Drug Free Zones

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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.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/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.

https://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.

https://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.

Press Release: Drug-Free Zone Reform Legislation Passed by NJ Assembly

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 24, 2008 Contact: Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243 Drug-Free Zone Reform Legislation Passed by New Jersey Assembly Advocates Applaud Reform Effort and Say New Bill Will Reduce Racial Disparities and Save Taxpayers Money Trenton, NJ—Yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly passed compromise legislation to reform the state’s unfair and ineffective drug-free zone law. The bill, A2762, sponsored by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen) would give judges the discretion not to impose a mandatory minimum sentence under certain circumstances for drug-free zone offenses. The legislation is a compromise introduced to replace an earlier bill that would have reduced the size of the zones to 200 feet. Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, called the bill a sensible compromise that would allow for individualized sentences and save taxpayers money. “Basically the current law calls for two different penalties for the same crime with the severity of the penalty based on geography and ultimately on race,” said Scotti. “The zones blanket our urban areas and as a result, 96 percent of those getting this additional mandatory minimum sentence are African American or Latino.” In 2002, the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing issued a groundbreaking report on New Jersey’s “drug-free zone” law. The law basically mandates a three-year mandatory minimum sentence in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense when the drug offense occurs in the zones. The commission found that the zones were completely ineffective in reducing drug offences within the designated areas. In addition the commission found that the law had a severe “urban effect” that disproportionately affected minority communities. Because there were so many schools and other public buildings covered by the law in densely populated urban areas, and because the zones overlap one another, most of the area of any densely populated city became one large drug-free zone. Therefore, almost any drug offense in such a city would get the additional mandatory term. Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey recently released a 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. The loss of taxable income to the state continues even after release because formerly incarcerated individuals earn about 30-40 percent less than those who have never been incarcerated. “Judges should have the discretion to craft fair and effective sentences and not waste taxpayer money,” said 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.” # # #
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

Sentencing: New Jersey Spends $331 Million a Year Jailing Nonviolent Drug Offenders, Study Finds as Legislature Ponders Reforms

As New Jersey legislators push for sentencing reforms of some mandatory minimum drug offense sentences, a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that the state is spending more than $330 million a year to lock up nonviolent drug offenders. The state is also losing out financially in additional ways by imprisoning so many drug offenders, the report found.

The report, "Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey," found that the Garden State leads the nation in incarcerating drug offenders, with nearly half of all state prisoners doing time for drug offenses, well above the 31% national average. In addition to the direct costs of imprisoning about 7,000 new drug offenders each year, the state loses even more money from lost wages and tax revenues, unpaid child support, and decreased future earnings of people with criminal records. The report estimated that each person imprisoned in New Jersey will earn $100,000 less in his lifetime that he otherwise would have earned.

"We are creating an entire cast of people who will forever be economic and labor force outsiders," said Roseanne Scotti, director of DPA's New Jersey office, during a Wednesday press conference. Reduced earnings by former offenders hurt the state, she said. "It is money that would have gone into the larger New Jersey economy," Scotti said.

"The time has come for us to change from throw-away-the-key, lock-'em-up mandatory minimums," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union). "Let's understand that that hasn't worked."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker said that saddling drug users with criminal records forces them "to live on the margins as outcasts" and push them back toward drug use. "It is time to stop the madness," Booker said. "It is time to stop the hemorrhaging of good, hard-earned taxpayer dollars, pouring it into a hole that seems to get deeper and deeper and deeper."

The report release was timed to prod the legislature into passing a bill that would allow judges some flexibility in sentencing people arrested for nonviolent drug offenses in school zones. That bill, A 2762, has already passed one Assembly committee.

Wednesday, Cryan predicted the bill would pass by the end of June. Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) also came out in support of the bill that day. Now, its up to the rest of the legislature to decide whether it wants to take a baby step in the direction of reducing drug sentences and saving the state money.

Sentencing: New Jersey Moves to Shrink "Drug-Free Zones," Cops Protest

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), all 21 county prosecutors, and the state sentencing commission all agree that the Garden State's drug-free zone law is ineffective, racially unbalanced and should be amended, but some New Jersey law enforcement officials disagree. While Corzine and his allies want to cut back on the drug-free zones, these police officials are pushing for even stiffer penalties.

