleased we're making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code," Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. "With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I'm confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky."

"Senator Jensen, Representative Tilley, Senate President Williams and House Speaker Stumbo worked across party lines to look at the data and forge a comprehensive package of reforms that will get Kentucky taxpayers a better public safety return on their corrections dollars," said Richard Jerome, project manager of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. "The legislation employs research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state's limited financial resources."

Sentencing reforms are becoming increasingly popular as cash-strapped states face ever increasing budget pressures. South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Texas are among states that have reformed sentencing and other corrections practices to lower imprisonment rates and save money. Similar efforts are pending in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sentencing reforms don't end drug prohibition, but they do somewhat reduce its inhumanity and its costs to society, as well as to the people busted for drug offenses. That's a start.

Lexington, KY
United States

Rethinking Drug-Free School Zones: Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Proposes Changing a Policy Critics Say Is Unfair and Ineffective

Location: 
MA
United States
For years, advocates of criminal justice reform in Massachusetts have been critical of the school zone law, which carries mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that take place within 1,000 feet of school property. While the law was passed in the name of public safety and the protection of children, critics say it's so broadly drawn that it's ineffective, and that it unfairly penalizes certain defendants on the basis of where they live. Now reformers have found an ally in the Statehouse's corner office. Gov. Patrick announced a proposal to dramatically reduce the size of the school zones, from 1,000 to 100 feet, as part of a plan to address a staggering projected state budget gap of $1.2 billion. The plan also includes proposals to close two state prisons and to ease sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders, all moves the governor contends would save much-needed money.
Publication/Source: 
Valley Advocate (MA)
URL: 
http://www.valleyadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=13128

Conservatives Board Sentencing Reform Bandwagon [FEATURE]

Struggling with chronic budget crises, lawmakers in more and more states are embracing sentencing and other reforms in a bid to hold down corrections costs. But while sentencing reform has long been the domain of "bleeding heart" liberals, now conservatives are driving those efforts in some states.

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels wants sentencing reforms...(Image via Wikipedia)
It's not just about dollars. Although fiscal concerns are a driving force among conservatives, there are also signs they are recognizing and confronting the failures of our drug and criminal justice policies. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, none other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote of "more humane, effective alternatives" to the national imprisonment binge.

Still, as their states bleed red ink, some of them are shifting from "tough on crime" to "smart on crime." Leading the charge is a newly formed advocacy group, Right On Crime, endorsed by big conservative names including Gingrich, taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, and former drug czar William Bennett.

Based in Texas, Right On Crime is touting the success the Lone Star State has had with sentencing reform to make such reforms more palatable to conservatives. In 2003, the state passed legislation ordering that small-time drug offenders be given probation instead of prison time, and in 2007, the state rejected prison-building in favor of spending $241 million on treatment programs for offenders.

Crime rates declined at the same time the incarceration rate did. And the state has saved about $2 billion by not building an additional 17,000 prison beds it once thought it needed.

Now, conservatives in other states are pushing similar reforms -- Right on Crime identifies 21 states it says are engaged in "conservative" sentencing and corrections reforms.

"The fiscal argument is resonating with conservatives and liberals alike these days," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "Prison and corrections spending is the big elephant in the room right now; it is ripe for cuts."

But it's not just the fiscal argument, said Mauer. "Some of this is in keeping with conservative philosophy, and much of their concern about incarceration has focused on drug policy. The drug war encompasses the whole country, but the federal system is an enormous part of it. Conservatives view it as taking over areas of policy that should best be left to the states," he said. "And then there are sort of libertarian conservatives who don't think the government should be telling us what is appropriate behavior."

It is also the result of years of effort by key advocates, said Mauer. "People like Pat Nolan at the Justice Fellowship have been working with that community for over a decade now about why this should be a conservative issue also," he pointed out.

Mauer welcomed the emergence of conservatives interested in sentencing reform. "We need to broaden the range of voices that are being heard on these issues," he said. "They can be helpful in a couple of ways, most importantly in communicating that these are not necessarily liberal or conservative issues, but good public policy perspectives. It's kind of ironic that the one area where there seems to be real bipartisan cooperation happening is in criminal justice policy."

"I think it's a good thing," said Traci Velasquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). "The work that JPI and a lot of others have done over the years points out financial and social reasons why existing drug and other criminal justice policies have been ineffective, and some of those reasons are conservative: It doesn't work and it costs too much. I'm glad to see voices across the political spectrum are speaking out on this."

The years of laying the groundwork are starting to pay off now, said Velasquez, who also pointed to the efforts of the Justice Fellowship. "There has been a lot of receptivity this year," she said. "When governors gave their inaugural speeches this year, I think there were ten of them that included things about criminal justice reform, locking up fewer people, and helping ex-prisoners be more successful in the community."

Sentencing and other criminal justice reforms are also benefiting from a sort of benign neglect, Velasquez said. "Because the media is focused on a lot of other issues, there is a little more space to talk about these issues," she said. "Between the Middle East, the overall economic crisis, and two wars, the media doesn't have a lot of time to push a hysterical criminal justice narrative as it did in the past. Now, policymakers can worry less about commentators ripping them apart as soft on crime."

Whether or not conservatives actually accomplish sentencing reform, the fact that they are now addressing it is a positive step, said Mauer. "If nothing else, just the symbolism of these leading conservatives coming out helps shift the political climate under which these issues are being addressed," he said. "It makes it a little more comfortable to talk about it."

The fact that the states are now collectively spending $50 billion a year on corrections, making it their second-fastest growing spending category behind Medicaid, according to the Pew Center on the States, is impelling efforts at change in places not previously known as bastions of reform:

In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has made a massive criminal justice system overhaul one of his top legislative priorities this year. Based on a report from the bipartisan Indiana Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, the package includes recommendations to cut sentences for possession and sale of cocaine and methamphetamine.

In the past decade, even though crime rates fell in Indiana, the prison population increased by 40%. Corrections spending also increased, although not as much, and now swallows up $616 million a year. More than half of Indiana prisoners are drug or property offenders. If current trends continue unabated, the report found, the prison population will increase by another 21% by 2017, and the state will have to spend an additional $1.2 billion on top of current corrections spending just to make room to house them.

While the reforms have broad support, not everybody is on board. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorney has voted to oppose the recommendation to cut drug sentences.

"There are all kinds of proposals on the table that reduce and reassign sentencing levels," the group's 2010 president, Shelby County Prosecutor Kent Apsley told the Indianapolis Star last month. "Some of them in my view are pretty extreme changes in the law and probably go too far. The question is: Where is the breaking point where you're saving money to the point that it may seriously impact public safety?"
 

In Pennsylvania, Democratic state Auditor General Jack Wagner last week endorsed Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf's SB 100, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which seeks to reduce corrections costs by allowing the state to more quickly transfer nonviolent offenders to community corrections centers and allowing more nonviolent offenders to be eligible for the community centers.

"With Pennsylvania facing its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, we must look for sustainable savings in every nook and cranny of state government, and that includes the criminal justice system, which is one of the three biggest drivers of increased spending over the past decade," Wagner said.

Pennsylvania's prison population has increased five-fold since 1980, to more than 51,000 last year, and was the fastest growing in the country last year. According to Wagner, that increase is "due in part to tougher sentencing guidelines, particularly with drug-related offenses."

The alternative sentencing proposals in SB 100 could save the state $50 million in the coming fiscal year and $350 million over the next four years, Wagner said in a statement as he released a report on corrections spending whose recommendations largely dove-tailed with the bill. But the title of the statement, Auditor General Jack Wagner Says PA Needs Sentencing Reform, Construction Freeze to Shrink Corrections Cost, pretty well summed it up.

The state is already committed to spending $860 million to build four new prisons and four new housing units to hold another 9,000 inmates, but those will be full as soon as they are built. Wagner is saying no more prison-building.

"While most economic sectors in the commonwealth remain mired in recession, prisons remain Pennsylvania's largest growth industry," he said.

Serious conservative reform efforts are also underway in Kentucky and Louisiana, among others, but while conservative support for sentencing reforms is making waves, liberals are not shirking, either. Reform measures are afoot in a number of states. Here are two examples:

...and so does California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown (Image via Wikipedia)
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last month outlined plans to save half a billion dollars  a year by keeping "nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offense" first-time offenders out of state prison. Those convicts would instead be housed in county jails. It is not sentencing reform, but it will take some of the pressure off the state prison system.

Drug offenders are among those who could be affected. Currently, there are some 10,000 people serving time in California for drug possession, as well as several thousand serving time for marijuana manufacture or distribution offenses.