Under current New Jersey law, anyone caught selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of a park, public building, or public housing is subject to increased penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences. Under the proposal presented by the state and embodied in a pending bill, A2877, the drug-free zones would be cut back to 200 feet, sentences would be increased for sales within the zones, but the mandatory minimum sentences would be dropped.

Drug-free zones became popular as a law enforcement tool designed to protect kids from drug dealers, but as the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing pointed out in a 2005 report and again in a supplemental report this year, the zones cover huge swathes of urban New Jersey, effectively submitting black and brown city dwellers to much more severe penalties than those faced by their white suburban or rural counterparts. According to the commission, 96% of people jailed under the law are black or Hispanic.

The drug-free zone laws had another pernicious effect as well: Although they did not stop drug dealing within the zones, they did result in stiff mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted. Selling a bag of weed in the zone got you a year in prison, while selling a rock of crack got you three years. As a result, more defendants fought their cases, clogging the courts with low-level drug dealers.

In addition to clogging the courts, prosecutors also complained that the mandatory minimums meant there was little wiggle room for plea deals, leaving them without cooperating witnesses to make further drug cases. As a result, prosecutors have effectively ditched the mandatory minimums for anyone who would accept a plea bargain. Now, only those who contest their charges in court and lose are hit with the mandatory minimums.

But while the governor, the prosecutors, and the sentencing commission want to further reform the drug-free zone law, some police want to go in the opposite direction. "Leave it at 1,000 feet," said Rahway Police Chief John Rodger. "And increase the penalty in the 200-foot zone," he told the Home News Tribune this week.

Still, Rodger conceded that he could not recall any drug deals taking place in or near schoolyards, a sentiment shared by veteran Middlesex County Prosecutor Caroline Meuly. The drug-free zone law has "a laudable goal," she said, "but I can't think of any (criminal case) file where people have sold to children or targeted them."

Reforming New Jersey's drug-free zone law as Corzine and crew suggest would be an improvement, but it would still be aimed primarily at low-level urban minority drug dealers. Better to limit it to cases of actual sales of drugs to youths, or repeal it outright.

The Drug Czar's Blog Accidentally Admits That Drug Laws Ruin Lives

Yesterday, in a post titled "Random Drug Testing Can Save Lives," the Drug Czar once again blogged himself into a corner. The piece quotes extensively from a Kentucky newspaper article, which argues that random drug testing will save students from getting arrested:
"There was a tragedy in Scott County last week. A young man's future was ruined, and the events that took place will likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

Unless you've been on vacation, you've probably already heard that a superstar athlete on the Scott County basketball team was arrested on felony drug charges, which could result in him going to prison for as long as 10 years. [Georgetown News]

That's awful. But what does this have to do with random drug testing?

...Whether we realize it or not, the real tragedy is this young man wasn't caught sooner, through a less punitive program intended to help youthful offenders, not send them to prison. The greater tragedy, to my way of thinking, is that we, as a community and a school system, haven't seen fit to acknowledge reality and implement a random drug testing program in our high school, and perhaps our middle schools.

So what exactly did this young man do that could get him locked away for 10 years? He was arrested for 1.6 grams of crack on school grounds. Crack/powder sentencing disparity + school zone = 10 years for a one-day supply of drugs.

By conceding that this young man's life has been ruined, the Drug Czar does far more to indict our brutally unfair sentencing laws than to promote random drug testing. He is literally telling us that we should let him collect urine from our children, otherwise his drug soldiers will put them in jail for a decade.

And if that doesn't make your head spin, consider that cocaine leaves your system in 1-2 days and will rarely come up in a drug screen anyway. You can smoke crack all night on Friday and pass a drug test on Monday, so none of this whole insane conversation about saving people from crack laws with drug testing even makes sense to begin with.

Location: 
United States

Drug-free zones target blacks unfairly, critics say

Location: 
FL
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Palm Beach Post (FL)
URL: 
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/politics/content/local_news/epaper/2007/07/01/s1a_SWC_1000_FOOT_MAIN_0701.html

As Illinois' drug policy changes, incarcerations soar

Location: 
IL
United States
Publication/Source: 
Chicago Tribune
URL: 
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-0705210673may22,1,6522493.story?coll=chi-newslocalchicago-hed

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