The measure has the support of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which also called for a greater investment in drug treatment. "Governor Brown set an important tone and made it clear that our expensive state prisons should be reserved for people convicted of serious offenses, not for everyone who's ever made a mistake," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA deputy state director for Southern California.  "California is expected to save $500 million a year by handling more petty offenses, including low-level drug possession, at the county level. We think the savings would be even greater if drug treatment were made more available in the community. Under the plan, counties would have that option."

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for the repeal of many of the state's mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses as part of a criminal justice reform package he unveiled last month. Patrick's proposal would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to become eligible for parole, work release, and earned "good time" credits, and it would reduce the size of school "drug-free" zones from 1,000 feet to 100 feet.

The governor's proposal was "a bold move," but also "just basic common sense," said Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The governor’s bill would simply realign our current drug sentencing policies so that they are in sync with what we know about who is being sentenced to mandatory prison terms and what those people need to stay out of trouble when they leave prison," she continued. "Nearly two-thirds of those sentenced to mandatory prison terms fall into the two lowest level 'criminal history' groups -- no prior record or few lower level offenses. Yet too often they serve disproportionately harsh sentences, sometimes longer than those who commit violent crimes. As a result, the public pays for lengthier sentences than are warranted."

But, as in Indiana, prosecutors and law enforcement officials are coming out in opposition to at least part of the proposal. According to the Boston Globe, they are objecting to shrinking the school "drug-free" zone because doing so "would allow dealers to sell drugs very close to schools and would weaken strong drug laws passed during the 1980s crack cocaine scourge."

Conservatives are now joining liberals in trying to bring some common sense and fiscal sanity to the nation's drug and sentencing policies. But as police and prosecutor organizations have shown, reform threatens some powerful groups' turfs -- one man's cost is another's benefit. The sentencing reform battle is far from won, but the battle is joined, and we have reinforcements.

Sentencing: New Jersey Legislature Rolls Back Mandatory Minimums, Governor Will Sign Bill Into Law

With a 46-30 vote Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly gave final approval to a bill that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some "drug free zone" drug offenses. The bill passed the Senate in December. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill into law. When that happens, New Jersey will become the first state to roll back a mandatory minimum school zone law.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/drugfreeschoolzonesign1.jpg
misleading concept
Under a sentencing law in place since 1987, drug offenses that occurred within 1,000 feet of a school incurred mandatory minimum sentences of one to three years. Critics had argued for years that the law had a disproportionate impact on minority inner city residents and that it unnecessarily filled the state's prisons with low-level drug offenders who could be better served by drug treatment. The state spent $331 million last year to imprison drug offenders.

The bill just passed, A2762, would allow judges the discretion to impose a lesser sentence or probation, depending on whether school was in session, how close to a school it was, and whether children were present. Mandatory minimums would stay in effect if the offense took place on school grounds or involved violence or a gun.

According to the state Department of Corrections, 69% of drug offenders doing time are doing mandatory minimums. This bill will allow those doing mandatory minimums for school zone offenses to appeal those sentences.

"The mandatory minimum sentencing the zones require has effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), one of the bill's cosponsors. "This is geographic discrimination at its most basic."

"This is a progressive solution to a complex problem," said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), another cosponsor.

The legislature's action won praise from sentencing and drug policy reform groups that were part of a broad coalition to pass the bill. "Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commends the legislative leaders who fought for smart on crime sentencing policies in New Jersey. State lawmakers are increasingly disenchanted with ineffective and costly mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, drug-related offenses and are turning to policies that allow the courts to individualize punishments based on the facts of each case. This move signals a better course for New Jersey, and fairer sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders," said Deborah Fleischaker, FAMM's director of state legislative affairs.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, said the vote signals a new willingness on the part of elected officials at both the state and national level to reform failed sentencing and drug policies.

"At one time, these types of mandatory minimum laws were considered untouchable," said Scotti. "But there is a growing public backlash against these failed policies and a growing willingness on the part of elected officials to address the mistakes of the past."

Feature: New Jersey State Assembly Passes Bill Reforming State's "Drug-Free School Zone" Law

Like many other states, New Jersey adopted "drug-free school zone" laws in the 1980s in a bid to stop that iconic drug war menace, the dope peddler lurking in the schoolyard shadows trying to hook our kids on their fiendish wares. Now, in good measure because of its drug-free school zone law, which applies harsh mandatory minimum sentences to areas reaching far beyond any school's walls, the Garden State boasts the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of prisoners -- 35% -- behind bars for drug offenses.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugfreeschoolzonesign1.jpg
misleading concept
Under current law, anyone convicted of selling drugs, or possessing drugs with the intent of selling them, within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of parks, libraries, museums, or public housing projects, faces a mandatory minimum jail sentence of three years and $15,000 in fines.

While the language of the law is color-blind, its effect has been racially pernicious. In the dense urban environment where the state's minority populations are concentrated, the law in effect turns huge swathes of the landscape into drug-free school zones and subjects most urban drug offenders to prosecution under that law. Nineteen out of every 20 people prosecuted under the law are black or brown.

In 2005, the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing issued a groundbreaking report on the law, with a supplemental publication released in 2007. The commission found that the zones were ineffective in reducing drug offenses within the designated areas, while at the same time disproportionately affecting minority communities through its "urban effect."

Pressure has been building to reform the law ever since. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New Jersey office, headed by Roseanne Scotti, has been prowling the corridors of the statehouse in Trenton seeking to build a winning strategy. DPA added further fuel to the flames earlier this year with its own report, "Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey." The report found that in addition to the approximately $331 million that New Jersey spends each year to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders, the state loses millions more in taxable income from the lost wages of those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

Despite winning the support of Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, reformers could not gain passage of an earlier bill, which would have reformed the law by limiting the drug-free zones to 200 feet. But on Monday, the state Assembly took a big step toward reforming the drug-free school zone law, passing by a two-to-one margin a compromise bill that would restore a measure of judicial discretion in sentencing. Under the bill, A-2762, judges would be authorized to allow consideration of parole or probation on a case-by-case basis for some people convicted of distributing, dispensing, or possessing with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance while on or within a Drug Free School Zone. The following factors could be applied when weighing whether to apply a mandatory minimum sentence:

  • The extent of the person's prior criminal record and the seriousness of the offense;
  • Where the offense was committed in relation to the school property, including distance from the school or bus and the reasonable likelihood of exposing children to drug-related activities there;
  • Whether school was in session at the time of the offense; and
  • Whether children were present at or in the immediate vicinity of where the offense occurred.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugfreeschoolzonesign2.jpg
Judges would be prohibited from waiving a mandatory minimum sentence if the offense occurred on school property or the defendant used or threatened violence, possessed a firearm, or resisted arrest during the commission of the offense.

Now, the bill heads for the Senate, which is unlikely to address it before fall. The bill's sponsors and supporters are urging the Senate to follow their lead.

"Our current Drug-Free School Zone law does not work," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), one of the bill's cosponsors. "The mandatory minimum sentencing the zones require has effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives. This is geographic discrimination at its most basic, and it is something to which I am adamantly opposed."

"Our insistence on mandatory minimums combined with the disparate geographic distribution of Drug-Free School Zones has created a situation in which 96% of the individuals imprisoned for dealing drugs within the zones are black or Hispanic," said cosponsor Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, in a statement made available to the Chronicle by his office. "When a policy so disproportionately affects a single group, we must take corrective action."

"Judges should have the discretion to craft fair and effective sentences and not waste taxpayer money," said DPA's Scotti. "It costs more than $46,000 a year to incarcerate someone in New Jersey. If someone doesn't deserve the additional penalty and if the additional penalty does nothing to improve public safety, mandating an additional penalty is just throwing taxpayer money down the drain. It damages the individual's ability to earn a living and become a productive member of society and it shrinks New Jersey's tax base. The bottom line is that New Jersey can't afford ineffective mandatory minimum sentences."

The state legislature is going on summer break soon, but Scotti said the push would be on in the Senate in the fall, and organized opposition is scarce. "There hasn't really been any," she said. "The prosecutors are for this, the state probation office is for this. The Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. There are some legislators who don't like it, but that seems to just be that old amorphous fear of being called soft on crime and drugs."

Maybe, just maybe, New Jersey is ready to make a break with the past. While the drug-free zones will still exist, at least judges would have the option of not sending all offenders to prison. That could be a start on shaving away at that $331 million annual prison bill. Now, it will be up to the Senate.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School